It’s an age-old question—one that plagues most marketers every year: where to spend the marketing budget to truly meet desired goals. And with an influx of new technology appearing on a seemingly weekly basis, earmarking budget for things that have tangible benefits versus some of the more ethereal marketing outcomes can be a tough decision for the best of executives.

However, in a day and age where everyone is so ubiquitously connected, “brand,” in and of itself, has once again become a very important thing. Now, before I get loads of hate mail on the “once again” observation, let me first qualify it. In the twentieth century, brand was a huge element in marketing and advertising. It’s what brought us big logos, pop culture catchphrases, and actors who came to represent the brands themselves (I can still picture Mr. Whipple saying to all of us, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin!”).

Those brands were built directly through massive ad campaigns and smart marketing using the few but effective mass media vehicles we had in the twentieth century: print, TV, and radio. However, in the late 1990s and into the early part of the new millennium, a new monster arose: the Internet. It’s this period in history that has led to new brands being built overnight—far from print, radio, and TV—all due to big ideas, bigger technology and, eventually for many, big failures. However, for that brief period in history, brands were seemingly able to get away with almost anything without consequence—regardless how insubstantial or inferior they were.

But with the advent of social media, those brands could maintain the early millennium flame for only so long before being held accountable for their actions in the court of public opinion—this time, on a global scale. It’s this scenario that brought “brand” back to the forefront of marketing when technological momentum was no longer enough.

So, after that brief history lesson, here we all sit today, in the middle of a push–pull / customer–retailer world where customer demands and expectations now fully drive product and service delivery. In short, the customer journey is dead and customer experience is king.

Now, back to budgets. The issue that all retailers face today is the extension of brand to a customer-by-customer level. The demand on brands to fulfill customer expectations is literally the be-all and end-all of retail—and all verticals, for that matter. For that reason, retailers must do several things. The first: before any technology is implemented, decide what type of experience you want a customer to have. 

For instance, a good place to start assigning budget is toward the automatic replacement of goods on behalf of the customer. The most common refrain we hear from our clients is that their customers hate it when the burden of providing a replacement is placed on the manufacturer, making it something the end-user must chase. If a customer buys something from your store and it is defective—suck up the cost through your marketing budget. That alone will increase positive word of mouth ten-fold and boost your social media ratings through the roof.

Step two is then easier. Take the aforementioned experience and add a new and modern twist via technology: make the entire experience one that the customer will love and never forget. Make it highly customized and make it easy—whether online, in-app or, especially, in-store—then give them the option to share that story via social media. For every great experience your customers have, let them market for you. 

By allocating budget to the customer experience and making it easy for that to be shared, the viral nature of brand becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, I’m not saying you should cut the budget of other business lines that generate revenue; rather, consider looking at short-term versus long-term goals. Understanding where ROI really comes from is a far better way to tackle budget questions, all while fostering a better brand and longer customer relationships that will pay off for years to come.