Illustration of energy utility marketers understanding the difference between marketing and advertising

Marketing vs. Advertising: What is Right for Your Energy Utility?

Many people use the terms “marketing” and “advertising” interchangeably when, in fact, they are quite different. To put it simply, marketing promotes a business and its products or services, while identifying customer needs and how best to meet them. Advertising, however, is the act of calling attention to products or services, specifically through paid methods. You can market without advertising, but your energy utility shouldn’t advertise without marketing.

As digital engagement technology continues to evolve, it’s important for your energy utility to understand these differences in order to know which strategies are best to reach customers and achieve program goals. Read on to learn about the specific differences between marketing and advertising and how to use both to your energy utility’s advantage.

What is marketing?

Marketing is the practice of expanding your business by identifying how to best align a product or service to your customers’ needs. Effective marketing helps you understand how best to reach a target audience while increasing revenue at the same time.

In business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, a business is reaching customers directly, such as what your energy utility does to reach your residential or business customers. In business-to-business (B2B) marketing, efforts are directed to reach other businesses. Often, a marketing strategy is broken down into four phases called the four Ps:

  • Product: A company’s offerings (products or services) that meet customer demands.
  • Price: A pricing strategy could be built around profit margins, perceived value or opportunity costs.
  • Place: How and where your products are distributed, such as a physical stores or ecommerce websites.
  • Promotion: This can include advertising, public relations, content marketing and sales efforts.

Types of marketing

Marketing is not one-size-fits-all. There are several types of marketing available, including:

  • Content Marketing: A strategic approach based on creating and delivering valuable information, such as blog posts or infographics, to educate your target audience about your business.
  • Inbound Marketing: A focus on attracting customers to your website. Instead of pushing sales messages on customers who may not be interested, inbound marketing offers solutions that customers are looking for — inspiring them to seek out your business. Tactics often include a combination of content marketing, social media marketing and search engine optimization.
  • Social Media Marketing: The use of social media channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to maintain a conversation with your audience.
  • Digital Marketing: A “catch-all” for online marketing, leveraging search engines, emails, websites or blogs on both desktop and mobile devices. Digital marketing includes digital advertising as well, such as search engine marketing or paid social promotions.
  • Traditional Marketing: The opposite of digital marketing, using offline sources, such as print, radio, mail or billboards.
  • Relationship Marketing: A strategy that relies on both traditional and digital tactics. This strategy focuses on customer retention and satisfaction instead of new sales.
  • Brand Management: Uses techniques to increase the perceived value of a brand over time. This is achieved through initiatives that manage brand equity, consistent brand messaging and new product pushes that effectively showcases the brand and increases customer loyalty.
  • Product Development: Filling a gap in the business for a product or service to meet customer needs.

What is advertising?

Advertising is the process of making products or services known to customers, mostly through paid channels. An advertising campaign must be creative, timely and strategic. When executed well, advertising can educate customers, convince them a product or service is superior, improve brand perception, publicize new products, attract new customers and upsell existing customers.

A successful advertising campaign can use a mixture of traditional and digital media to deliver its message and align with the wants or needs of the customer. Advertising is just one component of a marketing strategy; while marketing helps you develop and position products based on customer needs, advertising communicates those products’ existence and influences customers to make a purchase.

Types of advertising

As with marketing, there are numerous types of advertising available. The most successful advertising campaigns uses a mix of these methods:

  • Digital Advertising: This includes ads paid for on social media, online publications, apps, sponsored content, search engine marketing and programmatic display ads.
  • Traditional Advertising: This includes advertisements in traditional media, such as newspapers or magazines, billboards or bus stops, direct mail, TV commercials or radio spots. 
  • Retail Advertising: Featured point-of-purchase advertising within stores, such as product placement on displays or carts.
  • Product Placement: Paid advertisement to have a product emphasized in a TV show or movie.

Marketing or advertising: What should your energy utility focus on?

The short answer to this question is both. You need marketing and advertising efforts aligned to create a well-rounded strategy and connect with your energy utility’s customers. Marketing needs to be the core of what you do — researching customers, understanding their needs, segmenting target audiences to address those needs — but advertising needs to be an aspect of your marketing strategy to fully promote your programs and solutions.

Begin by creating a marketing plan that encompasses your energy utility’s goals. This should be an overarching strategic plan detailing which products, programs or services you want to focus on. In this marketing plan, think about plans for market research, public relations, product development, segmentation, customer support and pricing. Once these items are figured out, add advertising to the mix. While this is often a large part of a budget, it’s necessary to extend your brand’s reach.

Through thoughtful research and implementation, your energy utility’s combined marketing and advertising strategies will help your energy utility achieve its program goals and conversions.

Let Questline Digital’s experts help you craft a marketing and advertising strategy to connect with energy utility customers.