Wait! Hold the Marketing Makeover! (For Now)

Nearly half of marketers say they’re going to implement changes to their marketing budget this year. If you happen to be part of this group, let’s hope those changes are really for the better and not just a knee-jerk response to the fear of getting left behind. In a lot of cases, sticking to a marketing strategy that has proven to work is the smarter option than doing some tweaks here and there. That’s why 47% of your peers actually aren’t planning on changing their budget for 2014 at all.


Case in point

So, when exactly is keeping the status quo a ‘smarter option’ for your marketing strategy? That’s for you to decide, and sadly this post really can’t give you any specific answers on that matter. We’ll, however, explore some often-overlooked guidelines that ensure you’ve gone through a thorough vetting process. After all, during planning, there’s really no right or wrong choices — only ones that you can sell to your boss.


But first, let’s set a few housekeeping rules. I know ‘marketing strategy’ is a bit broad, and it can be an extremely tough nut to crack within a single blog entry. So, for the sole purpose of this post, let’s agree that this term refers to both the strategic (e.g., optimizing your marketing mix) and tactical (e.g., CTAs, campaign objectives, etc.) levels. Also, by now, you’re most likely in the implementation phase so, if you think it’s going to cause you a great deal of trouble changing the approved plan, then I suggest you bookmark this page and come back to it later in the year. Otherwise, read on.


With that aside, here’s the good stuff. Whatever you decide to do with your marketing strategy, make sure you’ve gone through and honestly answered ‘yes’ to the following questions:


Did you really look at the right metrics?


Anyone who’s into data-driven marketing knows only too well that focusing on the right marketing metric is like trying to listen to an individual’s voice in a crowd. There’s just too much noise, and it’s very easy to home in on the wrong signal. Since we use metrics to measure a strategy’s performance and effectiveness, we have to be very, very sure that that the numbers we’re looking at really tell us what we’re trying to know.


So how can you tell whether the analytics you’re focusing on are really the right ones? There’s no universal rule behind this, but a useful marketing metric should at least be:


  • Tied to a specific objective,
  • Linked to a cause and an effect,
  • Able to answer a question,
  • Standardized and understandable,
  • Comparative and predictive.


Of course, applying these requirements won’t guarantee 100% precision, but it’s sure to drastically reduce unwanted noise when selecting marketing data. Hopefully, the numbers you’re using have all met these standards.


Were you looking at metrics the right way?


Finding the right metric (or set of metrics) is one thing; interpreting it is another. As you already know, this crucial step is where you identify patterns in the data and start drawing some insights that form the basis of your decision. But there’s a gazillion ways to interpret anything, and only a few angles can lead you to conclusions that make sense. Unless you’re working with data scientists on your team, you’d be hard-pressed to find the best way to crunch the numbers.


Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD to haul in actionable insights from an ocean of marketing data. All you need are a few simple spreadsheet hacks and a real understanding of your marketing processes. Here’s a few tips to help you do this:


  • Start by visualizing the data.  Depending on what you’re trying to find out, visually representing analytics over time (time-series) or in relation to other metrics (cross-section) can quickly reveal hidden clues about what’s really going on underneath.


  • Focus on rates of change, not just change itself.  It’s interesting to see something get bigger or smaller, but it’s even more exciting to see how fast it’s growing or shrinking. Analyzing rates of change can help you better understand the strength of trends and compare metrics’ responsiveness to changes in other variables.


  • Map analytics to processes.  Always (and I mean always) take metrics into context by relating them back to marketing processes. Know which analytics belong to which process and why.


  • Think at the margins.  This is technically known as marginal analysis. Here, you’re trying to find out what happens to metrics when you make slight changes to inputs. For example, how much does your site traffic increase with every $1 increase in SEO spend? Or, when renting email lists, by how much does your email open rate rise with each additional contact rented?


Analyzing metrics the right way should help you form an ‘educated guess’ about the results and outcomes of your marketing strategy. And you know what comes next after you’ve got a hunch. That’s right, you go back to the lab and test it out. Or, if testing your guess seems impractical, you find other ways to verify what you’re seeing (e.g., through white papers and other publications). The point here is to avoid making changes to your marketing strategy based on mere gut-feeling alone.


There’s one more crucial thing I’d like to add about using the data-driven approach to shape your marketing strategies. Keep in mind that being ‘data-driven’ isn’t the same as being ‘data-dependent.’ Overemphasis on marketing data can lead to similar problems that simply going all-in with your instinct brings. Data-driven planning requires insights, and there’s always a part of marketing that metrics and analytics really can’t account for. That’s why you still get to keep your job.


So, it’s crunch time. I hope you really followed a thorough, data-driven path to your new marketing strategy. If you’re not sure, then maybe it’s time to go back to the old drawing board and hold the strategy makeover for now.

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