Misunderstood Marketing Terms: Direct Marketing, SEO and More

Marketing Materials

Pose the question "What is marketing?" to a group of professionals and you are likely to get a series of inconsistent answers. Some people will tell you it is sales, others will be sure it is advertising, and still others will believe marketing is a series of promotions.

With so many roles and functions within a marketing department, not to mention an evolving set of best practices and growing list of marketing terms and jargon, it's easy to see why marketing is easily confused with related activities.

The truth is things like advertising, promotions, and sales are individual parts of a marketing strategy. That said, some terms are more widely misunderstood than others are, and we would like to shed some light on four of the most common.

1) Direct Marketing

Direct marketing: that's like talking to people, right? No. Well, sort of. "Direct marketing" is defined as advertising that communicates to customers directly and relies on a keen understanding of the target market in question. It refers to a variety of channels such as email, direct mail and direct response TV, as well as online tactics such as display ads and paid search or pay-per-click marketing.

What makes it different from other forms of marketing or types of advertising? With direct marketing, potential customers are identified in advance and segmented. Messaging is then refined to anticipate the needs and questions of the specific customer segments in question. In addition, direct marketing messages by nature employ a clear call-to-action asking customers to take a next step - such as make a phone call, place an order, or visit a website.

2) Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It's done to help websites achieve optimal ranking in the search engines, but it's not Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - although it is a part of a solid SEM strategy. It's not exactly website design, but should be considered strongly when creating site architecture and it's not all about content either, though content creation is paramount.

Confused? You aren't alone. Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a complex discipline following rules that change so often it's tough to keep up. The true definition of SEO, however, hasn't changed and can be defined as series of tactics employed to improve a website's ranking in the organic search results and ultimately, its visibility.

Say you are an online printing company that wants to rank highly for "business cards," for example. In addition to a well-structured website that employs proper technical elements and features - you guessed it - business cards, creating unique content around the term you want to rank for is a great next step. Relevancy and usefulness are important, as anything less will hurt your rankings over time. The more valuable content you create discussing key terms and phrases related to your industry, the higher your website will rise in the search engine rankings, leading to more visibility among your target audience. That said, there is more to SEO than unique content - but that's for another article!

3) Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Are SEO and SEM the same thing? No, but many confuse the two. In reality, SEO is part of SEM - an umbrella term for different types of advertising and marketing tactics executed online to gain website traffic and visibility within the search engines. In addition to SEO, SEM includes things like paid search or pay-per-click marketing (PPC), pay-per-play (PPP) inclusion in website results, display advertising, and website design.

With the explosion of the Internet in the last decade and the growing number of people who use search engines to find and buy products and services, SEM has become a top priority for any company looking to stay competitive in a saturated market. As part of a well-balanced marketing plan, SEM is executed in conjunction with traditional, offline methods of advertising, such as print ads and TV commercials, for example. Likewise, for smaller businesses that don't have the budget for large media buys, SEM can provide a cost-effective way to compete without a big spend.

4) Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Ah yes, the USP; maybe it's the word "unique" or "selling" that leads well-intentioned business owners to think a USP is equal to a list of a product benefits or features, but that isn't the case. Though identifying product benefits and features is essential, a good USP does more than that - it gives customers a reason to choose you over the competition, hopefully in an engaging way that can't be ignored.

A USP should consider the customer's point-of-view, motivations, and needs and address them in a way that makes it hard for a customer to say "no." At the end of the day, there may not be a huge difference between your product and a competitor's, but it's highly likely there is at least one unique attribute of your product, your presentation, or the way you do business. Find one or more of these attributes and combine them in a way that makes you stand out, preferably in one concise statement. That's a USP.

Want an example? Here's one: Altoids-curiously strong.

It's short, sweet, and to the point. It positions Altoids in the market as unique, and does it in a memorable and clever way. It also points out something obvious about the product - if you've ever had an Altoid, you know the mint flavor is rather intense!

Marketing Materials