Yesterday I was talking with a business owner as she shared her frustrations with building her new business. She sheepishly asked me, “How do I know which of my marketing activities are working?”
Not realizing that this was a question even the most seasoned marketers struggle with, my new friend was feeling like she didn’t have the right answers, but should have.
I quickly reassured her that this is a common problem, and an especially compelling one for people like her who are analytically minded. Not only do marketing executives ask themselves this question, it is also frequently on the mind of CEOs and CFOs who hold the purse strings to fund new programs.
“Should we spend more, or less?” While the answer to this question is not cut and dry, I can offer some insights that will help put your mind at ease.
Think of Marketing Holistically
Do you question the value of your big toe? Probably not. It’s part of your body, and it’s there for a reason. So it is with many aspects of marketing. Did that one new piece of collateral make a sale? Likely not, but it may have helped.
Every element of your marketing program should be designed to support your overall strategy. You can certainly examine individual elements to see how they are performing, but don’t overlook the fact that each program and its components are part of something bigger.
Maybe you find it hard to track the impact of your “keep in touch” strategy. Perhaps you rarely hear back from customers who get your periodic messages, and you start to question their value. There’s one way to know: Isolate this element, remove it from your programs, and see what happens.
The impact could take a while to surface, and few people have the patience to test individual program elements methodically. They want instant results and make snap decisions without considering the entirety of their firm’s marketing efforts.
Every contact, every ad impression, every exposure to a prospective customer can have an impact on their decision whether or not to do business with you. If you’ve ever tasted a cake and realized the chef forgot the sugar, you can see the impact of eliminating something that seems insignificant: the whole recipe fails, and the other ingredients are wasted.
As suggested above, it makes sense to test elements of your marketing programs by isolating certain activities. By judiciously adding or subtracting, you can monitor the individual impact of a single campaign on your overall marketing effort.
Be cautious. It’s tempting to change lots of things at once, but you lose the ability to be objective when you make a number of changes together. The concept of A/B testing can apply throughout your marketing: Pick two variations, like a blue and a green “Add to Cart” button on your website, and see which delivers more conversions.
When you are satisfied with the data, pick one and move on to the next test. But don’t change all your buttons, your background images and your menus at the same time, or you’ll have no way of knowing which change really impacted the results.
The same concept applies to advertising campaigns, brand messaging and promotional programs. Take baby steps so you can be confident that the variations you’re seeing in results can be attributed to a specific element of the mix.
Time Changes Things
What worked last week might not work today. It is easy to fall into a rut, assuming that the campaign you’ve been running every year at back to school time will work again this year, too. Not so.
The environment in which you are marketing is constantly changing. People change, trends change, issues change, and they all impact the world in which you create and deliver your products and services.
Given this fluid environment, you should question and refresh your marketing efforts periodically. When you have paused a program, take a look at the market climate and make appropriate updates before restarting it.
If an ongoing program seems to be declining in efficacy, focus your testing efforts on it and find out why. Maybe the message no longer resonate or a competitor has matched your offer. Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to walk away from something that is no longer working, as long as you have validated the issue.
Don’t Scrap Everything
Some people just don’t have the patience to bear with marketing efforts. They try something for a month or two and give up, often just before the results would have started to appear.
In these cases, there is frequently a knee-jerk reaction, like “I tried social media, and it didn’t work.” If you find yourself in this mode, take a step back. Just because something is off in the overall mix doesn’t mean that everything you’re doing is wrong.
Go back to testing and uncover your issues. Engage outside help if you’re too close to the problem to see it clearly.
Resist the urge to cut the budget in half (or more) or fire the marketing team. The one thing worse than un-optimized marketing is no marketing at all. Stick with it, stay in the game and eventually the effort will pay off.
Give it Time
I know that CEOs and CFOs are pressed for financial results. Sales people need to make their quarter – and their quota – and there’s lots of pressure for marketing to deliver. Marketers are under the gun to show the impact of the money they spend and it can be a challenge to convince the higher-ups that it’s worth the wait.
To overcome this challenge, set goals and track incremental wins. If your objectives are realistic, if you set a reasonable time frame in which to achieve them, then you should be able to show forward motion. Using a monthly dashboard to show how new leads are increasing or how brand awareness is building can provide proof of the traction you need to get respect and support from the C-Suite.
If things don’t pan out the way you’d hoped, know ahead of time when you’ll pull the plug. For example, if your aim is to increase leads by 12% in six months, you should have a check-point at month three. Growth will move along a curve, building momentum over time. So rather than looking for a 6% increase halfway through the program, try for 3 or 4%. If that’s not happening, it’s unlikely you’ll hit your target, and it’s time to reassess.
When you need to regroup, don’t be defensive. Accept it and move on. You haven’t failed. You simply haven’t found what part of marketing works best…yet.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.