4 Tips Aimed at Defending Digital Marketing’s Value

For B2B marketing, it isn’t always as easy to quantify success as we would like, even with the near-infinite measurability of digital marketing. Here are ideas for defending your digital marketing’s value.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

John Wanamaker’s famous quip may be less true today than it was when he said it — we have so many ways to track and assess advertising and marketing performance. And yet, those same tools — largely digital tools — have also created unrealistic expectations for many marketers. This especially true for B2B marketers for whom sales aren’t consummated after a website click.

So we’re left in a state where the data available to us (and boy, there’s a lot of data!) doesn’t tell the whole story. This can often put marketers at a disadvantage when talking to the C-suite crowd.

Their interest is in profit and loss. Clicks, likes, and follows aren’t a currency they care about.

The question is, what can you do as a marketer to demonstrate the value your team’s work delivers?

Tie Digital Marketing to Business Outcomes

Begin by admitting that you can’t rely on process metrics alone – the clicks, likes, and follows I mentioned above. You must tie your work to business metrics. Ideally, that’s profit, but you can also demonstrate a positive return if your work impacts other key performance indicators, like revenue, cost savings, lead quality, or lead volume.

Admit to Marketing’s Uncertainties

Get your peers and upper management to buy into the fact that nearly all B2B marketing includes some amount of uncertainty. As noted earlier, our sales are more complex and there’s rarely a “Buy” button for prospects to click after consuming a piece of your content or connecting with you via social media.

Make Metrics Work for You

For many of us, this is the holy grail. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy.

You may have to work backward by, for example, diving into your CRM data to examine the profiles of converted prospects.

  • How much content have they consumed?
  • Where have they interacted with you on social media?
  • Are they email subscribers?
  • Have they attended industry events at which your executives have presented?

This won’t necessarily paint a causal effect, but can help you make the case that your marketing work is making a difference.

Seek Ongoing Incremental Improvement

Though this again will require metrics data that can be hard to establish with confidence, it’s worth tracking your progress any way you can. For example, is the percentage of converted leads who began their relationship with your firm via the website increasing or decreasing, compared to other methods? If you don’t know, can you create the tools you need to gather this information?

Ideally, we’d all spend 100% of our resources on reaching and converting our ideal prospects. But don’t shy away from investing in the systems that will let you do so more consistently, and with more accountability.

Why KPIs Lack Insight and What Marketers Can Do About It

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs. When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs (key performance indicators). When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

However, poorly designed KPIs are not my primary gripe, at least not in this post. My main concern is that even well-designed KPIs are simply not deeply insightful, but they are often used as if they are.

Well-designed KPIs are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they are expected to be simple, easy to communicate, and intuitive. On the other hand, they’re expected to provide actionable information and be a reliable measure of important success criteria.

Anyone who has worked on developing KPIs knows that it is a game of balance and compromise, based on business objectives. The need for actionable information battles with the desire for simple metrics. The desire for intuitive metrics battles metrics that push status quo thinking or properly reflect the diversity of business interactions.

After many years working with and helping clients identify KPIs, I have found ways to manage their dichotomous nature, but never overcome it. If there is a brilliant mind out there who has solved for this, I would love to hear about it. For now, I will assume that this dichotomous struggle is a law of nature.

This leads me back to my main point. Marketers need to stop viewing KPIs as major source of insights. They are, as the name illustrates, only “indicators.” While this seems like an obvious statement, it is surprising how often KPIs have become the primary source of insights for most companies.

Take digital analytics, for example. Most companies using the web analytics platform use default metrics, such as clickthrough and page views, as their primary measures to understand web activity. While these metrics may indicate increased interest in content, they rarely tell you how satisfied the visitor was with the content or how valuable it was in decision-making. It is rare for companies to set up custom metrics and reporting, which might provide better insights. It is even rarer for companies to download raw web data into a data management tool and truly analyze visitor interaction with content, even though these solutions exist. Instead, most companies use the default web KPIs to derive custom insights into behavior on their website.

Another example can be found about how companies use social channel data. There are some great social analytics tools out there. When I come across most implementations, however, they are mostly set to track high-level sentiment analysis and rarely deliver deep insights. However, the underlying data is often volumes of highly informative, unprompted, free-form feedback. It has the added benefit of being free of interviewer bias or agenda-setting.

Recently, I was working on a project for a client that viewed their products as very innovative. Yet, when mining nearly 1,000 instances of social data, we found only one unprompted mention of innovation. Upon further investigation, we found that innovation was meaningless to the consumer. Instead, it was performance, excitement, and fun that consumers talked about most often. The customer was conveying what innovation really meant to them, while the company was still thinking in terms of engineering sophistication. This insight was un-minable from the standard social KPIs. Even traditional survey-based market research may not have captured this insight, as it would have relied on coming up with the right questions to uncover this disconnect between the company and its customers.

These examples demonstrate the need to dig deeper for better insights and I risk the label of “Captain Obvious” by making this assertion.

So, let me add to this. Well-designed KPIs, because of their simplicity and action orientation, often lull us into overestimating their insightfulness. This link is unconscious and habitual.

When I have asked marketers “What is your (Social, Web or Customer) data telling you?” A common response is, the (relevant) tracker is telling us [fill in the blank].

In reality, the answer to the question is rarely found in the tracker or KPIs. Even if they can point to a KPI that is helpful, the underlying explanation is still often conjecture or a hypothesis. In fact, the better aligned the KPI story is with commonly accepted wisdom, the more likely it is to be seen as data-driven thinking.

In other words, we find an interesting KPI trend and create a believable story around this trend and that becomes data-driven thinking when it is still just conjecture. It takes great discipline to put on the brakes and look for deeper and corroborating evidence and that is what KPIs really calls for.

I want to make clear that this post is not advocating for the elimination of KPIs. They are very helpful tools for aligning the organization and most of us understand that they are only indicators. When done well, however, they are insidiously brilliant at creating the illusion of deep insight; especially if the resulting story is a good one. Truly data-driven marketers should be aware of this and be ready to dig deeper before letting a KPI drive strategic decisions.

Building Brand Trust Through Trusted Advocates

Nothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement; especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy and brand advocacy programs are interchangeable terms describing when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

customeradvocacyNothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement — especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy, or brand advocacy, occurs when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

A customer advocacy program aims to build consumer trust by increasing the volume of trusted voices on behalf of the brand. Brand advocates are most likely to be your customers or employees, but they could also be analysts, partners, writers or others involved with your industry, category, company, or products and services.

While advocates can appear naturally and organically, a successful customer advocacy program requires the structure, funding, time and talent to find, recruit and nurture these valued relationships. The program must meet the needs of both new and long-time advocates, from various locations, across target populations, in different channels, with different motivations and different response triggers.

It may seem like a monumental amount of work, but it will be worth it. All evidence suggests that quality personal recommendations and objective reviews highly impact buying decisions. And the results are even more exaggerated in decisions regarding technology, high-ticket items and B-to-B.

As consumers become less reachable through traditional advertising methods, a customer advocacy strategy becomes a necessity. The crux of a consumer advocacy program is finding the right advocates to engage in strategic brand conversations. These advocates may have a lot of followers and influence, or they may serve a niche audience. Most importantly, you want them to have passion and knowledge of your subject area and relevant topics to assure credibility. These advocates are often found on social media, but can also be gleaned from customer email lists and other channels.

Dedicate social listening and other research efforts to look for those with digital influence, quality content and brand affinity. You want them to already have a platform that you can enhance with product trials or betas, special access to company leadership, partnership opportunities and special offers for their followers. But reward their brand participation only through a completely transparent relationship, so as to protect the your public integrity and trust.

A brand with a customer advocacy mindset thinks of their advocates as more than opportunistic sources of content, leads or sales. Smart brands cultivate customer advocates as precious resources that create credibility and positive sentiment, reaching into and influencing populations the brand can’t touch as effectively itself. If a brand is authentic and responsive to these advocates, the relationship can start dialogue that returns immediate value.

The brand derives value from customer advocacy in numerous ways, including:

  • Frank feedback from knowledgeable and objective resources.
  • Reviews and testimonials that ring honestly to broad audiences.
  • Increased referral rates.
  • Humanization of the organization or brand.
  • An empowered staff.
  • Personalization of the customer experience.
  • Development of third-party resources, knowledge bases and assets.
  • Increased positive brand sentiment.
  • Increased overall awareness, share-of-voice and influence in your industry.
  • Increased leads and sales.

Tracking the value of an advocacy program requires the same strategic approach as other marketing program analytics. Start by crafting a goal statement that outlines specific, quantifiable objectives and then benchmark the appropriate KPIs. Regularly track and report against goals to keep the program performance on target, and to understand the relative value of different advocates. Look for impacts on business outcomes, not just measures of activity, to draw a straight line between this critical effort and your strategic business goals.

It is likely that your program analytics will identify some assets and channels that have more activity than others. Share these great stories and numbers with your team to develop key insights about your audiences and inform content planning across the organization.

Many organizations are investing in some of the activities that define a customer advocacy program but have yet to combine the elements into a cohesive plan under dedicated leadership with appropriate goals and funding. Plant the seeds for a true customer advocacy program by following these few key rules for advocacy within your organization:

  1. Earn Trust: Brand trust is essential to advocacy success. Organizations or brands challenged by scandal or disappointed customers should reform their business practices before attempting to encourage word-of-mouth marketing.
  2. Show Empathy: Understanding and communicating an emotional brand message will resonate with audiences in a way that other messaging approaches cannot.
  3. Focus on Quality: You don’t need the biggest network of advocates — you need the most impactful.
  4. Think Long Term: You will need to dedicate resources and incorporate advocacy activity into strategic planning.

Want to know more about building an effective customer advocacy program? View our free, one-hour webinar on the topic with audience Q&A, available here until 3/2/2017.

Analytics Isn’t Reporting

Today, virtually all organizations have challenges in effectively leveraging analytics to drive business performance. Odds are pretty good that when you read that statement, you thought of at least one example in your organization. Perhaps you thought about the systemic contribution that analytics is making or a frustration you’ve had with analytics performance. If so, you’re hardly alone.

Today, virtually all organizations have challenges in effectively leveraging analytics to drive business performance.

Odds are pretty good that when you read that statement, you thought of at least one example in your organization. Perhaps you thought about the systemic contribution that analytics is making or a frustration you’ve had with analytics performance. If so, you’re hardly alone.

Here’s my home base for thinking about “analytics” in your organization.

“The promise of marketing analytics isn’t esoteric, or abstract — it’s fundamentally simple — analytics generates evidence of problem or opportunity that can be used to drive a specific business impact.”

Yet marketing analytics all too often fails to live up to its full potential. When it comes to the Web, almost a decade after the advent of mass adoption of Web analytics platforms like Google Analytics, engagement and conversion rates are still struggling to make methodical progress forward, and bring the business to materially greater profitability.

One of the biggest errors in strategy is the inadvertent substitution of “reporting,” or even “dashboards,” for a robust analytics process. It helps to first appreciate how subtle that difference is and why it happens:

  1. Analytics Is Interesting. Analytics can be intellectually stimulating, but some individuals and organizations spend too much time in the rapture of how interesting all that data can be. I was recently at an event where a smart young woman had a name badge on that said “I love data” below her name. I was tempted to write “I make money with the data” under my own.

    While I’ll be the first to express a life-long affair with the database and discovering “interesting” things in the data, that’s just not enough. So we have to monitor when analytics isn’t producing the evidence we need to affect change and deliver a business impact. While that can take a tremendous amount of work, the purpose itself must remain clear to create value.

  2. Reports Don’t Always Have the Right Questions Behind Them. Most of us came up in business generating and reading reports. I confess that I remember craving a report we used to call “the blue book” (if you still remember paper). I looked forward to every week when I ran my business line off of it in a large company that razed many a forest generating blue books. Thankfully, they email them now — but these reports are the same static, one-dimensional view of the business, many years later.

    The problem comes when we see our “standard reports” as the answer, even if the question we should be asking has changed.

    When you’re dealing with fickle consumers, and infinite choice is a click away, those questions sometimes change faster than “reporting standards” can realistically keep up with.

  3. The Relevancy Is Gone. Better than 80 percent of the time, I see marketing organizations with ample “stats” on their historical activity — yet they often fundamentally lack a strategic big picture and framework to consistently improve marketing and business decision-making. Frequently, the same organizations struggled with aligning the technical implementation of analytics and metrics required to drive business growth.

  4. Continuous Business Improvement Sometimes Requires a Cultural Shift. Cultural shifts of any size aren’t trivial, of course. I recently attended an all-day digital commerce strategy summit at a large brand I’ve done strategy work with during the past year. Dozens of staff, vendors and executives attended. The ultimate revelation for some of these executives who made the six-figure investment in the event was, “this requires patience, and is very methodical and testing-based” — it took a huge amount of effort, resources and time. To the credit of the executive who sponsored this event, a necessary cultural shift was recognized. While all in attendance knew intuitively about “test-optimize-learn” and had a large investment in their analytics software platform — she recognized that her organization was playing catch-up culturally — an achievement in itself.

5. Prioritization Is Key. Many large and more traditional organizations have very deep roots in a task- and reporting-based culture. This stifles Data Athletes from doing their jobs. Prioritization is key. As the old saying goes, “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” Executive sponsors need to make choices on where to dial effort back; focus can then be applied to build a point of view based on evidence, and the opportunity to create and discover the context of opportunity and problems.

Forward vs. Backward Analysis.
Very frequently, I’ve helped organizations that started analytics processes or programs by looking “backward” at tactical reports; these reports can only show if a past tactic has or hasn’t worked. You cannot tell if a different tactic or mix of tactics would have done better, and by how much. Worse yet, the very volume of these “reports” often obscures the bigger picture. The solution … Look forward.

Analytics Should Be Forward-Looking. It’s driven not only by analyzing the past, but by creating a framework for planning and creating future performance. In other words, what to test, how to test it, and how to use the results of those tests to drive continuous improvements in the business.

In short, analytics done well creates visibility into what you should be doing and suggests the delta with what you are currently doing. Think about the aforementioned necessity for prioritization — Analytics done well helps you set those priorities.

Analytics professionals and and the executive team must all work together according to one principle:

Analytics is the process of identifying truths from data.
These truths inform decisions that measurably improve business performance.

Analytics Must Be Purpose-Driven.
Here’s a simple approach to create focus and align the specific implementation of analytics to serve you and your business growth:

  • Your business’s Purpose drives specific Business Objectives.
  • Those Business Objectives, in turn, inform Goals.
  • Your Goals are tracked via KPIs.
  • The KPIs are continuously compared against Benchmarks.

It’s easy to dive into the weeds, get lost in the data, lose patience with the process, and begin a bottom-up approach. This deceptively simple framework I’ve suggested will help you take a top-down approach to analytics that ensures you are measuring the right things — correctly. When you do, you will become a true analytics-driven organization.

Doing so will help your organization grow faster, more consistently and reliably — and that makes for a valuable and happier organization. Be a Data Athlete, not an analytics nerd — and you’ll make all the difference in your organization.

Can Micro Social 6-Second Videos Work for Direct Marketers?

Is it really possible to apply direct marketing principles to those new “micro social” 6-second videos? … And expect to monetize it? We’re about to find out, and we’d like to invite you to get on board with the campaign test with your ideas. In turn, we’ll share with you the results and statistics we’ll gather from email blasts, Facebook posts, YouTube views, and ultimately sales performance. You may know about Twitter’s latest foray into “micro social” with 6-second videos on Vine, and

Is it really possible to apply direct marketing principles to those new “micro social” 6-second videos (like Twitter’s Vine)? … And expect to monetize it? We’re about to find out, and we’d like to invite you to get on board with the campaign test with your ideas. In turn, we’ll share with you the results and statistics we’ll gather from email blasts, Facebook posts, YouTube views, and ultimately sales performance. You may know about Twitter’s latest foray into “micro social” with six-second videos on Vine, and if you’re like us, you shake your head and ask, “really? Who would do that and why?” Moreover, is there a way to make money from this?

Our opinions on such wild concepts, however, don’t matter. Results are what drive us as direct marketers. So rather than pour cold water over a new tool, we decided to dive into it to see if we could make it work. We’re about to test the concept and find out if we can make it a success. We’ll report on what’s happening over the next few weeks and in April we’ll have the final results.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

This six-second video test starts next week, so it’s early in the campaign with time to adapt and adjust. And that’s where your ideas can come in. The campaign extends into early April, allowing plenty of time to adjust it along the way.

But there is a twist: because the organization we’re testing this concept for doesn’t have a large Twitter following, we figured, heck, why not create short video blasts that can reside on YouTube, Facebook, and a web landing page (where we already have a large audience), and see what happens.

We invite your participation in formulating this test by answering a few questions (along with other questions and suggestions you think of) in the comments section below. Here’s how you can participate:

  • If you were in charge of marketing this 6-second series of videos, what would you do?
  • What would you put on the screen of these 6-second videos? What about other production ideas?
  • What would you do to expand the reach beyond the organization’s email list and Facebook presence?
  • Would you use YouTube annotations?
  • Would you use Facebook promoted posts? Or Facebook pay-per-click ads?
  • What other social media options would you try to expand the reach?
  • For every 100 fans, what would you project engagement levels to be?
  • What percentage sales increase over last year’s performance would you expect for this campaign to be considered a success?
  • What other key performance indicators, or KPI’s, would you use to evaluate the sales results of this campaign?

Please share your ideas in the comments section below, or email me directly. We’ll keep you updated in our future blog posts, and we’ll find out together if all of this worked. If it’s a bust, we’ll tell you that, too.

With so much new coming into our marketing world, the more we share successes and failures with each other, the more effective and profitable we’ll all be.

Industry Experts Weigh In: Marketing That Matters

Earlier this month, I participated in a professional development and networking event for alumni of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I spoke with some of my colleagues about how they define performance marketing and what they envision for the next generation of performance marketers, and they shared valuable insights about its growth and accountability.

Earlier this month, I participated in a professional development and networking event for alumni of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I spoke with some of my colleagues about how they define performance marketing and what they envision for the next generation of performance marketers, and they shared valuable insights about its growth and accountability. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

Tom Collinger, associate professor and sector head of direct, e-commerce and search marketing and associate dean of Medill. Collinger is also president of The TC Group, a marketing strategy consulting firm, and serves as a member on the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Consumer Marketing.

CG: What does performance marketing mean to you?
TC: Performance marketing is, after all, redundant, isn’t it? The goal of all marketing and communications is to grow connections and engagement that results in sales performance. I believe the term has grown in popularity recently as a result of the growth in measureable outcomes to marketing initiatives, but, really, can you ever imagine a marketing communications initiative funded without a stated expectation of results? I can’t either. So, for me, performance marketing means an expectation of results as a consequence of the strategies used to promote a brand.

CG: What advice do you have for the next generation of performance marketers?
TC: I’d advise the next generation of performance marketers not to fall victim to the belief that an immediate and measureable result to a prompted marketing communications initiative is always the best basis of proving success. Rather, consider each and every initiative in the context of how a business, brand or service is made more or less relevant to a customer. Each initiative is a brick that either builds or erodes the wall that becomes the barriers to switch.

Ron Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Clevenger, an independent multichannel direct digital marketing agency. Jacobs started a professional program in direct marketing at DePaul University in 1990, and in 2006, he began an endowment for the program. He also devoted 17 years as a senior lecturer in the Medill IMC program. Jacobs co-authored the “Eighth Edition of Successful Direct Marketing Methods,” the best-selling book on the tools and techniques of direct marketing.

CG: What does performance marketing mean to you?
RJ: I find myself constantly reminding my clients, staff and students that performance marketing is direct response marketing, and many of the traditional tools and techniques of direct marketing apply. The ultimate objective should be conversions or sales. The messages and calls to action need to reflect the keywords that got prospects there in the first place. Moreover, while you may not be able to measure everything, you can easily find three to five key performance indicators that make sense for your business.

CG: What advice do you have for the next generation of performance marketers?
RJ: Today, virtually all marketing communications are accountable; it’s the new normal. Performance marketing is a leader in this transition. Marketers, media and agencies are shared stakeholders in this change; we all need to find ways to adjust our business models to accommodate it. 
Whether seeking direct marketing or broader results, the accountability of the web continues to drive the evolution of performance-based approaches toward game-changing methods to better assess and optimize performance.

Final thoughts
Initially an arms race to get the right technologies in place, performance marketing has become more consumer centric as the practice begins to mature. Successful performance marketers will understand consumers and how they use technology to find information and ultimately make decisions.

The measurement process for performance marketing almost always includes generating response; collecting information; and analyzing large data sets, complex systems and partnerships — all focused on the consumer as a participant in the exchange. This intelligent data management links the business intelligence engine with the execution engine to reduce marketing waste, optimize marketing spend and scale quality implementation for improved return on investment.

As these industry experts stated, consumers’ perspectives will only continue to gain significance in performance marketing. Marketers must find ways to be relevant, and performance marketing offers several reliable methods to connect with high-value audience segments, quantify success and keep campaigns accountable.

How do you envision the future of performance marketing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments thread below or email me at craig.greenfield@performics.com.