Ask 10 contractors their marketing's mission. Half won't understand the question and the other half will give you five different answers. I'm going to make this easy for you: Marketing's mission is to ethically acquire and keep customers.

I'd love to impress you with a longer answer, but sometimes simple answers are the best. See if any of the following wrong answers sound familiar:

False Definition #1: "Marketing's mission is to raise your image." Image is great, but see how much they value your image the next time you go to cash a check. The results of that image are told in cold, hard cash. High image and low bank balances are the seeds to a self-impressed failure.

False Definition #2: "Marketing's mission is to produce leads at all cost." This is popular with total Direct Response devotees and I myself am a reformed devotee of sorts. Let me explain. "Leads at all cost" for a Direct Response maven means screaming about opportunities and offers until your "too good to be true" shouting can't be heard any longer. In other words, you become The Contractor Who Cried Wolf. Your credibility drops. Your professionalism takes a suspicious, skeptical slant. And in truth – your honesty is brought into question with each new "better than ever" offer.

How often can you say, "This is the best offer we've ever had and may never be repeated!" without looking like a total fool? That's why after years of doling out nothing but Direct Response, I advocate a healthy mixture of Image, Direct Response, Top-of-the Mind-Awareness (TOMA), Retention and other.

Leads are important. Very important. But to gain them at the sacrifice of your public trust is shortsighted at best. You've got to build credibility, image, and sales for the long term or you'll be washed along the shore, littered with non-trustworthy contracting has-beens. And remember – it'll cost you four times as much to rebuild your damaged image as it took to build it in the first place.

False Definition #3: "Marketing's mission is to keep your name in the public eye all the time." If I ran an agency where I was paid a media commission each time your ad ran, I'd tell you this too. But I'd be doing this more for me than for you. Putting your name in lights atop your city's highest building with a 24hr message board of greatness would get you tons of attention. Whether or not it's worth several hundred thousand dollars in advertising is another question entirely. Your marketing budget must be based on a sane analysis of costs and expected results.

Real Definition: "Marketing's mission is to ethically acquire and keep customers." This is the only true and real answer. "Acquiring" is lead generation. "Keeping" is retention. The ethical combined effect leads to a massive groundswell of more lead generation among your devoted customer base and the resulting referrals. Your "good name" word of mouth that spreads while you sleep at essentially zero marketing costs is the ultimate expression of your ability to acquire and keep customers. "A good name is worth more than silver or gold" says Proverbs. Much more, in fact.

The effective combination of hard-hitting Direct Response, Image, TOMA and a Retention program is what will keep you awash in an ever-growing satisfied, loyal and referring customer base. And that's how you achieve your mission.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter and a free 16-page report called "Get More Leads in Less Time" by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.