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Why the Cost of Marketing Varies So Much: 5 Straight Answers

November 9th, 2023 | 3 min. read

By Kim Kovelle

Find out exactly how marketing with Zoe Marketing & Communications works in a free guide.
A yellow dollar sign reflects a question mark as its shadow

Why is it so hard to get a direct answer about how much digital marketing will cost your business? It’s frustrating. And worse, many agencies don’t even post pricing on their websites.

The answer can be just as maddening: It depends on many factors. However, understanding those factors in plain language can go a long way in making marketing costs make sense.

At Zoe Marketing & Communications, we’ve been helping clients understand their marketing costs for 40 years, along with our sister companies Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. In this blog, we’ll break down five culprits that contribute to cost fluctuations:

  1. Size and type of your business
  2. Your target audience
  3. Your budget
  4. Your market competition
  5. Specific goals of your plan

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in marketing, and customization is critical. And you’ll soon feel better grounded about why there’s so much flux in the prices.


Download Your Guide to Marketing With Zoe

From the first steps and your role in success to specific services, pricing and success stories, learn all about partnering with Zoe.

1. Size and type of your business

How extensive is your business, and what industry are you in? The size of your business, the number of employees and locations, and the very nature of what you do can all impact cost.

Small businesses might focus on community engagement and local SEO. Larger enterprises may invest in broader, more aggressive marketing campaigns. A metro Detroit roofing startup will have different marketing needs than a well-established Chicago hospital.

Certain types of digital marketing are also pricier based on the kind of business you run.

For instance, if you’re in the attorney or mortgage business, your costs to compete for keywords people are Googling can be 17 times higher than health, education and hospitality industries.

2. Your target audience

Who are you trying to reach, and how often are you trying to reach them? Or, depending on your market, how often do you need to reach them to convert them?

This includes factors such as:


Schools might focus on getting new students from a specific region. Tourism boards may need broader digital campaigns to attract visitors from outside the area.

How many ZIP codes, metro areas or states are you trying to reach? Also, where are they located? Due to saturation, marketing in New York City will cost more than in Toledo, Ohio.


Even basics like age, income, behavior and interests can influence costs. It depends on the best platforms to reach your ideal audience — Google? Email? TikTok? — and how much competition there is for the attention.

The more niche your audience, the more specialized (and potentially costly) your marketing efforts may be to reach and engage them effectively.

3. Your budget

How much are you able or willing to invest in your marketing? Your budget is your strategy’s engine. It determines the scale and scope of your campaigns — and drives your success.

A modest budget may mean prioritizing high-impact, low-cost strategies like SEO or targeted local advertising. A larger budget can open up more extensive, multichannel campaigns.

What’s typical? According to the Small Business Association:

  • Small businesses (under 50 employees) spend 7%-8% of revenue on marketing
  • Mid-sized companies (50-250 employees) spend 10%-12% of revenue on marketing

For larger companies (250+ employees), this can reach up to 20% or more. And, generally speaking, expect to invest more if you’re marketing to consumers vs. other businesses.

These are all general guidelines, of course. A client needs assessment with a marketing agency can give a better sense of the costs to meet your goals.

4. Your market competition

Are you in a crowded market? The level of competition in your city or region can significantly impact your marketing costs. 

For example, if you’re an ABA therapist in a ZIP code with many similar professionals, it might take a more aggressive search engine marketing (SEM) campaign to stand out.

Meanwhile, a unique home improvement service with less direct competition can stretch its marketing dollars further, allowing for broader reach and more experimentation.

5. Specific goals of your plan

Finally — what are you trying to achieve? Different goals take different tactics. And, you guessed it, the costs of those strategies can vary quite a bit. 

Building brand awareness, for instance, may lean heavily on social media, which can be cost-effective, and content marketing, which can trend pricier. On the other hand, driving sales can require costlier customer acquisition tactics like SEM and sophisticated email marketing.

A school might focus on community outreach and reputation management. A medical practice could prioritize online reviews and patient acquisition strategies.

Again, it all comes down to your marketing goals and how fast you want to achieve them. 

Next steps to figuring out the cost of marketing that works for you 

Unfortunately, it’s a fact: The “bottom line” of marketing will always “depend.” But knowing what it depends on helps make that reality easier to digest.

And, as you’ve learned, those factors include the size and type of your business, your target audience, your budget, your market competition and your specific marketing goals and tactics.

The good news is that getting a sense of cost can cost you nothing. Curious? Talk to us. Zoe Marketing & Communications is ready to review your goals and see where your budget can go.

Or, if you’re still researching, check out these two articles to learn more about what drives marketing costs (generally, and with us specifically):


Download Your Guide to Marketing With Zoe

From the first steps and your role in success to specific services, pricing and success stories, learn all about partnering with Zoe.

Kim Kovelle

As Zoe Marketing & Communications’ content manager, Kim Kovelle brings nearly 20 years of writing and editing experience in metro Detroit. She has strong roots in community journalism and a knack for making complicated topics make more sense.