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The Key Differences Between Marketing and Communications

Recently, I attended the EO Minnesota Entrepreneurs’ Rally XIII for the first time. I also served as a mentor during the morning Roundtable Mentoring Session, facilitating three separate rapid-fire 30-minute group conversations with business owners who had questions about communications. What I discovered, however, was that most of their questions weren’t about communications, but rather, they were about marketing. I began to realize they considered marketing and communications the same thing.  


They aren’t. And if these businesspeople are confused about these two areas of practice, chances are many others are as well. So, let’s talk about what each is and isn’t.  


Before we do that, let me say that marketing and communications can and should work together. Both functions may serve the same audience and spread a similar message, and while there’s some overlap, their purposes are different.  



Communications refers to the way a company shares information with its audience, both internally with employees, and externally with investors, prospects, customers and other key stakeholders. The goal of communications is not to generate sales but to capture and deepen company loyalty. 


There are many ways to break down communications but for the sake of this article, we’re going to keep it at a pretty high level.  


First, there is Internal Communications, which is exactly as it sounds—communications that are internal to employees. Its function is either to maintain and enhance employee engagement and/or advocacy, inform employees about what’s happening within the organization or help make an emotional connection to the company’s products or services. A few examples of how internal communications often is shared include a company intranet, internal emails, company-wide newsletters, all-company meetings, or internal social networks like Slack or Yammer. 


External communications help manage the public’s perception of the organization and include various strategies and tactics. Many equate external communications with public relations, and that’s true, but PR is more than the creation and distribution of press releases. It also involves outreach and collaboration with reporters, editors and producers on stories, preparing company spokespeople, as well as securing speaking engagements and guest appearances for key executives. When an organization or one of its leaders experiences a negative, disruptive event, crisis communication comes into play to mitigate the backlash and restore the reputation.  


Blog articles, case studies, and white papers are also forms of external communications, as they all help inform and educate a target audience. Investor relations, with annual reports, quarterly call summaries, investor conferences, and other investor-related information packaged and distributed to their intended audience is another form of external communication.  


Finally, there is executive communications, which can be internal or external. From an internal perspective, members of an organization’s executive team engage in communications with their employees and internal teams, while from an external perspective, they establish a strong presence on social media or in front of important audiences to the company.  




So, now that we have covered communications, let’s talk about marketing. If you look up the term in the Oxford Dictionary, you’ll find this definition: the activity or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising 


Marketing, at its core, is the art of promoting a product or service, focusing on the four Ps: product, price, promotion and place. Marketers get involved with product development, packaging, point of sale and more. Though it involves some of the same messaging as communications, its goal is to compel people to buy.  


As a result, marketing can more easily deliver a tangible return on investment than communications can. Because of that, many businesses blur the lines between the two and place communications within the marketing function. That is one reason I believe there’s much confusion around marketing and communications. That said, communications when done right in an organization, can absolutely deliver value and dollars to the company’s bottom line.  


If you’re curious how or would like to discuss the role of communications in your organization, let’s schedule a call and talk!  


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