There’s a pattern I’ve seen many companies fall into. It’s what happens 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 of course you’ll 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 even Coke and Pepsi weren’t always massive corporations, so 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 longstanding problems with marketing, though, is that it was difficult to quantify the return on investment. You know it’s important, but it’s difficult to connect it directly to revenue generation. And 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 senior to marketing – because it’s the easiest fallback.

 

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

 

Today, consumers want to make their own purchase decisions without being contacted by a salesperson. They want to do their own product research. They want to check out 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 need to do that brings us back to marketing – that activity you were so frustrated because you couldn’t quantify the results.

 

But I’ve got good news. Today offers tools that yesterday’s world didn’t have to measure your marketing results. And 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 really 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 a lot more willing to consider boutique offerings that had their own unique distinctions. The previous generation’s insistence on the safe, established name gave way to a new willingness to take a chance and try something different.

 

This phenomenon became known as the long tail of buying. It has given niche competitors a chance where previously they would have had none.

 

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

 

It’s kind of like Lloyd Christmas in “Dumb and Dumber”: So you’re saying there’s a chance!

 

Actually yes. Because of the way buying has changed, the people who are out there seeding the market with products have got a chance. But they have to be less focused on direct sales and more focused on meeting people where they are – before they make the buying decisions, so you can get a seat at the table.

 

Then you can make the case for your point of differentiation, and a share of the market that finds your differentiator appealing will give you a chance.

 

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

 

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

 

We can also tailor e-mails to the specific data we have.

 

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 lots of other details.

 

So the marketing chief, who was once frustrated by the inability to show metrics to measure his or her department’s efforts, how has a lot more options available. It should no longer happen that, out of frustration, the marketing team gets shoved aside in favor of sales people who are told to log lots of cold calls and meetings.

 

Indeed, if you fall back to that it’s death, because that is no longer the way consumers – or even B-to-B customers – want to buy things.

 

Marketing has to be senior to sales, because marketing puts you in a position to get considered by the consumers of today who want to take their own initiative rather than responding to yours. And it’s not like the marketing of old: You can measure it, and you can use the measurements to make adjustments to continually improve your marketing performance.

 

So get out there and market. The long tail of buying is waiting for you to show up. But it won’t wait forever.

 

Written by: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors