Ask a dozen professionals to define marketing and you might receive a dozen different responses. From retailer to B-to-B enterprise, from service provider to widget producer, from Fortune-listed to start-up — we tend to define marketing based on what we’re selling, and who we need to motivate.

But all of us, unique perspectives notwithstanding, count on our marketing investments to change our business reality — in terms of awareness, behavior, and loyalty.

Marketing, at its best, is a dynamic agent of change.

It may be about transforming a target into a client, expanding a customer’s use of a product/service line, creating initial awareness, or deepening demotion to a brand.

If marketing is not making a difference it is not doing its job.

At The Heart Of It All

Many things can instigate the process of difference-making. Timing, an event, an emotion, even peer pressure or an affiliation are some biggies. But the life-blood of enduring change — in marketing terms, the thing that makes measurable difference, what turns targets into clients and clients into raving fans — is an appropriate dose of relationship.

An incentive, a compelling message, even marketing slight-of-hand can precipitate one-off decisions. But when it comes to making a difference that lasts — the kind of change that lies at the heart of valued experiences and return engagements (cliners for life) — an effective plan builds around market feedback and the dialogue attendant to shared experiences…even collaboration.

Invest in the creation and nurture of honest-to-goodness relationships, and questions about return on investments in marketing tend to move away from how do we get by with less to how do we do more.

So when you wonder about what your marketing strategy should look like — when you set out to determine whether a particular tactic or a “new opportunity” are aligned with a defined approach — remember what gives rise to enduring change in a market is the instigation of an awareness that differentiates, the creation of valued experiences, and the facilitation of on-going dialogue.

The catch? It takes time. Relationships are rarely built by the end of next quarter. But this is the DNA of a marketing strategy that will deliver on its promise…and change everything.