There’s a pattern I’ve seen many companies fall into when they’re struggling to master the marketing puzzle.


Marketing builds your brand – your reputation. It establishes who you are, what makes you different, and how people should identify you. It used to be said that Coke was established and Pepsi was playful. Nordstrom’s was associated with great customer service, while Kmart was known for low prices.


And you may recall, because Wilford Brimley told you so, that eating Quaker Oats was the right thing to do.


It took a lot of marketing work to establish these brand identities, and not a single sales call had anything to do with them. When you’ve got a massive marketing budget, you can invest a lot into building your brand. 


But all businesses start small. Coke and Pepsi weren’t always massive corporations. They had to invest a lot into building their brands during the years when their margins were still tight. The fact that they stuck with it is the reason their brands are so powerful today.


One of the biggest problems with marketing in the past, though, is that it’s difficult to quantify the return on investment. We know it’s important, but it’s difficult to connect it directly to revenue generation. When the vice president of sales and marketing is looking for a way to quantify his or her department’s efforts, there’s an easy temptation:


Focus on sales calls!


And just like that, sales has become more important than marketing – because it’s the easiest fallback.


That’s a mistake, especially in this day and age. It used to be possible to make up for marketing weakness with sales strength, but a lot has changed in the minds of consumers since those days.


Today, consumers want to make their own purchasing decisions without being contacted by a salesperson. They want to do their own product research. They want to check out the reviews and other information pertaining to the reputation of the product or service – and the company behind it.


That means you’re not going to be rewarded for going to them. You have to get them to come to you. And the way to do that is through marketing.


But I’ve got good news: Today offers tools that yesterday’s world didn’t have for measuring your marketing results. The changing habits of buyers will work to your advantage if you stay focused on your marketing efforts.


Between World War II and the DotCom boom of the late 1990s, there was an unmistakable trend in most industries: Three top brands tended to dominate. In retail it was Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears. In automotive it was General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. In cereal it was Kellogg’s, Post, and General Mills.


If you weren’t one of the big three in most industries, you might still get a smattering of sales, but you would struggle to achieve a footing in the marketplace, let alone any sort of growth. There were a few exceptions, but this was the rule.


The DotCom boom changed that. While most industries still saw three, four, or five major brands battling for market supremacy, consumers became more willing to consider boutique offerings that had their own unique distinctions. The previous generation’s insistence on the safe, established, dominant brand names gave way to taking chances on new ones.


This phenomenon became known as the long tail of buying. It has given niche competitors a previously rare chance to thrive.


Today,you no longer need to build a brand as powerful as Coke or Pepsi to compete. You just have to do a good job of being where the buyers are and ready for them. If your marketing efforts can put you in that position, you can be part of the long tail of buying.


Because of the way buying has changed, the businesses seeding the market with products have a chance. But they have to be less focused on direct sales and more focused on meeting people where they are – before making buying decisions. 


After that, businesses can make the case for their points of differentiation.


Tools are being developed that actually help you quantify the value of your marketing efforts. Products around e-mail, social media marketing, direct marketing and traditional mail are giving marketers an unprecedented look at the performance of their efforts.


Just consider email marketing: E-mail has been a mainstream communication tool for more than 25 years, but in the early days there was no way of measuring how effective a given email was. Today, we can measure how many opens, how many clicks, and what kind of engagement a given email produces.


When you advertise on social media, you can get reports with a variety of different breakdowns that tell you who engages, where they’re from, and more.


So the marketing chief, who was once frustrated by the inability to show metrics to measure his or her department’s efforts, now has more options available. Your marketing team should never again be shoved aside in favor of sales people who are told to log lots of cold calls and meetings. This is no longer the way consumers – or even B-to-B customers – want to buy things.


Marketing must take priority over sales. Marketing positions you for consideration by consumers who want to take their own initiative rather than responding to yours. Marketing has changed: You can measure it, and you can use the measurements for  improving your marketing performance.


So get out there and market. The long tail of buying is awaiting for your arrival.