Overview: If you’re a small business, you’ve likely come across the terms promotion and marketing before. But have you ever thought about the difference between promotion and marketing? Many people confuse the terms or use them interchangeably. They are certainly related, but there are distinct differences. In brief:

  • Marketing is an umbrella term for everything your small business does to connect with your identified market. This includes branding, pricing, store décor, staff uniforms, advertising, and yes, promotion, along with many other considerations. Your marketing plan is the over-arching guide to what image your small business conveys and how it will get sales.
  • Promotion is a highly targeted approach to promoting a specific aspect of your business such as a particular product, new service, or branding exercise to show why you are different from your competitors (among other examples). Sometimes and in some ways, promotion can be seen as a mini-marketing campaign, which may be part of the reason for the confusion between promotion and marketing.

Here’s a short video that explains the difference between promotion and marketing. This is aimed at self-publishing book authors, but the same basic principles hold true for any small business.

A Deeper Dive into the Differences Between Marketing and Promotion

Marketing is of course a huge subject – there are whole university degrees that cover it. But we can go into some greater detail to give you a firmer grasp on the differences between the two, as well as the similarities. Let’s start with the biggest difference.

The 4 Ps of Marketing – and Promotion Is One of Them

The 4 Ps of Marketing graphic

Promotion is one of what’s called the 4 Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. These make up your marketing mix. As Investopedia puts it, the 4 Ps cover a range of factors you should consider in your marketing strategy such as understanding “what consumers want, how the product or service meets or fails to meet those wants, how the product or service is perceived in the world, how it stands out from the competition, and how the company that produces it interacts with its customers.”

Glad we cleared that up! But there are two key takeaways in this Investopedia quote to underline:

  1. “Product” in this definition can include services if you are a service-based company
  2. The biggest difference between marketing and promotion is that promotion falls under the umbrella of marketing

That’s a pretty important difference, but it’s just the beginning. Perhaps next we should ask the question, exactly what is promotion?

What Is Promotion?

A promotion is usually a highly targeted campaign to get more customers and/or sell more products or services. It is often used to highlight a specific product or service.

There can be a number of different approaches in your promotional mix: trade shows, consumer shows, sales promotions (coupons, in-store displays, limited-time discounts, contests, etc.), giveaways (including promotional items), recommendations, social media offers, and so on.

Further, a promotion can be targeted in different ways. For example, a sales promotion could focus on one product such as a new item or an item you want to sell more of, but it could also be a general sale in your store to draw in more customers. At a trade show, you may have a range of items, but you are targeting a highly specific audience – the people at that trade show. (Even here, your promotion strategy will be different depending on whether it is a consumer trade show or a B2B convention, for example.)

McDonald’s Promotions for Illustration

We all know McDonald’s, so let’s take a closer look at their promotions to see how different promotions can impact awareness and ultimately sales.

Sign in front of one of the original McDonald's restaurants.
  • McDonald’s Monopoly – This popular game and others like it are designed to bring in more customers with prizes and game pieces. It generates excitement, encourages frequent visits, and boosts sales during the promotion that linger after.
  • McRib – This sandwich is a cult hit since it first launched (and failed) in the 1980s. McDonald’s brings this “fan favorite” back every once in a while with an awareness promotion each time. (The Shamrock Shake at St. Patrick’s Day is another example of a special menu item that comes and goes.) These promotions provide short-term bumps in sales, but also act as a reminder of McDonald’s enduring tradition.
  • New Product Launch – You may notice that every time McDonald’s launches a new product, they are all accompanied by promotions including advertising (TV commercials, etc.), in-store posters, and sometimes special pricing and/or games. Again, generating excitement is key and usually brings an overall boost in sales.
  • Product Awareness – Ever notice that Filet-O-Fish commercials keep popping up every once in a while? This is similar to the McRib promotion, except the Filet-O-Fish never leaves the menu. Occasional promotions boost sales for that one item especially (both short-term and then long-term), and usually the restaurant in general.
  • Sponsorships – McDonald’s has sponsored many sports teams, events, and similar organizations over the years including their high-profile sponsorship of the Olympics that lasted decades before ending recently. Sponsorships help garner good will with their association to respected organizations and brands, and help keep their name in front of customers.
  • General Advertising – Slogans like “I’m Lovin’ It!” pop up in TV commercials, in newspapers, and online as reminder ads for people who may not have visited McDonald’s in a while.

These are a few of the McDonald’s promotions from over the years, though there are probably others you can think of!

Since promotion is part of your larger marketing strategy:

  • Promotions should align with your marketing plan and goals
  • Promotions should align with and support your brand and your core ideals
  • Promotions could be looked at as mini-marketing strategies in themselves with their own plan, goals, and metrics

Note that this last point underlines the similarities, not just the differences between marketing and promotion. The McDonald’s examples above hit all three of these points.

Another Use of the Word “Promotions”

“Promotions” can also be used to describe promotional items including those that Elite Marketing + Promotions creates. Think of branded apparel such as logoed hats and tshirts, vinyl lettering and custom vinyl graphics, and other promotional items such as pens, Post-It Notes, Frisbees, totes, and hundreds of other items. These constitute another tool in your promotional mix to get your name in the hands and minds of your target audience.

Who’s Running Your Promotion – Or Your Marketing Strategy?

Marketing team working on an upcoming promotion.

So that’s promotion vs. marketing in a nutshell. But one other important factor to discuss is the time involved. Creating a promotion strategy takes a lot of time, effort, knowledge, and creativity. For small business owners, it may take more time than they have in any given day. That’s why it’s important to partner with a marketing company that understands the needs of small business and gives your promotion mix the attention it deserves.

Elite Marketing + Promotions specializes in helping small business get their name in front of customers. You don’t even need to worry about the difference between promotion and marketing! We can help you at every step from designing your marketing strategy, promoting a specific product or service, and getting the word out through social media and other methods. Contact Elite Marketing + Promotions today, and let us show you how we can get the response you’re looking for.