An expense is something you buy and depreciate over time. Like a computer or a car. While many treat marketing as an expense, it’s an investment in the success and future of your business.

An investment is an asset or item that is purchased with the hope that it will generate income or appreciate in the future. In an economic sense, an investment is the purchase of goods that are not consumed today but are used in the future to create wealth.

That’s what today's marketing is intended to do, create wealth. Digital marketing helps you create an active pipeline of leads, a percentage of which will ultimately convert into customers and clients.

The sky is falling, what now?

When times are tough, what’s the first thing that goes? The marketing budget. That’s like cutting off the hand that holds your wallet. If marketing brings in customers and you cut that out, how are you going to get new customers and generate revenue?

During the Great Depression, companies such as Kellogg beat out their competitors by marketing aggressively while their rivals cut back. Advertising was the major factor in the growth or decline of a company during those tough times. Consider Proctor & Gamble, which maintains a philosophy of not reducing marketing budgets during a recession; the company has made progress during every recession.

Marketing is about lead nurturing

The most important distinction in today’s marketing versus yesterday’s is the value it offers your target audience. Traditional marketing’s job was to capture attention and tell you about something. One of the most basic principles of digital content marketing is to educate - not to sell. This concept may seem counterproductive to selling but it’s a proven sales technique!

How today’s consumer shops

Think about how you shop and how different it is from how you used to shop. Do you call and ask for a company to drop a brochure in the mail? Did you start by researching a product on the Internet? Did you look up price ranges, make comparisons, look up reviews and more?

In fact, 57-70 percent of the decision making process has already happened by the time a customer or client contacts a company. That is an important distinction between yesterday’s marketing and today’s. Consumers are seeking information and educating themselves prior to making a purchase. How can you capitalize on this trend and get more closed leads, improving the ROI of your marketing investment?

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Anne Moss Rogers is co-owner of Impression Marketing, a digital marketing consulting firm in Richmond with a focus on content marketing. Find Anne Moss on Twitter @ImpressionM,  Google+, LinkedIn. Like Impression Marketing on Facebook.

For more business news visit the Times-Dispatch business section.

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