It is critical for environmental organizations to speak their message, but what exactly is being communicated? Terms such as advertising, marketing, merchandising, promotion, and sales are often freely interchanged with each other. This can be dangerous as these words have unique meanings and can have powerful results. Being aware of marketing-related words and their definitions can strengthen your message.

Wrestling with the definitions of such words is not new. Over one hundred years ago people sought to understand similar concepts and a humorous yet relevant answer came from PT Barnum in describing the circus coming to town-

“If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths: answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.”

Here is a review of common marketing-related terms that you might encounter with communicating your organization’s mission or cause:


Advertising is the paid, sometimes free, communication through a medium (internet, radio, magazine TV, signage) in which the sponsored is identified, and the message is controlled. Advertising is not marketing; it is one of many processes that constitute marketing.


A brand is a logo, name or design that is associated with a product or service. A brand is a symbolic link to all the information connected to a product, service, even an idea. A brand often includes a specific logo, fonts, and colors.

Direct Marketing:
Direct marketing includes items like catalogs, postcards, direct mail, and email. The strength of direct marketing is that sent items can be tracked and their results measured by the sender. If you have ever received a donation request in the mail from a local nonprofit this is a form of direct marketing.

Graphic Design:
Graphic design is about visually communicating information. It includes both the designing and production sides of a product.

A logo is a symbol representing the identity of a company or institution.

A basic definition of 
Marketing is the art of communicating your products, services or ideas to a market; a market is a group of people who have a want or need for your product. Another definition of marketing is about influencing people and their decision-making abilities. A more practical definition of marketing is to answer – How do I help my customers to succeed; and how to do I nurture others so that when they are ready they think of my service/product?


Merchandising is about finding the right products, price, promotion and location on the store shelf. Merchandising can also refer to a brand or image from one product used to sell another. An example of this is how the Star Wars movies images are used to sell a variety of other items: action figures, games, toys, lunchboxes, clothing etc.

Packaging and Labeling:

Packaging is the science, art, and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use. Labeling is any written, electronic, or graphic communication on the packaging, or on a separate but associated label.


A product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need.

Promotion involves disseminating information about a product, product line, brand, or company. Promotion can include direct promotion where an advertiser paying an advertising agency to place an advert; or indirect promotion where the consumer is unaware that promotion is taking place, as are sponsorships or endorsements.

Promotional Items:

Promotional items are general merchandise given away free of charge in an effort to increase interest in, or sales of a product or service. Promotional items are often referred to as “novelty items”, “swag” or “tchotchkes.”

Public Relations/Publicity:
P.R. is the deliberate attempt to manage the public’s perception of a subject. Publicity is when information about a company, product or service is communicated to the public via the mass media.


Sales are the act of providing buyers with a product or service in exchange for money or other compensation. Sales are not marketing – it is the practical implementation of marketing. Still confused? Think of it this way, marketing gets them through the door, sales get them to sign on the dotted line.

Sales Promotion:

These efforts are designed to have an immediate impact on sales. These can include coupons, discounts, contests, rebates, and free samples.

Point of Purchase:
POP displays help to display a product. Such displays are generally located on an aisle, at the point where the decision to buy is made.

Point of Sale:
The POS is where you pay at the cash register. Many are already familiar with the POS area from trips to the grocery store. This is where candy and magazines are made available to captive shoppers while waiting in line.

References: American Standard Dictionary, Wikipedia