Once, a client said to me, “… everything we do is marketing. Even when we’re talking to City Council, we’re marketing to them.” I raised my eyebrows a little at this comment and then understood, even more, that a lot of senior leaders like this COO have little understanding of the difference between communications and marketing. And then came the question, does it matter? We think so. And not just because communications and marketing require

different skill sets it’s also a matter of target audience.

I invited my marketing colleague, Cindy Skrukwa, for coffee one day to discuss the differences between marketing and communications. We both have ideas about what each function does, and if and how they should work together. And both of us have been approached by people confused about the difference between the two. Here’s our perspectives.



Communications is relatively “new” on the scene when compared to marketing as a formal function in an organization. And, although it’s hard to believe, a lot of organizations still need education on the ROI around communications – how communications can support their business and impact their bottom line. Add to that our use of the terms like marketing communications, the use of traditional advertising and social media for communications messaging, and our desire to make our clients happy by “doing it all”, it’s no wonder there’s confusion.

There are a variety of great communications jobs being posted on IABC job boards, but a lot of these jobs include marketing as part of the duties. Do these companies really know what they’re asking for? Ask any communicator and they will tell you that marketing is very different than communications. But how well have we been able to explain this to our clients?

When I decided to move from a marketing path to a communications path in my second year of university, I made the decision based on the fact that I didn’t want to sell a product or a service; I wanted to help tell the story of a business. That’s what communications is to me.

Your Audience
At the core of a communications strategy is the audience – what do they think, know and feel and why do they care. For a company, the communications strategy is based on the business goals and objectives. Everything I do as a communicator has to be in support of this otherwise I am helping a company communicate for the sake of communicating… and what’s the point?

A big part of a communications strategy for me, is really internalizing and externalizing a company’s values: the way a company and its employees act, the messages and stories they provide, and how the audience “experiences” them. This is not only telling audiences about the company and the things it does, but shows and proves what the company stands for. In this way communications supports the company’s brand.

For me, marketing is about communicating the value of a product or service to customers in an effort to persuade a potential or current customer to adopt or change a behaviour. It shapes how a company’s product or service is perceived and also how the brand of a company is perceived. The audience for marketing is customers and potential customers whether they are individuals or other businesses.

Communications sends out information about an organization to create and develop relationships, create a positive image and preserve a positive reputation. It is the voice of the corporation and manages the dialogue and interaction (two way communications) with key stakeholders and audiences. Communications helps to reinforce a company’s brand and shapes the perception of the company. The audience is anyone that could have a direct or indirect impact on and/or interest in the company.


It’s interesting to hear that business communicators are being asked to do marketing tasks these days and I can confirm that many marketers are similarly being asked to spearhead traditional corporate communications efforts that are outside of traditional marketing boundaries such as writing executive speeches and blog posts or drafting industry articles aimed at reshaping the public perceptions of an industry as a whole.

To try and define where I see the boundaries between these two business practices, I’ve highlighted some key differences and overlaps, as I see them, below:

Business Communicators Marketing Communicators
Core Communications Purpose Influence perceptions and behaviors to: enhance corporate culture and enable business success Influence perceptions and behaviors to: build brand equity, customer loyalty, revenues and profits


Core Audiences – whose actions and behaviors are we trying to influence?
  • Government and regulators
  • Financial analysts and business commentators
  • Potential and existing investors
  • Employees and potential employees
  • First and foremost: potential customers & existing customers
  • Secondary: the public, employees and business partners, usually to help them understand the brand promise so that their day-to-day “walk” matches our day-to-day “talk”
Core Channels
  • Targeted traditional communications media
  • Online/social media – some targeted, much not
  • Internal communication vehicles
  • Word of mouth regarding an organizations values, corporate social behavior and quality of work life
  • Targeted traditional marketing media
  • Online/social media – some targeted, much not
  • Word of mouth from the mouths and actions of “brand advocates” to the ears and hearts of the broader public
  • Internal communication vehicles



For me, the items in bold are key drivers of the confusion and overlap that muddies the communications and marketing communications waters more these days than ever before. We all want to influence perceptions and change behaviors, but not always in the same ways and often with differing priorities as to what’s primary and what’s secondary to communicate. And, the fact that so much communication now happens
in an online world where viewers choose which elements of online content they want, makes it all the more complicated to deliver the intended messages to the intended audiences.

This makes us marketers nervous. We get very concerned, for instance, if our online content, especially our websites, isn’t designed first and foremost with customers and target customers in mind since this is one of our most important communications channels today.

Like Jolene, I believe any communications directed to external audience builds relationships, company image and reputation and represents the voice of the corporation, but also believe that marketing does these things as well. In this way, helping to reinforce a company’s brand and shape the perception of a company.


Can we all work together to educate our internal clients on why quality marketing and business communications are so important? Of course. And should we work together to ensure we don’t step on each other’s toes with messaging and communications approaches that may be right for one audience and detrimental to the relationships and perceptions we are trying to build with others? Absolutely. As a first step we need to communicate more with each other so we can better understand each other’s world. As communicators of all stripes are fond of saying: “Let’s seek first to understand” and from there we can help our clients do the same to build a more effective framework of communications that works best for us, for the organizations we serve, and for the audience we are trying to reach.


We both agree that communications and marketing attempt to persuade an audience to do something. The difference is who are you talking to, and how and why are you talking to them. What’s important is that both marketing and communications need to work collaboratively so that their plans are integrated and aligned. This is especially important in this age of far greater audience choice of which communications content they choose to access, and pass on to others.

Understanding this, it’s up to us work together to build a new, common framework for how Marketing and Communications should be organized and then communicate this with a common voice to our clients.