If This Isn’t Marketing, Then What Is?

I often come across small business owners who have spent their hard-earned money on ad-hoc advertising tactics, off-shore website designers, local printers and, more recently, SEO specialists and YouTube-focused video production companies. However, they find that these efforts yield little to no return on their advertising investments. These failures have left many small business owners feeling discouraged about investing in further marketing, as they think that marketing as a whole simply “doesn’t work”.

As the owner of a marketing agency targeting small- and medium-sized businesses, I want to set the record straight: Marketing is not about how pretty it looks, or how cool it is – it’s about how effective it is. Marketing tools will have limited effects when developed without a clear purpose. However, when developed to support a marketing strategy, marketing tools can generate qualified leads, and thereby increase your results.


In this blog, I’d like to advise you of a number of marketing tool suppliers that are often confused with actual marketers. If you are able to identify what results you can expect to get from these types of suppliers, the outcomes of any efforts undertaken with these individuals/companies will be easier to comprehend.

1. Printers.

As their name states, printers only know how to print marketing materials. They do not develop marketing strategies.  Although some may offer web and logo design, or know how to layout your business cards and letterhead, this does not make them a marketer.  Printing is nothing more than an advertising tactic.

2. Web designers

Web designers are individuals who can design a website, and will advise you on what makes the most sense to feature on your site from a navigational or flow perspective. They might know what looks best, and might even share with you some best practices of site design, but, typically, they are not marketers. Like print, web design is a marketing tactic or tool.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists can help you to increase the chances of your site being located online, through search engines such as Google and Bing.  Although I believe that SEO is one of the most important marketing tools available today, it is nothing more than a tool that should be used to support marketing strategies.

4. Social media specialists

Social media specialists are amazing at getting your brand out there, and keeping you relevant to your customers through social media strategies and implementation. This does not necessarily mean that they are marketers.  Social media is a marketing tactic that should follow a strategy, and it should be aligned with your overarching marketing strategy.

5. Online marketing

Although the word “marketing” is in the name, online marketing is, again, a tactic that needs to be identified and aligned with your marketing strategy. Many companies offer a proprietary online marketing tool “guaranteed to increase your sales”. This needs to be considered as part of a marketing strategy.

6. Video marketing

Video marketing is undoubtedly a marketing tactic.  Frequently, video marketing is provided by video production companies – individuals who can shoot and edit video, who lack a marketing background. As well, some marketing companies with no background in video often claim to provide these services.  Professional video requires expertise in the field, and if used for marketing purposes, also requires alignment with your marketing strategy in order to be successful.

If you only take away one point from this blog, let it be that marketing requires a strategy. Every vendor that you hire should be asking to see how their marketing tool aligns with your overall marketing plan, increases ROI, and will be measured against your marketing strategy.

Do you have any questions about the difference between marketing tools and marketing strategies? Do you have any other marketing-related questions for me? Please share your questions and comments below.



  1. This is informative, but still leaves those of us that have a small business wondering how do we create effective marketing on little to no marketing budget. I have what I think is a marketing strategy, but I am NOT a marketing person. I know IT and I know sales. I have had to depend on outside firms to create my various marketing pieces with little to now ROI for my marketing dollars.

    I know that I am not the only small business owner in this situation, who is looking for real assistance and a real partner who can help us identify, market, and grow our brand. I need all of this, but on a SMB shoestring budget. If you can do this, then you will get more business than you can handle from my network of associates and clients. Please let me know what you can do for an SMB like me.

  2. Hi Donald. I appreciate your comment and your situation. One of the reasons I started my business was precisely because I felt many SMBs, mostly small businesses, were being taken advantage of from many services calling themselves “marketing”, yet offering no or little ROI or long-term commitment to helping their client grow their business.

    What Creativeworks, my marketing agency, does is create custom marketing services that accommodate the client’s budget. We are flexible, meaning that we understand some clients have a budget to afford for us to develop a strategic marketing plan, create the tactics, implement them, measure the ROI, and provide on-going advice, while some clients rely on us to create their strategy but then take on the responsibility of creating the tactics, implementing them, measuring them, etc.

    I am here to tell you that depending on what resources you have available and what level of commitment you are able to provide to marketing your company, I would be very pleased to talk with you in the New Year and see how we can work together in marketing your business.

  3. Great article Doug. There are many ways that SMB’s can market effectively on a manageable budget. Sometimes “time” is a more precious commodity than “money”. Thankfully, excellent service providers focused on SMB’s, and especially you and your firm, are available to not only add the creativity, but also get the job done in a timely manner. happy New Year and keep up the great work.

  4. Your article is very insightful! Thank you for sharing. I do have a question, what are some marketing strategies that a small business owner should think about when growing their business? I look forward to your response!


    1. Hi Sherry,

      Thanks for your comment and question. I want to be clear on the terms first so I can better understand what you need. When I say strategy this is an over arching document which outlines who you are, your audience, your objectives, goals and what makes you unique. When we I say tactics, I am referring to how to obtain the objectives and goals outlined in your strategy. So when you ask me for strategies, are you asking me for tactics?

  5. So say we all! I think the most destructive part of the initial social media boom was the talk of how “cool” it was. Cool became shorthand for, “Don’t ask how you’re going to move product with this stuff and just do it, you idiot.” That made people think it wasn’t an effective sales tool, which of course it is – if applied correctly.

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