What is Marketing REALLY?

This post is part of the Masterful Marketing for Small Business Series, where I aim to teach everything you need to fix your broken marketing and start building a marketing strategy that works for your business.

WARNING: The information contained in this series will cause you to question what you think you know about successful marketing.

That's the point.

There's a lot of misconceptions when it comes to marketing, and as a result, many small businesses aren't seeing the results they'd like from their marketing efforts.

This post aims to clear up some of those misconceptions so you have a solid understanding of the core principles of marketing in general and educate you on the common types of marketing strategies so that you can make an informed decision about the best strategy for your business.

So What IS Marketing?

What is marketing?

In a nutshell, marketing is the strategy you use to introduce your business to your audience. It's you building your “know, like and trust,” and along the way, and getting people to buy from you.

It is not advertising or sales.

Though these are both components of marketing.


The best description I've seen yet is from Alan Dibb’s book, The One-Page Marketing Plan, and if you haven't read it yet, I suggest you do. It’s phenomenal and breaks down marketing in easy-to-understand language.

He lays it out like this:

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign that says "Circus coming to showground his Saturday," that's advertising.

If you put that sign on the back of an elephant and walking through town, that's promotion.

If the elephant walks through the mayor's flowerbed, and the newspaper writes about it, that's publicity.

And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations.

If the town's citizens come to the circus and you show them the entertainment booths, explaining how much fun they're going to have, answering all their questions, and they spend a lot of money there, that's sales.

And if you planned every single part of it, that is marketing.

~ Alan Dibb, The One-Page Marketing Plan

Most of the things that people associate with marketing are actually tactics: Social media, email, paid ads, commercials, etc. These are all tactics of a larger marketing strategy.


What is Marketing? It's the big-picture plan; tactics are how you achieve that plan.

There are three most common types of marketing that everyone has seen in action. You've probably attempted these yourself.

They are:

Most small businesses will attempt each of these in sequence but will rarely see results from any of them.


Which one are you using?

Which one do you think is right for your business? Do you know?


To understand what marketing is and to make the right decision and not waste your time or money, you need to really understand what each of these types means.


So let’s go over them:

1. Brand Awareness

AKA Mass Marketing

Brand Awareness is also known as mass marketing. Brand Awareness generally says,

“We've been around forever. You know us.”


This is how the big brands market themselves. Think Coca Cola, Nike, etc. These companies have huge audiences and a wide brand reach. Everyone generally knows their products and the focus of their advertising is not on their products.

Brand Awareness

Fun Fact:

Nike hasn't advertised an actual shoe since the early 80s. I think 1982 was the last advertisement they did for an individual shoe.

Nike doesn't advertise their products. They advertise their brand.

A Brand Awareness strategy is primarily ad-based, and the ads are focused on the brand and not the products, with the objective being to keep the brand itself in the minds of the consumers.

This works for big businesses and brands because they have huge budgets to invest in their marketing. Advertising like this requires a large budget and continuous creative advertising to get your audience to think about you without realizing it.

Brand awareness is passive marketing. There is no direct product or service being advertised, which makes tracking it next to impossible. Because ads don't focus on any specific product, there’s no way to really know if a product is successful because of the advertising campaign.

This strategy is NOT something that works for small businesses. At all. You will never have the budget to invest in giant campaigns or fancy advertisements, so if you're advertising specifically to “get your name out there,” you're probably not reaching much success.

And that’s because you simply DON’T have the budget to implement it properly in order to be successful.


2. Attraction Marketing

Attraction Marketing

Attraction Marketing generally says,

“I know my shit, and I'll take care of you. When you're ready, I'll be here.”

An Attraction Marketing strategy doesn't involve ads. Instead, it focuses on consistently spreading informative and valuable content to your social media channels and then direct - and public - interaction with customers and potential leads.

Attraction Marketing is a long-game strategy and requires consistent, daily effort. It can be a time-consuming and not consistently-measurable strategy. Due to the length of time involved, it can be challenging to track exactly when and where a lead came from.

Attraction Marketing is also passive marketing. You're putting “it” out there and you're waiting for people to ask you about it.

This strategy is primarily done on social media, targeting specific keywords and people through your posts and comments while focusing on giving value to your audience and potential leads. It's formed on the concept that “if you build it, they will come.” The “it” that you're building here is your personal brand,  not the brand of your company, while showcasing the problems that you solve for your audience.

Attraction Marketing works best for small solo- or family-run businesses or entrepreneurs that can put a singular face at the forefront of their brand, as this strategy focuses on human interaction and positioning one person as a leading expert in their field.

3. Direct Response Marketing

Direct Response Marketing generally says,

“Here's the thing I do and here's how you can get.”

It is designed to generate an immediate response from the audience and compel them to take an action like:

  • visit a website
  • subscribed to a list
  • make a call
  • place an order
  • click a link/button
Direct Response Marketing

It's designed to get the audience to do something.

This strategy is not limited to one media type. It works quite well on almost any media channel: print, digital social media, email, TV, radio, wherever.

It is highly trackable because every consumer response and purchase can be measured directly and attributed to a specific action, which makes it really, really easy to adjust and focus on things that are actually working and stop ineffective campaigns sooner, making sure your efforts are profitable.

Direct Response is active marketing. It makes a direct offer to the consumer and gives them the means to act immediately.

It’s also the most cost-effective strategy to implement as tactics are duplicatable for multiple offers or products. You build it once and you duplicate it for everything that you offer.

There's also no guesswork because this strategy will tell you when something isn’t working.

Direct Response Marketing is the most immediately profitable course of action for small businesses…when done right.

So again, the three most common types of marketing are:


  1. Brand Awareness
  2. Attraction Marketing, and
  3. Direct Response Marketing


I've ordered in the way that most small businesses start attempting to market their businesses.

They start with Brand Awareness by trying to emulate big business but soon find out that they don't have the budget for it. It takes a long time to start seeing an upswing in audience response -  if they see it at all.


Realizing things aren’t working, they then move on to trying Attraction Marketing. Which really just comes down to popularity and misunderstanding. Everybody wants to be doing attraction marketing because everyone says it works.

And it does work for some small businesses. It works really, really well for people that are investing their time into making it work for them. But for those that can’t or don’t put in the daily and consistent effort require, it won't work as well. Attraction Marketing requires constant attention.

For those of us that have off days where we don't want to be around people, this presents a huge challenge; you can't be “off” when you're practicing Attraction Marketing.

For most solopreneurs or small businesses, the daily running of their business prevents them from the consistency required to make attraction marketing work well. They get a client or two from it, then all efforts stop because they're too busy doing the work the new clients brought in. But when those clients dry up, it's back to building interest. Except now you're starting from the ground up again.

For Attraction Marketing to work, it must be consistent. Every day without fail, you need to be pushing out content. And for most of us, that’s an obligation that we just can’t meet.


Then finally, they stumble across Direct Response Marketing. But because people don't quite understand what this is, they’ll usually employ a combination of tactics from Awareness Marketing and Attraction Marketing, often not getting Direct Response Marketing quite right.


Most small businesses and entrepreneurs cycle between these three in this order, rarely seeing success with any of them before moving on to the next.



Let’s change the order these types of marketing in order of their effectiveness for small businesses:



Direct Response is the hands-down the most immediately successful strategy for small business, but it requires an understanding of the core elements to make it work.



Attraction Marketing can also be very successful for small businesses providing you're consistent about it.



Brand Awareness is best to be avoided by small businesses and entrepreneurs. It is arguably the biggest waste of time and resources for smaller businesses, as it requires a ton of investment and several years to reach even a moderate amount of success.


So what is marketing?

Now that you have a better understanding of each of these types of marketing, hopefully, you also have the answer.

Want More?

Read the next post in this series, Top 6 Reasons Marketing Fails, Part 1.


Trina Waller Expert Marketing Consultant

Hi, I'm Trina.

I've been a digital marketing consultant for almost a decade, and let me tell you, it used to be soooo easy! Just throw up a website, make a few Facebook posts, and boom! Clients! But the atmosphere has changed so drastically and those days are long gone. We've entered an era where literally anyone can (and does) become a digital marketing "expert" and sell their advice online, which makes it really confusing to know who you should be listening to and what strategies you should be implementing.

I've worked with countless entrepreneurs and small business owners over the years, and I'm hearing more and more about their frustrations with successful digital marketing. Their social feeds are filled with experts, webinars and workshops on all the different things they should be doing, leaving them spinning in information overload with no actionable information. I have a growing list of clients that have come to me after spending tens of thousands of dollars on someone's promises of "easy money" that did not get them anywhere near the return on their investment that they were sold.

It's easy to be thrown in many different directions at once with all various expert opinions coming at you constantly. But the biggest thing lacking with all the opinions is the HOW.

I aim to show you HOW.

If you're ready to learn, hop on over here to follow along.

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