What’s the Difference Between Marketing, Advertising, Publicity, and Branding?

Posted on: September 16, 2018, by :

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2015
Whether you’re new to running a business or have had one for years, understanding the difference in types of marketing and how you use them can help you be more successful. 

How well do you know your marketing terms? Small business owners like you are experts in your business but often don’t have a clear understanding of the differences and the relationships between marketing, advertising, public relations, publicity and branding. These definitions will give you a better understanding of the terms, and when to use each strategy.


Think of marketing as the entire process of going from an idea or concept to a customer. In other words, everything that goes into acquiring a customer. Marketers often refer to “the four Ps”—product, price, place, and promotional strategy. First, the decision makers of a company pick an existing product or service or they develop a new one. This is arguably the most important step in the process because great products sell themselves. The wrong product comes with a battle that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.

A great product has to be priced correctly or people won’t give it a chance. Marketing teams will put it in front of their customer base and ask them how much they’re willing to pay for it. If they won’t pay enough to achieve strong profit margins, the team may go back to the product selection phase and reevaluate.

Because customers no longer have to leave their home to shop, “place” becomes a big piece of the marketing plan. Will you sell this product in your brick and mortar storefront, exclusively online, in an Etsy or Ebay store, an app store, or somewhere else? Distribution is taken into account as well. Do you have an infrastructure that can handle large-scale demand and do you have enough product on hand to meet that demand?

Finally, “promotional strategy.” How will you get the word out about the product or service? Digital or print marketing? An infomercial? In-store advertising? Press releases, interviews, blog articles, flea markets or purchasing booth space at a conference?

Marketing is the larger term that encompasses all of these other terms.


Advertising is the fourth “p” in the marketing workflow—“promotional strategy.” It’s all of the actions that get the product or service in front of the eyes and ears of potential buyer. Advertisers often take on the task of producing ads in all forms including print, digital, radio, commercial, billboard, infomercials, booth setups, and more.

There are plenty of advertising agencies to choose from. The largest agencies who serve big corporate clients and are likely too costly for most small business owners but smaller, up and coming teams are more reasonably priced. Just like a mechanic or other professional, ask around and find people that come highly recommended. Anybody can say that they understand advertising but that doesn’t mean they should handle your marketing budget.

Public Relations

Sometimes businesses make unfortunate decisions. Other times nobody knows that a business exists. Public relations experts use various means—usually unpaid—to repair a business’s or owner’s reputation or just get it in front of more people. This could include sponsoring an event, supporting a charity, working with schools or faith-based organizations, or partnering with local government.

Public relations people may also try to position their client as an expert in their field by setting them up for interviews, working with journalists to get their name in text-based articles, and writing and submitting press releases.

Some experts say that hiring a public relations agency as a small business isn’t necessary since the business’s marketing budget is oftentimes low. If you hire a PR person, ask them for specific details on what they do and how you will measure their success. Some may only troll the Internet looking for ways to get your name in print. You could hire a virtual assistant or another Internet-savvy person to do that for you at a fraction of the cost—if that’s all they do.

RELATED: How to Develop a PR Plan


Although similar to public relations, publicity isn’t the same. Publicity is the effect of a news story or something else that happens to you or your business. A publicist knows that even negative publicity isn’t necessarily bad for business. The key is to handle it correctly. Good publicists know how to turn a negative into a positive (well, most negatives.)

Small business owners probably don’t need a publicist at the early stages of their growth. Unless their personality is their business (public speakers, doctors, and lawyers, for example) they may never need a publicist.

RELATED: The 10 Most Common Publicity Mistakes


When you see a silver apple, do you think of a certain technology company? When you see golden arches, does it make you hungry for a cheeseburger? When you see the iconic “swoosh”, do you think of a certain athletic company? Yes, Apple, McDonalds, and Nike have all built brands easily recognizable. Ideally, when a person thinks of (insert your product or service) they think of your brand.

That’s called brand recognition in the marketing world. Branding is the process of building that recognition through the design of the entire look and feel including colors, fonts, word choice, music, and imagery. Branding experts like to say, “everything communicates” and they make sure that the brand is communicated correctly.

RELATED: The Secret Behind Successful Branding

Bottom Line

Each of these disciplines have people that want your business. Many small business experts advise owners with small budgets not to rush into formalized advertising at the beginning. Sometimes, good old fashioned “pounding the pavement” marketing is the best way until the business starts to grow and the business model is running efficiently.

If you’re building a product from scratch or your business is brand-new, consider a branding expert for logo development as well as the entire look and feel. A little money invested in branding at the beginning will save you a lot of money cleaning it up later.

© 2015 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission from Attard Communications, Inc.


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