PSA: Marketing is Not Ads and Brochures

Learn about marketing misconceptions and tactical and strategic approaches

Let’s perform an exercise. I’ll describe something, and you guess what it is.

Picture a tall glass with ice cubes in it. You crack open the can and pour in the brown, fizzy sugar water. What product are you ready to consume?

If you said soda, pop, or cola, that is technically correct, but that’s a category. Go to the next step and choose a product. Which brand or logo are you thinking of? Pick the first one that comes to mind. We’ll come back to this later.


Many people view marketing as advertisements and social media posts. Some might consider it as brochures and websites. Others see it as the stretching of the truth to get you to buy something. Still, others see a logo with colors and textures designed to elicit an emotional response. One sales professional I know liked to refer to marketing as “the graphics department.”

Those are all true, and any professional marketer should know that. The nature of the function makes it easy for marketing to be everything and nothing all at once. Marketing can take credit for many business successes, and it can also be nearly impossible to measure its effectiveness.

Marketing is the sum of methods used to describe the business and present its offerings to a customer. It includes brand, product, image, workflow, business model, and vision/mission/values. It can be highly immersed in data or improvised intuitively like Don Draper from “Mad Men.” Marketing can be strategic, and it can also be tactical.

3 basic elements of tactical marketing

Think of tactical marketing as broken into three categories: paid, owned, and earned.

Paid – This is the traditional outsider view of marketing. It includes paid social media, paid search, magazines, radio, television. On these channels, you pay to rent the attention of an audience someone else built. You are effectively spending money for access to get your message in front of strangers.

Owned – This is the traditional insider view of marketing. It includes email campaigns, SEO, and content marketing. It’s not free, but you don’t pay per message or view. You are speaking to an audience you built. It’s not as effective as earned.

Earned – This is the best kind of marketing. It includes PR, unpaid social media, and word of mouth. You are speaking to an audience through the hearts and minds of others. It’s the closest thing to free in the world of marketing.

Strategic marketing is long term

If tactical marketing is how, where, and when, then strategic marketing could be the who, what, and why. Strategic marketing does not have the flexibility of tactical marketing because it requires making big decisions and plotting a long-term course for success.

Tactics are simply methods of reaching an audience, whereas strategy involves defining the audience itself. You need to know who you will be talking to, what value you will provide them, and why they want what you offer. There are higher stakes to the decision criteria, and the effects can ripple throughout the organization from the supply chain to support and accounting. Thinking strategically means knowing who you are as well as knowing who you are not. It includes brand guidelines, market niche, segmented demographics, competition analysis, and lifetime customer value approximation. Strategic marketing also includes Porter’s 4 P’s: product, price, place, and promotion.

Strategic marketing is usually performed by the chief marketing officer, while tactical marketing is carried out by the marketing department manager. In a small shop, you might be both of those, but they require a different mindset. Tactical is easy to measure; strategy is not.

Back to the glass

What was the first thing that entered your mind when you read the description? For me it was Coca-Cola. For you it might have been something different.

If you also said Coke, ask yourself: Why not Pepsi, Tab, Dr Pepper, RC Cola, or A&W/Mug/Barq’s? These are all brown, fizzy, sugar waters. You chose Coke because it’s the first thing you associate with that simple description.

That’s marketing. MARKETING

The power of marketing

When comparing two similar items, you are more likely to go with the product that created an emotional attachment in your brain. The No. 1 reason most startups can’t scale their business is because of awareness; nobody knows they exist. The perfect product or service in the world is useless without a customer to use it.

Customers need to know how to find you — the right customers.

Next time you sit down and think about who you want to reach, how you want to reach them, and what you will say, you are engaging in marketing. An ad and a brochure are effective means of accomplishing these tasks, but they’re not everything.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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