Understanding the difference between marketing, advertising, PR and branding

Marketing, PR, branding and advertising are typically used by businesses to convince their target audience to buy their goods or services, or use their organisation.

A recent Inc.com article noted that there is a surprising amount of confusion over these terms, often caused by misunderstanding or misuse of the terms, although the answer is very simple.

Essentially, marketing is a process that encompasses advertising, PR and branding strategies. Although advertising, PR and branding are all components of the marketing process, and while their purposes are interconnected, they are not interchangeable terms.

What they do share is a unity of purpose, namely working towards the end result of increasing the sales and reputation of a business, company, product or service.

For a better understanding, we’re going to take a look at each definition in turn.


The official academic definition of marketing from CIM (The Chartered Institute of Marketing) is “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

What does this entail? Strategic Communications’ Blog writes:

“Marketing is – literally – everything a company does to deliver a product/service to its target markets. That means product development. It means pricing strategies. It means customer service. Marketing *communications* generally refers to the promotional elements of the marketing mix that take place in support of the company’s overall marketing goals/objectives.

An understanding of what customers need and value is central to marketing.

There are many strategies for marketing, and many means to execute a marketing campaign. These will include using such resources as social media, television, print media… and incorporate the business strategies provided by advertising, PR and branding – these are all part of the bigger picture of marketing.


According to one definition, advertising is “any paid announcement to the public by an individual sponsor or firm” that aims to persuade new and existing customers to buy a product or service. This usually involves various media including print (newspapers, magazines, posters, flyers), television and radio, and the internet.

Basically, advertising involves a message you send to others about your business, product or service and a medium through which to convey the message. It’s a marketing process.


PR, or public relations, is a communications tool. Public relations experts (usually a third party) use various means to make more people aware a business exists, share its stories and in some cases repair its reputation. These days this increasingly involves using digital media as well as print and broadcast media.

Industry leader CIPR writes:

“In today’s competitive market, reputation can be a company’s biggest asset – the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and gives you a competitive edge. Effective PR can help manage reputation by communicating and building good relationships with all organisation stakeholders.”


Marketing can contribute towards a brand’s effectiveness, but the brand is bigger than any individual marketing effort, branding is what sticks in your mind whenever you think of a product, service or organisation.

Most people associate the concept of branding with an iconic logo – Nike’s swoosh, the Apple, McDonald’s golden arches – but branding also means expressing not only the ethos and values of a product, organisation or service; communicating not only its USP but also its characteristics and values to create an association of experiences and expectations, and customer loyalty. This is what creates what is commonly known as the ‘halo effect’ that surrounds worldwide brands such as Nike, Apple, Coca Cola and McDonalds.

A brand identity establishes an appealing, attractive ‘personality’ for the public to associate with the product, and is often associated with the lifestyle ideals and aspirations of its target market.

Taking the time to understand the difference between marketing, advertising, PR and branding, the relationship between these terms, and understanding how to use each strategy, can help your business grow and be more successful.


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