Friend and author Jim Joseph recently led a webinar on his book “The Experience Effect for Small Business" (affiliate link). During the question and answer segment, someone asked about how much a business should “spend” on brand building. I quickly tweeted:

“How much to spend on your brand? Zero. Instead, INVEST in brand elements that generate ROI.”

The tweet prompted Margie Clayman, Director of Client Development at Clayman Advertising, to ask what I meant exactly with my tweet. Her question prompted a great back and forth Twitter exchange about marketing investment vs. spending. At the conclusion, I promised a follow-up blog post on marketing investment to respond more completely to Margie’s initial question.

Don’t Spend Anything on Brand Building?

Back in the corporate business-to-business world, when trying to increase our organization’s emphasis on building a brand in all forms (service quality, awareness building, customer service, sponsorship marketing, etc.), we were seeking significantly more resources for activities we believed would benefit the company.

But instead of talking about our request for more resources as “spending,” we made ourselves talk about our marketing INVESTMENT strategy for brand building.

Why the distinction?

In our business-to-business organization, SPENDING implied we simply wanted more dollars because we were marketers, and marketers SPEND money on frivolous, nice looking things that don’t matter. INVESTING, on the other hand, was what the organization did to secure equipment, facilities, and everything else perceived to be vital to performing the services we sold.

Banning use of the word “spend” in favor of “marketing investment” created five clear benefits. Some of the benefits were organizational. Others simply made us be better marketers.

Investment both implies and forces you to think about your strategy in a new way:

1. A marketing investment implies an underlying business objective

You can spend money on anything. You invest in assets expected to generate a positive return and address important business objectives. Displaying a marketing investment attitude makes you ground brand building programs in real business objectives, not just creating new advertisements because the old ones are boring to the marketing department.

2. Talking about return on investment (ROI) adds credibility and makes building a brand seem (and become) less squishy

Making yourself discuss a program with all the elements incorporated in an ROI calculation makes a marketer take on a whole business perspective and not that of someone who simply designs advertising or tweets for a living. You’ll directly benefit as you help the organization learn that marketing and branding don’t simply involve logos, but instead focuses on the entire experience customers (and prospects) have with your organization.

3. Talking about marketing investments will get Marketing into early conversations with Finance

One of the most challenging business relationships for a marketer focused on building a brand is with the finance function in your organization. When you start building a brand thinking about your marketing investment levels and ROI, you’re going to need to reach out to Finance to ensure you are in sync. That outreach will get challenging conversations started sooner than later, which will pay tremendous dividends financially and organizationally.

4. An investment attitude will force you to make sure you’re doing enough to meet your return objective

When you put yourself on the hook to forecast a return associated with your marketing investment strategy, it causes you to look at your plans and make sure you are planning enough of the right types of strategic actions to generate necessary returns. Far better to consider those strategic actions upfront than when your program is falling short of goal half-way through implementation.

5. Making marketing investments forces you to ensure you have measures and listening posts in place to capture necessary ROI metrics

Considering upfront what it will take to calculate an ROI from your marketing investment strategy causes you to evaluate whether you have the measures and listening posts in place to measure the positive returns you expect to generate from building a brand. If you were simply “spending,” you might find yourself at the end of a marketing program knowing how many dollars went out, but with insufficient metrics to demonstrate any returns.

The Final Tweet on Marketing Investment and Building a Brand

I thought Margie Clayman’s final tweet was a perfect summary to our conversation:

Investment really does say you’re putting something into your brand AND expecting something back for it.

So what words do you use (and not use) relative to your brand building efforts?  - Mike Brown


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