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Branding, Marketing, Publicity, Promotion & Advertising: Explained

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Branding, marketing, publicity, promotion, advertising: each has a distinct role, but their interactions often muddle their definitions. Learning those definitions is a simple way to improve your marketing. To clearly define each is to understand what they do and how they work together, leading to more effective campaigns.

Marketing: The Message

While branding usually comes before marketing, it’s easier to talk about marketing first. Simply put, marketing involves crafting a message designed to create a specific outcome in a target audience. Marketing is communication. Marketing is asking an audience to do what you want.

Marketing in the music business can be difficult because of two factors: the audience and the outcomes.

With so many listeners, who should you try to reach?

And once you know who they are, what do you want them to do?

With marketing now clearly defined, asking these questions is the way to get your marketing started.

Ask yourself: “Who is my target audience?”

If the answer is “everyone,” prepare for disappointment. Why? Marketing has a cost, whether you spend money as part of a campaign, exert energy to run it, or even take the time to do so. “Everyone” is a considerable number. Even if you had enough money to reach “everyone,” do you think they’d all respond as you intended? Assuming you can (or must) reach everyone can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.

Audience targeting is crucial. Narrowing the size of your audience (through targeting by demographic information, including age, location, listening habits, etc.) will reduce your overall spending (whether that means money, time, or effort). Doing so will increase your marketing efficiency: you’ll only spend money on the audience you’ve targeted, only take time to talk to those who care, and only reach out to those who are interested.

Once you’ve found the audience most likely to listen, ask yourself a second question: “What do you want them to do?”

Should they follow you on social media? Stream your record? Sign up for your mailing list? Purchase your merch? All of the above? The potential outcomes can seem overwhelming but think about the exercise in targeting from above and repeat it here.

My (short) list of potential outcomes is ordered. Each question represents a stage in a journey from discovery to fandom, and just as you can target by demographics, you can segment by stage. Consider which outcome makes sense based on who you are planning to message. When you do, the choice becomes easier to make, and your message becomes more apparent.

That message—known to marketers as a “call to action”—is the question you pose to the audience. The more specific it is, the better. Clear calls to action are easier to follow, and if you’ve targeted your audience well, those hearing your message will take action based on it.

Branding: The Promise

But how do you ensure your target audience will listen? That’s where branding comes in. While marketing is the message you send, branding is the promise you make. Branding informs your audience; it tells them who you are and what to expect. Proper branding—done in advance of marketing—can set up your audience so that they hear your marketing messages.

The process of creating a brand involves careful consideration of who you are and how you present yourself in public. Doing so means presenting yourself in as clear, believable, and consistent a way as possible. You are trying to create an identity that fans will readily recognize, one they will intrinsically understand. By portraying yourself through a particular lens, you differentiate yourself from others, giving fans the ability to latch on to the qualities that make you unique.

An important consideration about branding is understanding the dynamic between brand identity and brand image.

Your brand identity is what you work to create; it’s what you control and project.

What the public sees is the brand image, a reflection of your identity.

Successful branding efforts result in brand alignment, a state in which the public’s image accurately reflects your identity. This means that people perceive your brand exactly as you intended. Achieving brand alignment means your audience gets you, creating favorable conditions in which they can easily understand your messages and are highly likely to act upon them.

Branding and marketing work hand in hand, but I like to distinguish between them by considering the words who and how.

Branding is the who—the opportunity to define yourself in the marketplace, attract fans to you, and tell them about yourself.

Marketing is the how—the opportunity to get those fans to do what you want by sending messages they can act upon.

Having defined branding and marketing, let’s turn to some tactics. Branding and marketing efforts are typically organized into campaigns. We can view campaigns as strategies, top-level plans designed to accomplish some stated goal. The outcomes I listed previously are all potential goals, and the campaign’s size is proportional to the desired outcome.

If you were looking for another reason why the music business marketing can be confusing, this is it. Outcomes are often intertwined and interdependent.

You want to get fans to purchase your products? You need to capture fans first.

How do you get those fans? You need to increase followers.

As a result, campaigns may have multiple goals and require different tactics to work.

Three common tactics include publicity, promotion, and advertising. Each is distinct, requires different tools and assets to function, and provides a different result. Learning to use them together is a key to creating and running an integrated marketing campaign, one where each element supports the others and the ultimate goal.

Promotion: Making Things Happen

The word promotion carries two meanings, one specific to the music industry. In general, promotions are tactics designed to raise awareness or engagement. It’s a very broad term and can involve various methods, including publicity, advertising, direct marketing, and sales. These are all large-scale efforts; smaller promotional tactics can include running contests, distributing flyers, running email campaigns, and offering discounts. Every marketing plan will involve multiple promotions such as these.

In the music business, the word promotion takes on a second meaning involving radio, and more recently, playlisting. Unlike the more general definition above, these efforts are specifically designed to achieve airplay or an editorial playlist placement.

It is a fact that getting followers to become fans involves getting them to listen to the music. Your music is vital to your brand identity, but convincing potential fans to listen can be extremely hard. Radio and playlist promotion are designed to make that happen.

Publicity: Getting the Word Out

Publicity is the act of getting attention in the media, whether through newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, blogs, or social. This tactic may involve hiring a publicist, a representative who has connections and will pitch outlets for placement.

The goal with publicity is to get third parties to pick up your story and present it to their consumers. Presumably, such outlets are viewed favorably, and running a story about you and your music provides both legitimacy and reach.

Publicity can provide support for both your branding and marketing efforts. Your association with a particular outlet can be seen as a cosign, helping to establish your brand identity. Appearing in the media can also spread your marketing message, helping to activate your target audience.

It’s important to note that media consolidation has severely limited the outlets available and has increased the competition for placements, especially because publicity is unpaid. Despite this, disreputable outlets abound, so be careful: never exchange money for placement (and if an outlet demands pay-for-play, it’s likely a scam).

Advertising: Serving Up Your Message

General promotions and publicity are harder to control than advertising. Advertising is a specific promotional effort that involves paying to get your message out.

A benefit of advertising is that you have control over the content and message, as opposed to publicity, where a campaign might be at the whim of a writer or editor.

Advertising can take many forms, from purchasing billboards or other outdoor display methods to paying for space in a traditional media outlet to digital means, including banner or text ads. Given that so much listening now happens online, digital means are highly effective, as they can be very narrowly targeted and tracked.

An Informed and Integrated Approach

Once you’ve made the music and are planning your outreach, consider these definitions.

Learning the differences between branding, marketing, publicity, promotion, and advertising means clarifying your approach, considering your goals, and putting a plan together.

Understanding each will make a difference in your overall marketing. Knowing what they can accomplish will help create an integrated plan that puts them all to work to get you heard

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