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Understanding Strategy : The key differences between Marketing, Public Relations and Branding

Updated: Dec 22, 2019

In this article, we wanted to build on the critical thinking skills of our readers by providing some valuable insight into how to create an effective strategy to achieve your desired goals.

Whether you are marketing a new product, services or brand, we find one of the most common points of confusion which even muddles up some of the most successful people in the world, is the use of correct terminology in defining what it is one wants to achieve and how it will be done.

Our simple hope with this article is simply to provide clarity on what the technical differences are between the disciplines in order for you to best know what it is you may be looking for at any particular time.

Far too often we hear confusion (and misuse) of key terms which practically leads people/business to undesired results (for example, hiring an Advertising specialist when you actually need a Digital marketer, or hiring a Marketer when you may just need a promoter).

Something we believe will be helpful to all our readership and the professional world of the communications industry as a whole, is to have a clear and concise understanding of "what is what" and "what is meant to do what" as opposed to what we currently have, which is people throwing around words like "marketing", "promo", "sales" "advertising" and "branding" as if they are all interchangable; they most definitely are not.

The difference between strategy and tactics

To begin with, It will be useful to consider the core meaning of what is a strategy, and secondly what is a tactic. This will be the first stage in understanding how this system of critical thought actually works.

Strategy : The word “strategy” is derived from the Greek word “stratçgos”; stratus (meaning army) and “ago” (meaning leading/moving).

And to get right to the point The Cambridge Dictionary defines strategy as:

a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry, or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations: {Cambridge Dictionary 2019 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/detail)

Whilst on the other hand, the definition of tactics are noticeably vague in most learning resources. Cambridge defines Tactics as:

Tactics : A planned way of doing something (Cambridge 2019)

The issue with such a vague definition defines why so many people struggle to understand h

the structure behind a strategy and why planning a strategy in the first place is so important. This also explains why many strategic operations are often mistaken as mere 'tactics' and many tactical operations are branded as strategy.

To be clear, they are not interchangeable, but to simplify it for you; in most instances where Strategy is present; Tactics are the resources being called upon to implement said strategy.

Whilst on the other hand; where Tactics are in play; does not mean that there is a broader strategy at work. This is where most people run into problems because they will mistake having 1-3 tactics in play as having a strategy when they are not the same.

The purpose of a strategy is to achieve a clearly defined objective; and tactics are the individual means in which will be used to achieve it, usually implying that there will be more than one tactic in coordinated play to get the job done.

Now we have provided a context for what each one of these disciplines actually are (strategy or tactic), and how each may be utilized to serve your needs at the right time. Lets explore these concepts in context to Communications.

Strategic Disciplines :

Marketing : Marketing strategy is the most prevalent strategic communications operation of the 21st century. It's not as simple as "making an Ad" or "getting views" or "getting sales", what you will find with marketing as a strategic discipline is that it does not exclude any of these things, if it is done effectively it would produce results that include all of these things depending on the needs and bottom line of the organisation/individual that strategic marketing is being used to grow.

The very purpose of Marketing is to stimulate consumption of a product or service through a researched and thought out strategy that will in turn create funnels for consumers to consume as well as create incentives for them to go down those funnels in the first place, as well as making their consumption cyclical (repeated.

Unlike Sales, which essentially swings blind (or finds their target audience based on marketing data (i.e market research/business intelligence).

Public Relations : Public relations crosses the paths of marketing fairly often but the specific thing that distinguishes Public Relations as a communications disciplines from Marketing, is that it is not necessary consumption focused.

Public Relations is specifically focused on creating a specific form of ethos desired by the decision makers of an organisation or brand. You will find that people most often are known to consult the help of Public Relations specialists when trying to exert damage control over a crisis or re-shape their brand image, ethos and core message.

Although all P.R is not only crisis management, much of the quality work done on crafting an identity by big brands and corporations is done pre-preemptively through public relations (and sometimes interchangeably marketing) departments by devising communications strategies specifically focused around committing to a specific ethos (e.g being a "green" / environmentally friendly company or as Nike recently did; don the hat of being social justice warriors supporting Colin Kaepernick and this is where P.R and branding interchange also.

Branding : Given the differences between P.R and Marketing, it would be safe to assume just by the characteristics of branding, a brand strategy can be drawn up a Marketer or a Public Relations executive, but in the 21st century; we are finding it more and more apparent to find professionals marketing themselves and employees actively seeking people who are specialists in creating "brand" as opposed to either of the two separate disciplines mentioned.

What is distinct about this is that the people in question are communicating something distinct about the nature of Branding. It is not quite the same as the others; it incorporates aspects of both marketing and public relations, and yet takes on a life of its own in how it balances its long-term ethical trajectory precisely with the consumption requirements of the brand in order for it to continuously grow.

Tactical Disciplines:

1.Promotion - Specific tactics used to promote a brand. This can include things such as sponsorship of events, the strategic placement of flyers/posters and other attention generating tactics.

2. Advertising : Advertising is a discipline specifically committed to creating different forms of content to generate awareness for a product, service or even a cause; for example; Radio Adverts, TV adverts, Flyers, Billboards, PPC adverts via Facebook, Bing, Google etc.

3. Sales : Sales is a specific organisational tactic used to convert consumers. In other words; the tactics used to drive people into buying a product or service. Unlike Marketing which does not necessarily stimulate consumption by building 1 on 1 rapport, the sales process is largely reliant on building reliable scripts intended to drive customers 1 by 1 through the sales funnel. As Seth Golding and Tony Robbins both pointed out i

(paraphrased) Marketing is the art of NOT selling, rather stimulating consumption through content.

Sales on the other hand, is the direct opposite in the sense that it is usually direct and individualised. Both tend to be necessary arms within a big organisation but generally speaking a sales strategy usually exists as one of many 'tactical solutions' in an organisations Marketing strategy.

In conclusion

Do note that it is possible to have an individual strategy in any individual area (sales, promo and advertising strategy's), but our central point is, in the overall function of a business or brand, these things would be individual tactics that are deployed as a broader part of the businesses strategic communications operations (marketing, public relations, Branding).

What is not exact and precise in every business is which form of strategic process is most active, as Marketing, P.R and Branding, they often tend to overlap repeatedly in key areas.

This is part of the reason people become confused about the specific function of each, or mistake them for interchangeable.

Some businesses have marketing departments, others have P.R departments, many large organisations have both in order to serve different purposes, but professionally the new animal on the block is the Branding specialist.

Brand strategy walks a fine line between marketing and public relations in ways that were not always traditionally considered in businesses. It incorporates the ethical and humanistic approach of public relations with the consumer driven and data oriented nature of modern digital marketing in order to stimulate "brand recognition/awareness" (which in turn would ideally boost conversations/sales) rather than simply focusing on the most effective ways of funneling sales without greater consideration to the message it is sending about the person/organisation.

Hopefully this has helped some of you and given some clarity in how to think critically about your communications strategy and what strategic format works best for you, not every tactic is best in every situation, but having a strategy will ALWAYS give you an edge in achieving your goals.

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