What’s the difference between communications and marketing?

I really hate the term ‘marcomms’. I’m not even sure about ‘marketing communications’. Of course they go hand in hand for much of the time but I like there to be a little ‘and’ in the middle of those words, and this is why – while there are many points of intersection, I don’t think ‘marketing’ as a concept has any space for genuine disinterestedness, while ‘communications’ does.

Message Word with Speech Bubble

Marketing is about working out how to sell your product or service. You need to figure out who might want to buy it, how much they would be willing pay, and how to present both the product and your company really well to those people, in order to persuade them to do so. Words like audience and brand and targets and  product development start flying about and making small business owners quake in their boots. Marketing is a pretty technical thing – it follows set principles and firm ideas which anybody can follow but which can seem impenetrable and mired in jargon.

Implementing a marketing plan then involves good communications – deploying well-written copy and engaging images and/or design, maintaining a website and social media channels that provide interesting and useful content, and so on depending on your business type. Communications is about presenting your product in the way that your marketing planning suggests will be fruitful, and a good communications strategy is about working out how best to do this.

Marketing strategy must run in parallel with communications implementation in order for a marketing strategy to be effective – we have to communicate with our market. But I think this is the crux of the problem – a ‘market’ fundamentally implies commerce and therefore ‘marketing’ does too (it is, according to the OED, “The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising“). Communications doesn’t imply that: it is “The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium“. These differences are subtle but I think they make the ‘marcomms’ portmanteau a little uncomfortable.

In the past year I have managed three Facebook pages on behalf of organisations that have no ‘selling’ intention at all – both (as well as the organisations behind them) have a pure communications function, simply to let people know what’s happening and tell them how they can be involved in a community. They have an information market but not a commercial one. The desire is there to build an audience and build conversations, but for genuinely altruistic reasons – education, community interaction, fitness – and the hard business of marketing isn’t necessary as they operate within contained communities. I think they demonstrate that good communications without marketing is possible, while marketing without good communications is pointless.

Communications can be pure and without self-interest. It can be motivated by the simple desire to talk and to get in touch. Of course I am in no way anti-marketing – even the smallest businesses depend upon the guidance of marketing principles to make much progress – but the creative, human side of what we term ‘communications’ is the bit I enjoy. It’s the bit where you forget that you’re trying to sell something and enjoy the process of exchanging and informing – the process, via whatever medium, of talking.


If you haven’t got time to think about marketing, your marketing will be easy!

As you’ll know if you’ve read the ‘About Us’ page, I’m a mum. I love having my own
business because it gives me the flexibility to be with my gorgeous and amazing daughter
untitledall the time when she isn’t at pre-school, and I feel really fortunate to be able to work in this way. But in reality, like pretty much every other working parent in the world, my family commitments still mean that business admin falls to the bottom of the list of priorities.

Lots of people see good communications and good marketing as part of their business admin – a boring and annoying part. And here’s the funny bit – I kind of agree with you! I only concentrate on building my business after everything else is done.

I even think this attitude is healthy. Marketing people often talk about the amount of time business owners should devote to marketing and communications, and nowadays especially to social media. The reality is that it can be counterproductive to do that. If you’re a builder and you have work, you get on with it. Are you really going to turn down a job one afternoon because it’s time to do some marketing? Nope. Your website, your Facebook page or your new leaflet ends up at the back of the queue. People often find marketing annoying and stressful. I don’t think that’s a failing and I aim to build strategies which understand this.

One of the principles that I’ve based my business on is that marketing and communications is a servant to your business or organisation. Whatever you do, that work is your priority, and your dedication to it is what will bring you success. Of course a good social media presence or a well-written, informative leaflet (or whatever else will work for what you do) will help get you noticed by new customers, but it’s what you do in your day job that’s the real winner. It’s often the people who struggle to make time to think about marketing during the course of their working day who have the best businesses to sell and the strongest ideas for how to sell it. They have interesting content and they understand their audience – they just don’t know it yet! I love working with them!

In conclusion, if you think you haven’t got time for marketing and communications you will probably find that a small investment of time and effort will reap huge rewards. Don’t think of it as ‘marketing’ – all you are doing is presenting the work you do to people that might be interested in it. I’d love to help you do this!