When Marketing Data Is Absent, You Need to Go by Instinct
By Peter Lyle DeHaan
Though the source of the old advertising quip is in dispute, its wisdom isn’t. The adage laments, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Tracking Traditional Marketing
When it comes to traditional marketing channels, there’s so much truth in this saying. As marketers, we never know how many people respond to any given ad or, of those who respond, how many buy. Yes, we can survey new customers and ask, “Where did you hear about us?”, but even that collected information is in doubt.
Remember when I said I once ran Yellow Pages ads? This was before the dawn of the World Wide Web and, later, at its early inception, when it was still a novelty. Back then, the Yellow Pages was the go-to source for finding the product or service you needed. As I recall, I advertised in over fifty directories in various markets and from different publishers. But I never knew which ads worked, which were cost effective, or the ROI of any of them.
In an effort to find clarity and obtain actionable data, I had each sales rep ask new clients, “Where did you hear about us?” This was even a question on their onboarding paperwork. If they said, “the Yellow Pages,” the follow-up question was “which one?”
To my dismay, 4 percent of those who cited the Yellow Pages named a non-existent directory as the one they consulted. This brought into question the value of any of their feedback.
In addition to worrying about the accuracy of their responses, I questioned if they gave me the best answer. Given the conventional wisdom that it takes at least seven touches to make an impact on a potential buyer before they become a customer, I wondered which one they gave me. Was it the first touch, the final one, the most notable one, or simply the first one that came to mind? I suspect the latter. Or, feeling pressure to respond quickly, they could have even made up an answer.
The only thing worse than no data is bad data.
In the end, I had to go by what my gut told me and what my marketing budget allowed.
True, some ads were so inexpensive that one sale justified them for the entire year. The same applied to some of my print media advertising. Yet when the budget is tight, it’s easy to cancel ads that you can’t prove are working.
Tracking Online Marketing
This inability to track marketing effectiveness doesn’t carry over to the online world. There we have plenty of data, perhaps too much.
For online advertising, we can look at impressions and clicks, which allow us to calculate our clickthrough rate (CTR). If the sale is completed online, we know how many sales the ad produced, allowing us to calculate cost per sale and clicks per sale.
If we really want to get into the weeds, we can track this by day of the week and time of day. We can look at weekend versus weekday and daytime versus nighttime, along with seasonal fluctuations. We can also track results by geography and factor in socioeconomic data.
With social media, we can look at reach, followers, and interaction, be it a like, a forward, or a comment—whatever analogous label occurs on a particular platform. And when we pay a social media platform to get our message out, we can track results much like any other online ad.
We also have interesting metrics for email marketing. We can look at delivery rate, open rate (all the while knowing that technology underreports results), and click rate. Looking at the number of replies is useful, as is the number of unsubscribes.
Even content marketing has helpful statistics, such as the number of page views, comments, likes, and shares. Yet connecting these forms of engagement to sales is difficult, making content marketing the least data-rich online marketing option. Still, it’s much better than having no information.
The reaction of some marketers—especially younger ones who grew up with the internet and those with a more recent marketing degree—is to focus on online marketing, where they can measure results and quantify sales. Alternately, they dismiss traditional marketing—which they can’t track—with suspicion, knowing that it wastes half of their advertising dollars, if not more. They just don’t know which half.
This is understandable, but not the wisest marketing approach. Be sure to consider all marketing options—both traditional and online. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should pursue them all. Just contemplate them.
Therefore, employ the marketing options that make sense for your target audience and business strategy, using both traditional and online marketing channels as appropriate. Whenever possible, track what you can to gauge results and drive continued investment. For the rest, accept the unknowable as a part of doing business and embrace the mystery of it, using all the experience you have to produce meaningful insight.
Marketing Management Success Tip Embrace the reality that marketing is part science and part art.
Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.