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 manufacturer, from Fortune-listed to start-up — marketing is defined based on what we’re offering the market, who we’ve targeted, and what is required to create appropriate visibility.

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

Marketing should instigate action. 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 devotion to a brand. If marketing isn’t making a difference it is not doing its job.

Effective Marketing Builds on 4 Things

A number of things may be driving the change. Economic pressures, an event, an emotion, even peer pressure are some biggies. But the life-blood of measurable and enduring change — in marketing terms, what turns targets into clients and clients into raving fans — is much more than a flurry of indiscriminate activities in hopes of getting the word out and/or waiting on the market to knock on your door.

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 — when you’re looking for what instigates an experience, return engagements, and a reputation that endures — an effective plan builds around four things:

  • Clear identification of your target market — know specifically who you must connect with if your initiative is to be deemed successful. Not every target has to be a potential client / customer; but every target should play a meaningful role in your pursuit of clients.
  • Clear understanding of market drivers — this is about knowing your market well enough to understand why there is a decision to be made. From pain points to peer influence, these drivers serve to shape every critical decision.
  • Activities and experiences specifically designed to speak to the market’s drivers — create visibility, engage, and deliver discernable value around the issues that your target market cares about, and you’re on the road to a productive relationship — and a plan that delivers results.
  • Tenacious pursuit — if you stick to your plan for all of three weeks or even three months, don’t bother. Connecting with targets, establishing credibility and motivating action is a process — one that takes time, depends on frequency, and is about investing in the future. How long you must persist, and the nature of the frequency depend greatly on what you’re marketing. But the strategic marketing of professional services bares no resemblance to selling widgets. Be tenacious.

Invest in a plan based on these four cornerstones, and questions about return on investments in marketing tend to move from how do we get by with less to how do we do more.

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” aligns with a defined approach — remember what gives rise to new relationships that endure is the instigation of an awareness that differentiates, the creation of valued experiences, and the facilitation of dialogue. Do this, and watch your marketplace change.