Aren’t marketing, advertising, public relations and sales the same thing?

The short answer is, “No.” People who use these terms inconsistently and interchangeably, are (there is no easy way to say this) just plain wrong. Marketing, advertising, public relations, and sales have very different goals, purposes, and income or expenses related to each, for example. It is appropriate, or inappropriate, to do one or another at different times, or in different venues.

First, let there be no doubt that marketing is the key! Marketing is the basis, the foundation, for the success of the rest. Marketing is communicating and delivering products or services to a predetermined target audience through a mix of price, place and promotion.

Here are some definitions and applications

For a book, marketing is about who’ll read it, why they’ll read it, where you’ll find them, and how you’ll talk to them. Sounds simple, but the answers are multi-dimensional. For example, you write a children’s book, but children don’t have money to buy it, even if it’s the best book ever written for them. Therefore, your target market really is their parents, grandparents, and teachers. The writer must balance the needs of the purchaser and the reader as part of the target market. Another example is a book on a new way to approach human resources (HR) for a corporation, which needs to address the needs of both the HR person and the CEO, because one has responsibility, but the other has the buy-in power.

Marketing is not something that starts and stops. Marketing takes place throughout the life of the product or service, so the sooner marketing considerations are addressed, the more successful everything else is that follows. Sadly, I work with too many people who write and publish a book and then can’t sell it. All because they didn’t do the market research up front.

Marketing compared to public relations (PR) is more about getting your product or service into the hands of the right people versus getting you in front of the right people. Often the difference between a customer cold call and a warm call for completing a sale is that you’ve done a good job at getting known and becoming respected as an expert in your field. The PR you do drives people to you and your business.

PR is about you, the writer, more than the book itself. PR is building a business/professional reputation and brand, as well as communicating a corporate culture and mission. It’s about getting known, meeting people, connections. PR is a more strategic interaction that creates mutually beneficial relationships. PR is an investment of time and energy. Therefore, determine where to invest based on who your target market is. For example, if you’re writing sci-fi for a Young Adult target market maybe volunteer at a school’s career day or judge a science fair. Also, think about where your target market hangs out and go there.

The difference between advertising and sales

Advertising is money going out and sales money coming in. Advertising is an exchange of money for space (trade show booth, online space, newspaper, conference program book) or time (podcast, radio, television) to spread the word about your product or service.

Sales is an exchange of your product/service for payment, incoming money. A mistake I see many authors make is spending more and more money on advertising that yields little to no sales. They get caught in a cycle: “If I buy a little bit more advertising, I’ll generate some sales.” This is not necessarily correct. It doesn’t matter how much money is invested in advertising if the book has a poorly defined target reader, which translates into a scatter gun effect in how and where the dollars are spent.

Marketing is a primary objective a writer needs to consider from day one (if not before) of the writing process, followed by putting together a PR plan. The need for advertising dollars and sales opportunities matters more later. Understanding the different requirements and goals of marketing, advertising, public relations and sales allows a writer to create a better plan for allocating major resources such as time and money for the ultimate benefit of the overall goal.

Your assignment

Write down who your primary target market is and where you find them. List three places in your professional or personal community to create PR momentum. Make a list of three places or ways you might want to do advertising and three others for sales.
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