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  • Writer's pictureAllyson Boucher

Marketing vs. Communication

Interestingly, when I first decided to get a degree in marketing - I was planning to work on political campaigns. Luckily, one summer internship changed my mind on that...quickly. Then my path shifted when I landed a job for a youth development organization - National 4-H Council. I still recall all of our titles being "Marketing & Communication Coordinator". Yet we'd have the internal debate - which comes first...the marketing strategy or the communication. Should it just be Marketing Communications or is there an "&" in the middle? (Ah, the things you debate over lunches with your 23-year-old colleagues.)

My myopic worldview was, well, of course...just call it marketing. Communications is a piece of it. Six years later I fell into a job at one of the country's best strategic communication firms, Spitfire. I had just finished my MBA (part-time, in the evenings, like every other nonprofit and government professional in DC) and was ready to show off all the smart marketing skills I learned with that degree. I got my ass handed to me.

The firm focused so deeply on communication approaches I'd never heard of - influence strategies, nudge methods, audience-targeted messaging, shifting national narratives. I spent seven years trying to understand even more...what's marketing and what's communications and when are they really just one in the same?

I'm sure academics around the world will give much more deep analysis and debate to which is which. However, I think it really just comes down to the path you took. If you started as a journalist, went to the school of communications, focused on public relations or public affairs, you'll find yourself in the communication camp. If you went to business school, it's marketing.

I chose my MBA for one reason - I saw how much influence businesses were having on nonprofits. And how many businesses were getting involved in advocacy efforts...the early days of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Despite my initital running away from political campaigns, I found myself smack in the middle of DC surrounded by advocacy experts, lobbyists and more. Yet it was the work I was doing volunteering for my neighborhood nonprofit, that felt like - this is where the real change is happening. (Well, especially given the quagmire that is our national government these days.)

Fifteen years later, and I am still having that marketing vs. communication debate.

In working with DC's Main Street programs, I'm supporting long-standing, small, family-owned businesses that are trying to weather the shifts in DC's economic climate. For many of those projects, the market analysis is key - simply because every year, every month, the community demographics are shifting. Businesses are constantly having to analyze their price points, map their competitors, adjust their advertising or outreach tactics. Yet I'm also helping the newest entrepreneurs - even starting their businesses on their own or with the support of awesome incubator spaces like Mess Hall. For those clients, I find the communication elements being the most important - that 30-second business pitch, social media messaging, posting to and publishing blogs, establishing email lists (and then actually making the time to create the emails!)

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