A good motto for modern marketing would be, “When in doubt, check the data.” Perhaps an even better one would be, “When not in doubt, check the data to see if you should be.”
There’s never been a time when we’ve had such an ability to compile, collate, analyze and understand data around marketing. As businesses increase their abilities to collect data, to compare and correlate it from disparate sources, and to use analytical tools that are both more powerful and easier to use, marketing managers find themselves in a new and potentially disorienting position.
They can’t get by on intuition — even if it’s rooted in deep experience and personal knowledge. They have to go to the data.
While it may seem like a hassle, it’s really a new source of truth and a fail-safe against bad decisions rolled into one. It makes the occasional misstep all the more damaging, though, since a retrospective look at the data can reveal what should have been examined, or the negative outcomes the data might have predicted.
Quite naturally, the tendency today is to rely on the data — but can the pendulum swing too far in the direction of data? Of course.
The hazard of becoming more data-driven is that it can result in tunnel vision. Only the captured data can be understood, and thus only activities that generate data can be evaluated. It becomes easy to disregard activities that have value but that don’t generate discrete data points, even when those activities are critical for turning prospects into leads and for moving leads down the funnel.
The danger comes during the budgeting process. It’s easy to rationalize that the activities that generate easily captured data are the ones to focus on, because they affect the metrics on which marketing’s success or failure is based.
However, the real metric for marketing success is the success of the company. If the prioritization of activities generates great metrics but poor sales results, marketing is still on the hook.
Which activities is it dangerous to deprioritize in the data era? Following are examples of three types.
1. Ungated Content
New customers often need a bit of education to understand the complexities of their problems and the applicability of your solutions. This is natural, and it happens for virtually any company.
If you want customers to understand that you’re the best choice to fix their problems, they first have to understand the problems and then have to understand your solutions, in that order. The result is plenty of what often is referred to as “top of the funnel content” — material light on your products but heavy on the ideas behind your products.
This is content you want people to see and to use. If your products are a fit for them, then you want to deliver valuable information that leads them to seek more details from you, which improves the odds that they’ll buy from you.
If they aren’t a fit, those prospects should be able to de-select themselves — sucking them down the funnel is unlikely to earn a deal, but it is likely to waste sales’ time on customers who aren’t ready to buy.
This basic content costs the same to make as other content, and that makes marketing managers leery about leaving it freely available without a form-fill. How can you understand its ROI otherwise? How can you turn readers into leads?
Again, not all readers should turn into leads — but this basic content needs to be read widely if it’s going to have an impact — and putting it behind a form is a great way to limit the number of people who bother to read it. It also tends to damage your SEO impact, so readers may not even find it to ignore in the first place.
Of course, ungated content generates no prospect data — unless you’re smart and collect data about anonymous visitors, which you then can match to visitors who fill out forms for content deeper down the sales funnel to get a retroactive complete view of their interactions with your content. So, stop pretending ungated content makes no contribution to your leads’ digital footprints. It does, if you bother to look.
2. Non-Digital Advertising
A famous marketing line is this: “Half of my ad investment is wasted; I just don’t know which half.”
That goes to the opaque nature of traditional advertising and the difficulty it poses in helping to determine return on investment. Still, businesses shouldn’t abandon non-digital approaches just because they doesn’t generate trackable clicks — especially when they’re trying to build a brand.
Part of reaching certain audiences — especially enterprise audiences — is presence. A company that’s well run is likely to be in it for the long haul, and it’s more likely to invest in non-digital advertising to project that image.
Customers exist in the real world as well as in the digital world, and the things they buy have an impact in real life, not just on a computer screen.
Besides, nothing is stopping you from including a URL to a microsite in every ad that’s specific to that ad — thus giving you the ability to discover who’s been motivated by your non-digital marketing.
Tie that microsite to some other pertinent content, and suddenly your marketing data bridges the digital and real worlds. Then you can discover which half of your investment is wasted — and change what you’re doing so that failing fraction shrinks and fades away over time.
3. Contributed Media
Getting your executives into print is a great thing. It helps build your brand, it establishes your expertise, and it helps project your exec’s personality to the public. (Don’t forget — people buy from people, and they really like to buy from people they like.)
Some organizations see this as an expendable item on the list of marketing activities, since it runs on a third-party’s site and generates no readership stats. This is another feeble excuse.
Articles in third-party publications — especially online publications — are great for getting your message out. Odds are they are not the first time your business has discussed topics that are important to the business, which means you should have a rich library of content to link to in the body of these articles.
Contributing to third-party media providers is not just a writing exercise — it’s a great opportunity to divert possible customers to the investment you’ve already made in content.
It’s a good idea to add a “glossary” link for your content, so that when key ideas come up you can reference the most pertinent and best-performing content at your disposal (and drop those links into the content quickly).
If your team has to rummage through multiple files to find the article that’s just right, linking is unlikely to happen on a regular basis.
If you’re still worried about harnessing data, go back to examining your traffic for clicks coming from these third-party sources. If you discover that first-touches from these third-party sources lead to closed deals, then you ought to have no trouble investing in this “untrackable” media opportunity in the future.
Connect the Dots
It’s misleading to think that some activities are unmeasurable. We live in an interconnected world that makes it easy to connect digitally generated data with data that comes from disconnected sources.
The secret is to ditch the excuse that something is unmeasurable as a reason to avoid doing it, and instead use some imagination — and the technology that is readily available — to make these worthwhile activities more measurable parts of your marketing mix.