January 13

Are Data-Driven Marketers REALLY Data-Driven?


Just about every marketer on the planet these days claims to be “data-driven”.

And that sounds like a good thing. After all, data doesn’t lie, right?

Well here’s the thing. In the dim and distant past — back before I was a copywriter — I was a data analyst. So I know a thing or two about data. And you wouldn’t BELIEVE what you can make data “say” if you put your mind to it.

But that’s a story for another day.

For now, I don’t want to talk about the quality of marketing data, or even the accuracy of marketing metrics. Instead, I want to talk about something more fundamental: metrics that matter… and metrics that don’t.

Here’s an example.

Imagine you write two blog posts. One gets viewed thousands of times and shared all over social media. The other does OK, but no real fireworks. Which post was more valuable?

The answer is: “Who knows?” Without more information, there’s no evidence that either post contributed ANYTHING to the company’s bottom line.

Did either post prompt any email signups? Or contact form submissions? Or some other desireable action? Or did they just stir up some interest for a few hours and then subside?

If they DID inspire a few email signups… what’s that worth? For each new subscriber, what’s the average dollars-and-cents value to the company?

Let’s take another example.

Everybody knows that email converts better than practically every other marketing channel. Even when it doesn’t — which is rare — it still has easily the best ROI. So naturally, marketers want to track the effectiveness of their email campaigns.

So what’s the first thing they track? Open rates.

Now, there are two problems here. First, when it comes to accuracy, open rate tracking lies somewhere on the spectrum between finger-in-the-air guessing and honest-to-gosh divination. There are just too many problems with open rate tracking for it to be in any way reliable or useful. And second, once again, open rates have no bearing on real-world factors like sales or signups.

And if at this point you’re thinking: “OK wise guy, so what SHOULD we be tracking?!” … the answer is actually pretty simple. You should track anything that can be directly linked to a specific outcome that has clearly defined value to the company.

(Generally, that means money, but occasionally there might be some other motivation)

Now don’t get me wrong. I DO appreciate that this stuff isn’t as easy in the B2B world as it is for B2C companies. In B2C (in a best-case example) you send an email, readers follow a tracked link to a sales page, and some of them buy. That’s about as simple as life gets for a marketer.

In B2B, we nearly always have to rely on sales teams to close, so we’re a step further away from the “money shot”. But that doesn’t mean we can’t claim some of that value for ourselves.

Let’s say you checked the data for the last 12 months and discovered that for every 850 new leads added to your email list, one gets converted into a $10,000 sale. That’s great. Now you know that the value of one lead is equal to $10,000 / 850 = $11.76

Yes, this is a simplistic example. And of course, if your email marketing is good, it should influence the conversion rate. That change not always easy to measure, but it can be done (or at least estimated).

OK, next question. How much does it cost to generate one of those leads?

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Of course, the answer will vary for different prospecting techniques. Blog posts will have one value, social media another, paid ads another, and so on. But until you have a mathematically sound system in place to check, it’s very difficult to figure out which are your most cost (and time) effective marketing channels.

I’d wager that if more B2B marketers did this, a lot of social media activity would dry up overnight. But again, that’s a subject for another day.

So there you have it. Metrics that matter… and metrics that don’t. The specifics vary from company to company — the principle remains the same for everybody.

By the way, I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day from somebody bemoaning the fact that marketing is always first on the chopping block when times get tough. Apparently, he’d heard that two talented senior marketers had been laid off within a few days of each other because their companies were struggling. He said it shouldn’t be that way, because marketing contributes to company success.

To which I say…. Can you PROVE it?

I bet those two marketers couldn’t. They might be hugely talented, but if they can’t prove the value they add, they’ll never be secure.

Harsh? Yes. Fair? Perhaps not. True? Yup.

And on that cheery note, I’ll wrap up for today. I hope you’re having a great start to 2020. If you have any upcoming projects you need support with, just hit the reply button.

P.S. What’s your experience with email marketing? In my biased opinion, right now in the B2B tech world, the average standard of email marketing is FAR below that of every other major marketing channel. Companies spend hugely on SEO trying to get to the top of Google’s organic search results… but then have the company intern write their email newsletter. If I had to guess, I’d say “winning” at email would be incredibly easy just now for most B2B tech niches.

P.P.S. Another thing I rarely hear discussed in B2B marketing is the value of owning your own media. This is a very common topic in the entrepreneurial world. If you go all-in on SEO, then one algorithm change can ruin years of hard work. If you go all-in on social media, an update or two can destroy your reach. But if you go all-in on email (or some other channel where you OWN everything you create — your email list, in this case) nobody can take it away from you.


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