Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Sales

By Joe Cunningham, Internet Marketing Manager

I’ll be real honest here.  There are three main reasons I’m writing this post.

For one, I’ve had an article on this topic in my “Pending” folder for oh, about a month and it’s the only thing left in that folder.  (I know, OCD all over it.)

Secondly – confession: I never went to school for this stuff (it’s on LinkedIn so why hide it?), so I didn’t really have all the differences clear in my own head.

“If you want to really learn something, write about it.” – me (I was saving that for another blog post, but what the hell.)

And last, but definitely not the least, I want to “teach” all of you.  That’s why you read this ---- anyway, am I right?  We can call it curiosity; but at the end of the day, bloggers intend to “take people to school.”

Welcome to School

So if I asked you to come up in front of the class and explain to me the difference between marketing, advertising, and sales, do you think you could do it?  I see some nods out there.  Okay, so it’s not rocket surgery, but it’s an important distinction and I’ll tell you why.

A lot of businesses think they have a great marketing plan, advertising campaign, and sales strategy in place when they really don’t.  Somewhere along the line they (and when I say “they” I most definitely don’t mean you) – where was I? – they mixed up one or two with the others and had their marketing people do sales and the sales guy crank out some ads on Microsoft Word and mistake that as marketing.

It happens a lot more than you think.

Calvin and HobbesNot differentiating can be disastrous, or at least hamper your business’s growth by a large margin.  Just ask Calvin from my favorite comic Calvin and Hobbes how easy it was to walk to the school bus after he failed to differentiate the left pant leg from the right.  (He walks to the bus with both legs in one pant leg… okay, you have to read the comic, it’s funny, really.)

(Ever try to retell a joke and…?)  Moving on.

To Differentiate

To differentiate we will first define.


Marketing comes first because it is (should be) the first in practice, that is the first thing you do when you are executing a “development” plan.  Marketing is determining what consumers want, how they want it, how you will strategically go about “getting the word out,” and – let’s face it – how much [explicative] money you are willing to spend.

Marketing is the battle plan.  Imagine going into battle without a battle plan?  Sounds like a great idea, aye?  Okay, maybe not all of us have been in combat (paintball is about as far as I’ve gone thus far): how about being on a sports team and having no game plan?  Sound like a championship team?  Oh, you’d better (not) believe it.


Advertising – to continue the explanation – is that “getting the word out” but in the sense of the stuff that actually gets the word out: radio ads, TV spots, Pay Per Click pop ups online, billboards, flyers, etc.  Those things!  Yeah.  Everybody knows what those are.  Oftentimes, marketing is mistaken as advertising and just “throwing a lot of ---- out there.”

Jesse, Breaking BadI compare this to throwing your money all over town.  Advertising costs money.  Those radio, TV, and billboard spaces are not free.  Throw advertising out there without a concrete, strategic marketing plan behind it, and you are basically throwing hundred dollar bills out the window (Breaking Bad: Jesse in the last season anyone?  Only fans get that, but hey, it was worth it).

A few words for you: don’t throw hundred dollar bills out the window!  That’s a great way to get mugged or something.


We think we know sales.  That’s the easy one, right?  (That’s the setup for me to say “no,” right?)  Well, it’s a simple concept.

Any company sales man (or woman) does the “sales” thing: makes a list, knocks on doors, makes phone calls (and gets hung up on), tries to get to CEO’s and other higher ups, and never gives up (we hope) until he makes that sale and brings home the bacon!

Sales is closing the deal.  The offer has been decided by marketing, advertising announced it, now pressure is on sales.  Sales means the front line of convincing the consumer “the price is right.”

A lot of people would be surprised to realize they don’t have a sales plan in place, or that all their eggs are in the sales basket.

You can have an associate sitting at the cash register, but if all they are doing is their homework, you don’t have a sales plan.  I had not one, not two, but three sales associates at Target show me around last night – each on their own – to where I needed to go to find the stuff I needed to get.  Top marks to them!  Now that’s how to seal the deal.  I’ll definitely be back to that store!

Sales means making the conversion happen.  It’s all been set up (hopefully), now sales has to make the consumer feel they are making the right choice and assist them in all the finer details of making it.

Having only a sales department and no marketing nor advertising puts all the onus on the sales guy (or gal).  I can tell you right now, you will have an empty store and a sales person bouncing off the walls, drinking all your coffee, and getting fat off all your donuts.

If you don’t build it, they won’t come.  That’s what it’s like to have only sales.

Marshall Eriksen“She doesn’t like Field of Dreams!” – Marshall Eriksen, How I Met Your Mother

Putting It All Together

If you haven’t already guessed it: the moral of the story, the take home line, the golden point of this whole things is do marketing and advertising and sales!  Skipping or combining any one will only hamper your efforts.

We can help!  (You were waiting for that, weren’t you?  So smart.)  That’s actually why we’re here.  Not only are we the top Syracuse ad agency (no really – Google it: we’re #1 Baby!), we come up with strategic marketing plans and lead generation systems for business all the time.  It’s what we do.

(Insert another cliché.)

That is all.


(Click here to find out more about Cowley's Marketing Strategy services and Contact Us today!)

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