What Is The Difference Between Marketing And Promotion – And Which Does My Business Need?

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When working with clients and students, I see a lot of confusion when it comes to marketing and promotion...

Questions like:
  • Are marketing and promotion the the same thing?
  • Do I need both? If so, which should I prioritise?
And then, frustrations like:
  • I need more customers and sales!
  • Why aren't people buying my offer?

These questions and frustrations show me that there is a lot more education needed around what these terms mean and how to do them well, so that small business owners can utilise them to grow their business's more effortlessly.

That's what inspired me to write this article today...

Let’s start with answering “What is Marketing?”

Marketing is the umbrella term for the artform of reaching:

  • A targeted group of people (your target audience)
  • To tell them about your business
  • Build that group of people’s trust
  • So that they know about how your business can help them solve their problem(s)

In a nutshell – marketing has one goal:

To get as many people as possible to know that you exist, and have the confidence that you have the solution to their problems so that they either buy from you, or refer others to buy from you.

Marketing is your way of ensuring that you are not a “best-kept secret”.
Because no-one can buy a secret!

What different types of marketing are there?

As I explained above, the term "marketing" is an umbrella term. This means that it encompasses a lot of different types of marketing.

Here are 7 common marketing types and terms that you will hear:

Traditional Marketing:

You may have heard the term "traditional" marketing before. In my mind, this really just means "offline" marketing...

Offline marketing is the opposite to "Digital Marketing" because it all happens off the internet.

Types of traditional marketing channel include:
  • radio
  • print
  • networking
  • cold calling
  • door to door marketing


Digital Marketing:

Digital marketing is marketing that uses only online digital channels to reach more people.

Several of the other types of marketing mentioned below are *types* of digital marketing.

Types of digital marketing include:
  • Blogging
  • Social Media
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Email marketing

Content Marketing:

Content marketing is using high-quality, educational content that your audience will be interested in.

Content marketing is without a doubt my favourite type of marketing. It really underpins all of the other types of marketing that follow below...

The reason that I love content marketing so much, is it helps you grow credibility as an expert, and build trust with your prospective customers, much more effectively than other types.

Different types of content marketing include:
  • social posts
  • blog posts
  • video content. This includes both long-form (think YouTube) and short-form (think Tik Toks and Reels) videos
  • infographics
  • PDF resources or Lead Magnets
  • webinars
  • events
  • articles
  • interviews and podcasts

As you can see, you probably already have a lot of content marketing inside your business already, you just may not have called it "content marketing".

As a consumer, you most likely consume different types of content marketing each and every day.

Social Media Marketing:

Social media marketing is using social media channels to organically* attract, educate and convert people.

Popular social channels for business marketing include Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

*whenever the term "organic" or "organically" is used in front of the word "marketing" it means to do for free. As opposed to "paid" marketing, which costs money.

Email Marketing:

Email marketing is using automated email to nurture, educate and convert clients. Popular automated email marketing programs include Active Campaign, MailChimp, Mailerlite and Klaviyo.

Email marketing usually gives the best return per dollar spent than any other marketing channel, by a very long way!

That's why I have several resources dedicated to the topic of email marketing...

You might like to also read: 4 ways to use email marketing to grow your business. And Which Email Marketing Platform Is Right For Your Business?.

Affiliate Marketing:

Affiliate marketing is when other people (your affiliates or partners) market your products and services for you to their audience.

You have to pay for affiliates to market your products/services when using affiliate marketing. But the great thing is, you only pay once the sale is successful.

Even though you have to pay for it, affiliate marketing can be incredibly effective at helping you reach new people at scale. 

Especially as a recommendation from an affiliate is often seen as a personal endorsement of your brand. This means that first-time visitors of your brand are more likely to buy than someone who has come from say a search engine.

Commission rates for affiliate marketing typically fall between 10-50%, depending on the industry.

To use affiliate marketing, you'll also need to utilise an affiliate marketing system. Some shopping cart systems come with in-built systems. For example my cart program, Thrive Cart, has an inbuilt affiliate marketing system.

But some others, like Shopify and Woo Commerce, will need to have separate affiliate marketing plugins set up to be integrated with them, in order to give you the ability to use affiliate marketing.

The other thing you'll need to put in place, if you plan to use affiliates, is to have affiliate terms and conditions. These will help you protect your brand identity if other businesses are marketing your brand for you.

Referral / Word Of Mouth Marketing:

I've saved this one for last in the list, because it's something we should all design our business to achieve a lot of it:

Referral marketing is when your customers love your business so much that they organically and naturally refer their friends and family.

The reason I think we should design our business around achieving a lot of referral marketing, is that referral marketing has the highest conversion rate of any other type of marketing channel.

Statistically only 1-2% of all traffic to your business, will make a purchasing decision and buy. And only 6% of first time visitors will buy on their first visit. This is because people need to become familiar with your brand and grow to trust it before they'll buy from you.

But, when a customer has been referred to your business, they are almost always ready to buy straight away. That's because they trust their friend/family member who referred them, which helps them trust your business much faster.

The best way to achieve great referral marketing, is to focus on surprising and delighting your customers with the quality of your products and service.

What is Promotion?

Now that we've explored marketing, let's explore what promotion is, and how it's different from marketing...

Where the goal of marketing is general and is largely about brand awareness and building trust with your audience, the goal of promotion is specifically make more sales.

Promotion helps a customer go from having awareness and trust of your business, to becoming a customer of your business, to becoming a repeat customer again and again.

Often small businesses are under the misconception that promotion is the same thing as a discount.
But that's actually not the case.
Promotion may mean that you offer a discount. But it doesn't have to.

There are lots of ways to increase the perceived value of your products and services and encourage people to buy them.

In my signature Flight Club program I teach people the 5 different types of buying triggers, and how to package their offer for maximum sales results. None of these 5 buying triggers necessarily involve discounting!

Promotion can just be as simple as showing up, telling people about your offer, and providing them with the specific information they need to make a purchase.

Which one do I need more - marketing or promotion?

You actually need both as much as each other...

It’s important to understand that marketing and promotion work in tandem with each other. 

Think of them like a two step process:

  • Marketing comes in first, by helping you build brand awareness with new people, so that they know, like and trust your brand
  • Promotion comes in next, helping you convert those people into customers. And, equally as importantly - to convert your customers into repeat customers.

If you only did marketing, you'd likely have a great big audience with low sales. And if you only do promotion, you'll likely be talking out to an empty void, and still experience low sales.

This is why it's important to have a balance, and do both marketing and promotion well.

All small businesses should always have a current Marketing Plan and Promotion Plan.

How do I know if I need to improve my marketing and / or my promotion?

The first indication that you need to improve your marketing or promotion skills, is that you'll be disappointed in the amount of sales you are achieving.

When this starts to happen, it can feel lonely and overwhelming. But, don't worry - all business owners go through periods where their sales revenue does not meet their expectations! The main thing to focus on, is what action you can take to improve things...

When it comes to figuring out why sales aren't meeting your expectations, and working out if you need more marketing, promotion (or potentially both), it's not useful to guess. Because there could be any number of causes behind the problem.

We can only learn the answers by analysing our marketing numbers...

Understanding their numbers often feels scary and overwhelming for many small business owners. Especially if they've got the belief "I'm not good with numbers".

I have created training to help this become easier for you. 

Here are two articles I recommend reading, to learn if you need to improve your marketing or promotion:

Once you have identified which problem you have, these articles will help you improve your skills and create marketing and promotion plans:

In summary:

Every business needs both

Marketing; to build brand awareness and trust with potential customers, 

and Promotion; to convert those potential customers into actual customers. And improve their return customer rate.

It's not a case of having one or the other. You need to always have both.

There are lots of different styles of marketing and promotion. No one style or type is necessarily better than another. I recommend choosing types that feel really good to you.

But, if your sales revenue is not matching your expectations, then this is always a marketing and/or promotion problem. So you should analyse your marketing numbers to work out where the blocks in your sales plumbing lie.

We have lots of training at The Helpful Academy to help you improve your sales and marketing.

If you'd like some help, book a chat and we can match you with the best resources for your business.

About the author:

Kat Soper is the Founder and Head Trainer of The Helpful Academy Online Business School.

Kat is passionate about helping start-ups and small businesses succeed and achieve their business goals so that they can achieve the lifestyle they desire (and deserve).

If you’d like individualised help with growing your business, check out our services.


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