Oftentimes business owners and executives get hung up on various aspects of their marketing spend when it comes to advertising and marketing. What does it cost? What is the ROI? How much should I spend? This effectively boils marketing down into a commodity.

While cost and price are always a critical consideration, they by no means should be the driver of marketing decisions. It’s true that you can’t spend money you don’t have, however thinking more broadly about marketing can open the door to a more expansive discussion around strategy. What do you want to accomplish with your business? How much do you want to grow? Where does your new business originate from?

Price shopping for marketing services isn’t a strategy built from a position of success, especially in the digital marketing ecosystem. Given the complexity of digital algorithms, the ever-expanding set of technology options and an array of strategic approaches, digital marketing strategies require an expansive understanding of how the ecosystem works, how it’s changing and where the opportunities are.

For these reasons (and many others), digital marketing and marketing as a whole should be viewed as an investment in discovery – the discovery of tactics and strategies that help a business grow at scale. Effective marketers understand that a brand, an ad, a strategy, is discovered through testing, optimization and pivoting as quickly as possible. Success isn’t a function of budget – success in marketing is the process of taking a budget and generating growth from it.

Discovering Your Brand Identity

When it comes to branding and brand identity, there is an argument to be made that a brand isn’t created by individuals but is rather discovered over time. Company culture, company processes, customer service, customer feedback, leadership, staff personality, etc., are all things that help make up a brand and are always evolving. While you might go-to-market with a brand identity solidified, time and experiences will often highlight a new, unforeseen perspective on the brand and what it means.

In many situations, there is often a disconnect between what a brand says about themselves vs. what they do. For instance, consider a business with a very sleek, modern and compelling digital identity but the customer reviews and word of mouth is riddled with negative experiences. This is where marketing serves as a short-term solution for the long-term challenge of longevity. A great-looking business isn’t the same thing as a great business.

In many ways, this perception vs. reality discussion is reflective of a larger societal trend where people offer the most compelling, interesting, positive version of their identity online, but hide the struggles and challenges that we all face. When we focus on what we want to promote about ourselves and our businesses, we lose sight of what the world is actually telling us. Discovery requires listening.

For this reason, in order to discover your brand, what you want the brand to be is less important than what your staff and customers say about what it actually is. If you don’t like what you’re hearing or it doesn’t align with what you aspire in your business, take action on this feedback by improving your processes. You may never reach what you aspire for your brand identify, but the process of working towards it will get you closer.

Discovering Your Marketing Strategy

There are certainly many marketing tactics and approaches that have proven effective for many businesses across many industries. Think of this as the foundational aspects of any marketing strategy. From being found on Google to growing your online and offline word-of-mouth, there are some things that simply need to be done in order to effectively compete for the attention of your audience.

However, your marketing strategy should always be evolving. Yes, you need to start with some kind of strategy, budget, timeline, target, etc., but you should be ready to pivot and make strategic decisions as quickly as possible. This is where your strategy get’s much more nuanced and complicated.

Your business may have found some steady growth “organically” and are ready to take the dive into digital marketing. Perhaps you start with a marketing spend of $2,500/month – this will certainly get the ball rolling but it is not a “forever” budget. Growth simply ups the stakes for businesses – more revenue means more work, which means more employees/resources, which means an increased need for more growth. The need for more growth means the need for more avenues to meet, engage and convert new customers.

So while your $2,500/month might have gotten you some growth via some fundamental aspects of marketing, there are so many channels, mediums and platforms to work with that you certainly haven’t saturated the market you are competing in. For the small business or start-up to become the major, well-recognized local, regional or national brand, there is much to test and learn from.

I find the infographic below (view PDF) to be one of the best visualizations of the marketing stack for a business. From the very basic name, address and phone number to the extremely technologically advanced tools of location-aware beacons, the marketing journey is a long road full of experiments.

Local Marketing Stack David Mihm Marketing Commodity

To find your ultimate marketing strategy, you’ll need to go through the testing of many channels while simultaneously tweaking existing ones for maximum results. From creative assets to targeting, marketing and advertising is never done and should change just as much as people do.

Who Is Your Marketing Guide?

A marketing agency is a guide for brand and strategy discovery. The skilled marketer understands the various ecosystems at play – how they behave, what’s possible in them, how they are changing, etc. This makes them well-positioned to offer guidance and insight for your business. However, they are not your brand leader nor are they the decision maker for what your brand aspires to be. As a business owner/executive, your role is to take this insight in order to navigate, pivot and respond to change.

Again, this is why your marketing shouldn’t be seen as a commodity. There is no set price for growth – nor is there a one-size fits all strategy for marketing. Each market, industry and business behave differently, requiring an individualized marketing approach. Your marketing guide will show you the paths, but ultimately both you and your guide will discover things along the way. Your ability to take these insights and act on them will greatly impact your marketing success.