Digital Marketing vs. Digital Advertising - Choosing the Right One

5 min read

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Is there a significant difference between digital marketing and digital advertising, or is it just “You say to-may-toe, I say to-mah-toe” semantics? Does it matter to online businesses?

Stripping away the word digital from each leaves us with marketing and advertising. As it turns out, there is a substantial difference between the two, and it does matter if you want more traffic and conversions online. Although most people tend to use these terms interchangeably, they are not the same.

This article will provide you with the right definitions for both. Then we’ll delve into which is the best choice for online companies. To learn more about digital marketing agencies, check out this resource on what a digital marketing agency can do for you. For now let’s tackle the definitions first.

Defining Brand or eCommerce Marketing

Also called brand marketing, let’s start with a couple of clinical definitions from some widely read sources. HubSpot defines digital or brand marketing as, “all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the internet.” Investopedia calls it, “the use of the internet, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other channels to reach consumers.”

Using a combination of these definitions, we can surmise that it targets specific demographics or customers through apps and any connected device such as cellphones, computers, games, and message boards.

Brand marketing breaks down into several marketing channels; here are some examples:

  • Email Marketing - Through an opt-in email list, brands can connect with their customers about news, offers, and more.

  • Pay-Per-Click - As audiences look for products to fulfill their needs, you're paid advertising reaches them and offers a solution.

  • Social Media - Build relationships with customers and your target audience. Share your product and new features or news.

  • Web Development - Create an effective, appealing, and practical website that’s user-friendly and automates your customer experience.

  • Creative Branding - Develop a brand that resonates with people and makes them choose you.

Managing all aspects of your promotional messages via these channels to achieve your marketing objectives is the essence of brand marketing.

Defining Digital Advertising and Why it Matters

If marketing is the boss with the blueprints, then advertising is the worker getting the job done. It is the strategic implementation that reaches the target audiences in each of the marketing channels mentioned above.

“31% of people respond to an ad by clicking it, and 27% will search for the product, company, or brand.”


It combines tools and advertising to deliver measurable results that are instrumental in improving future ads and campaigns. Digital advertising matters because it delivers quick sales messages to potential buyers when they are most likely to buy.

Marketing is the full vision, where advertising is the tactics used to implement it and get measured results. The brand empowers the company and equips them to advertise with a strong foundation.

Advertising would send out a TV ad and use metrics to see how it performs. When they send a targeted email, they see who opened it, who clicked on it, and who made a decision. They compare different versions to see what was more effective. It’s similar to many other forms of ads and contact with audiences.

Digital advertising is vital for implementing a grand marketing strategy.

Critical Differences Between the Two

Advertising is a part of marketing. It’s disruptive and literally in your face with pop-ups, and other ads you see and hear while absorbing other audio or visual content. It targets a broader range of people.

Digital ads typically last only 15 to 30 seconds, delivering essential information such as discount coupons, pricing, times, locations, directions, and descriptions. It almost always contains a clear call to action.

Marketing focuses on relationship building, focusing on specific groups of prospects and customers. It’s more targeted, personal, and designed to attract rather than be disruptive. Its approach is nurturing, methodical, and allows for 2-way communication. For example, content and email marketing offer information in greater detail while allowing customers to reply.

Both methods are vital to the overall marketing strategy. There are times when you need to flash an advertisement. There are other moments when you need to develop a relationship and continue to invest in it. 

Understanding the two is vital, especially with many brands falling short today. So often brands only adopt advertising. They get a reputation for being too “salesy” and put out ads to the point where people no longer pay attention. Did you know bad advertising can hurt a company too? Brands often see this happen when it is abused.

Marketing, while encompassing advertising, has a clear vision, using everything at the appropriate time, place, and for a specific reason.

Which One Do You Choose?

By default, every online business will inevitably engage in marketing. Planning for your website, SEO, logos, colors, product packaging, and everything that goes into creating your brand is a part of marketing. Once everything is working, you can choose to leverage advertising to drive more sales.

Marketing develops the brand, while advertising creates brand awareness. If you have a successful marketing plan in place that drives organic traffic and conversions, you may choose not to use advertising.

So, there is no “either-or” question. It’s a matter of when.

The best way to picture how to use marketing and advertising in a balanced strategy is to think of yourself as a buyer. Everyone loves to buy something they want. No one likes being sold to. When we think of that concept, we see how important brand marketing and advertising are.

When we develop a strong marketing presence, advertising compliments what has already been established. People identify with the brand and see the value that the ad is promising. They are highly targeted, thanks to great marketing research, and they feel like they need to take action to solve their problem.

Digital marketing and digital advertising are powerful ways to connect with audiences and to build your brand. By knowing the difference between the two, we can utilize both methods for successful results. 

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