One of the really cool advances over the last few years is our access to data for marketing purposes. No more guessing! Now, we can see how every little move we make impacts sales. Finally, it’s possible to track a prospect from first touch, analyze how they move through the sales funnel, and determine what works and what doesn’t.

Many forward-thinking organizations have embraced marketing automation as a way get smarter about their marketing, and combat the old John Wanamaker quote, “I know half of my advertising works, I just don’t know which half.

The rise of marketing automation tools has had a tremendous impact on how marketers operate. Marketing and technology are fully intertwined now, and there have been numerous predictions that CMOs will spend more on technology than CTOs in the very near future. Scott Brinker’s recent marketing technology “supergraphic” shows a ludicrous 1800+ marketing technologies that are now available to marketers.

Much of the marketing technology revolution has focused on marketing automation platforms such as Hubspot and Marketo. At its core, marketing automation is very sales focused. You are purposely driving prospects along the sales funnel. Which, of course, is the point of marketing; we’re here to work side-by-side with sales and drive revenue. This is indisputable. The ability to use a more scientific approach to doing this helps marketing to contribute to a company’s topline, and gives the marketers internal credibility.

At the same time, we’ve seen a move towards higher level storytelling by brands, and away from SEO-driven gibberish (thank Gawd). Brands are creating content hubs that are focused on telling great stories. By telling these stories they’re building an audience for the long haul; customers and prospects are engaging with these brands because they feel like the brand is trying to help them, rather than merely sell stuff to them. That sounds very exciting and cool, but it also sounds … fluffy. On the surface, it’s not the metric-driven approach that the rest of the C-suite is looking for from the marketing department.

However.

If you believe (as I do) that it is incumbent upon brands to build their own audience and stop relying on media platforms to access that audience, then the value of storytelling escalates. Relying on the media to deliver you an audience has an expiration date. If you’re content with using advertising or PR to expose your brand via the existing media, you’re really betting on the media’s business model. Which is a bad bet, and certainly not one that I would make.

What this means is that we have to find a balance between near term sales and long term viability. That’s not easy – overt sales messages can turn off the audience, and cause them to look elsewhere for the information they want. But, ignoring sales today to build an audience of adoring fans could mean the business doesn’t survive long enough to take advantage of that fan base.

It’s a difficult equation that marketers need to solve. There’s no right answer, and every organization is different.

But I suspect the right answer for your organization is some combination of both.