Direct Mail Marketing vs. Direct Mail Advertising: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated: November 21, 2023

If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably heard the terms “direct mail marketing” and “direct mail advertising” used interchangeably. And there’s a good reason for that – to most people, and in most cases, they refer to the same thing: sending physical mail to drive customer acquisition. 

Direct mail can include postcards, flyers, letters, and even sample products. 

Although people often use these two direct mail terms interchangeably, marketing and advertising are indeed two different things. And understanding them both is vital if you’re trying to grow your business. 

Whether you’re considering embarking on a direct mail campaign or are overhauling your entire marketing strategy from the ground up, it’s worth exploring what marketing and advertising are, how they differ, and how they should work together to achieve your goals. 

In today’s post, we will review: 

  • The difference between marketing and advertising
  • How do these differences apply to direct mail?

What is the difference between marketing and advertising?

The main difference between marketing and advertising is that marketing is a broader concept that includes all the activities involved in creating and delivering a product or service to customers. In contrast, advertising is just one part of the marketing process. 

Marketing is about building a relationship with the customer, while advertising is about promoting and selling a product. Marketing takes a long-term approach, while advertising takes a short-term approach. Marketing is about creating value for the customer, while advertising is about creating value for the company.

What is marketing? 

Marketing is creating a relationship between a company and its customers. 

Marketing includes market research, product development, branding, and pricing strategy. In contrast, advertising includes activities such as creating a message and paying to have it delivered to a target audience through channels such as digital, television, radio, or print.

Questions to ask when developing your marketing strategy include:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What needs or wants are you trying to address?
  • What product or service are you offering?
  • How will you reach your target audience?
  • What is your message?
  • What are your marketing objectives?
  • What strategies will you use to achieve your goals?
  • What tactics will you use to implement your plan?
  • How will you measure success?

Examples of marketing activities include: 

  • Market research
  • Product development
  • Branding
  • Pricing
  • Distribution
  • Customer service

What is advertising? 

Advertising is the part of marketing that involves promoting a product or service. 

Advertising is a marketing communication that employs an openly sponsored message to promote or sell a product, service, or idea. Advertisers are typically businesses wishing to promote their products or services.

Advertising is differentiated from public relations in that an advertiser pays for and controls the message. In addition, it differs from personal selling in that the message is non-personal, i.e., not directed to a particular individual. Advertising is communicated through various mass media, including traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, outdoor advertising, or direct mail, and new media such as search results, blogs, social networks, and text messages.

In short, advertising is about getting the word out. 

Examples of advertising include:

  • Paid ads on Google
  • Boosted posts on Facebook
  • TV commercials
  • Radio ads
  • Print ads (including direct mailers)

Direct mail marketing vs. direct mail advertising

Let’s apply what we’ve learned about marketing and advertising to direct mail. 

Are direct mail marketing and direct mail advertising the same thing? 

From a technical perspective, direct mail marketing and direct mail advertising are different in the same way that marketing and advertising are different.

However, in practical terms, they both refer to getting your business in front of potential customers using the mail. 

Nonetheless, it can be helpful to view the marketing component of direct mail separately from the advertising component. 

Let’s take a look at how you might do that. 

Direct mail marketing

Direct mail marketing is all about building relationships. It’s about connecting with your target audience and creating a lasting connection.

Direct mail marketing is all about creating value. It’s about sending something your target audience will want to receive – something that will make their lives better.

For example, understanding your audience and what they care about is part of the marketing component of direct mail. 

Direct mail advertising

Direct mail advertising, on the other hand, is all about selling. It’s about sending a message designed to get your target audience to take action – to buy your product or use your service.

Direct mail advertising is all about getting results. It’s about generating leads and sales, plain and simple.


These differences may not be significant to most small businesses considering direct mail; you’re just looking to get your message out to more of the right people. 

However, if you have the budget to invest in more marketing and consider advertising as part of your broader marketing strategy, you’ll likely see better results. 

But for businesses looking to reach more people, diving directly into a direct mail advertising program can be a cost-effective way to start advertising

The Printed Image: Your direct mail partner!

Need help getting started with direct mail? The Printed Image is here to help! We are a full-service direct mail company and can assist with everything from planning your strategy, determining your mailing list, designing and printing your mailer, to mailing it out to your target audience. 

Contact us today to request a quote or discuss your direct mail needs in more detail!