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Marketing: is it performing, or are you?

Why poring over your stats may be holding back your marketing.

Marketing activity stats are not unlike horoscopes. People stare longingly at them, desperately trying to find something tangible that fits their narrative in the hope they’ll provide both deep and meaningful wisdom for the here and now, and the prediction of a path to future success.

Sound familiar?

Marketing activity stats clearly have the potential to provide incredible insight, but to be of any real value, the stats need to be based on significant amounts of data, but for the vast majority of small businesses, the volume of marketing activity-based data simply isn’t there, so the stats are little more than meaningless numbers that can never paint an accurate picture of what’s been going on.

Perhaps it’s time to look at marketing performance.

The term ‘Marketing Performance’ is often mistaken for describing the need to measure everything, as-in measuring how well, or not, your marketing is performing, and if that’s your interpretation too, it could well be the reason your marketing isn’t performing anywhere near as well as you’d hoped.

A potentially obvious way to measure engagement is to look at the stats, and it’s not uncommon for people to pore over their marketing stats, usually because they believe it’s the right thing to do, even though they’re not entirely sure why, or indeed what they’re looking for. And relying too heavily on the stats for answers only increases the risk of ending up like the Ouzlem bird who flies around in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own backside.

“I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.”

George Canning, British Prime Minister, 1827

If that sounds familiar, it’s time to get a grip on what will improve the effectiveness of your marketing, and here’s a clue; it isn’t going to be what the stats tell you, even though it’s a commonly held belief that really understanding your stats is crucial to the success of marketing.

It isn’t. No, really, it isn’t.

Of course, it’s very different for retail consumer brands or any business making high-volume sales, but for the vast majority of the SMEs that make up 99% of all UK businesses, focusing on measuring everything to within an inch of its life, in relation to marketing, is largely a waste of time.

So, just why do we believe that stats are the key to marketing success?

Firstly, we’re brainwashed by software companies who sell subscriptions to track-everything, measure-everything marketing automation software, and would have us believe that it’s crucial to find meaning in why one post received twelve likes, and another only five. Twelve thousand and five hundred might be a different story.

Secondly, there’s the text book number one rule of business that we must ensure we always generate a Return On Investment.

Unfortunately, believing this hyperbole does little more than create a barrier to getting on with the business of marketing, because what we need in order to make improvements in marketing is something everyone can understand, and everyone can do.

There’s no questioning that generating a return on investment in particular is a fundamental guiding principle of business, but it’s very short-term thinking, and B2B/niche marketing is a long game, and if you’ve spent time, money and energy crafting your content, it makes perfect sense to want to know how it performs as part of your ongoing marketing campaign, but it can be agonising and soul destroying to see your advert, post or article have little or no engagement, when in reality you can’t actually tell who saw your content anyway, or the impact it might have had on them.

What should you do next?

When you’re up against a deadline and you’re pulling an all-nighter to meet it, but you’re dead on your feet, you have brain fog and can barely keep your eyes open, sometimes the next most productive thing you can do, bar nothing, is to STOP. Just stop and walk away from it, and if you can’t sleep, do something inane such as walk the dog, do the ironing or reorganise your underwear drawer. It’s proven to significantly increase creativity that’s being stifled by overthinking.

My advice is very simple for small businesses who believe their marketing activity stats are important; stop looking at the stats, at least for now. Just stop trying to work out what they’re telling you and what you should do about it.

Whilst this may at first appear to be counterintuitive to growth and success, doing so will free you from stats-fatigue and feeling as though you constantly need to find meaning and justification for everything, and it will open your mind to a whole new concept.

And remember: not everything that matters can be measured. And not everything we can measure, matters.

So what could possibly be more important and more effective than measuring how well your marketing is doing?

It’s the ACTION you take.

And here’s why.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

In a typical day on social media, Twitter sees more than 500 million posts. LinkedIn users share more than 2 million posts, and Facebook users share 75 billion items, so unless you have a killer offering that your potential customers can’t live without, the exposure your content enjoys will be fleeting. And when people scroll past your post without stopping, it’s as good as lost and gone forever.

Imagine you’ve spent a small fortune on creating a video masterpiece to use as part of your online and social media marketing campaign.

You publish it; you wait a day and then eagerly log in to your stats to see how well it performed.

Unfortunately, nothing happened; no views, likes, shares or comments, and we know that if engagement doesn’t happen on the first day, it’s unlikely to happen at all. It’s bitterly disappointing and the stats tell you only what happened, not why it happened.

An alternative approach might be to create ten or twenty or however many posts, articles or newsletters you need to convey your range of products, services and any other messaging you want to get out there, and you post them daily, rotating through the different content to deliver different messages, today, tomorrow, and every day.

Oh, and please don’t worry about posting too much. Theories abound on how many times to post, the best times to post, and the best days to post on. Work from home and hybrid working has turned the basis of these theories on their head, so for now just get your creative head on, post, and don’t overthink it.

Once you’re posting regularly, (brace yourself) continue to ignore the stats for now as they can never paint a picture of true exposure, and you might just get your content in front of a game-changing new customer that the stats would never have been able to identify anyway.

What is Marketing Performance?

For almost every small business, Marketing Performance is not about measuring results, it’s about taking positive action. This means increasing your own performance, or that of your agency if you outsource posting, and there are two reasons to increase performance instead of simply trusting the stats:

1) The introduction of the GDPR in 2018 empowered website visitors to take control of their data by opting-out of marketing cookies on [most] websites, so your third party tracking software, such as Google Analytics, isn’t now able to track the activity of every visitor. You won’t know who opted out, so you can’t know accurately how many visited once, how many returned or how they interacted with your website.

2) In social media land, an impression simply means your post has appeared on someone’s screen, but regardless of how long it stays there, if they don’t physically engage by liking, sharing or commenting, it’s still only an impression. That’s not to say impressions aren’t worthwhile. You just need to be clear about where their value lies because they’re not true engagement. But it means your content is getting exposure and is, potentially, being seen.

“Continuing to drive impressions is crucial to brand success. Increased impressions will lead to increased engagement.”

Jessica Delannoy, Scaramanga Agency

So, whilst probably 95% of all posts on social media achieve little to no engagement, that doesn’t mean your content hasn’t been seen, and I cannot emphasise how important it is to understand that people see your content; you just don’t always get to know about it.

Currently, even big brand names see little or no engagement with non-paid-for posts on social media unless their content includes a not-to-be-missed offer, is of significant human interest, or it’s highly emotive or controversial. Or it’s a cat.

What does online engagement mean to you?

Is it views, reads, comments, shares, click-throughs, website visits, enquiries, orders, revenue, profit?

It’s any, or all of the above to everyone, and what’s important to you will be different for someone else, so the goal for every business owner should to generate more engagement in whatever form it takes, and the collective scale of all social media platforms provides a significant opportunity to reach your audience.

However, in reality, the engagement numbers you’ll get with your own social media activity are likely to be so low as to be meaningless in terms of how they influence what you do next, i.e. what action to take based on the stats.

Incidentally, this applies to your website with Google Analytics too, because website owners typically put way too much store in the numbers and what they want them to mean.

If your website visitor numbers are not in the tens or hundreds of thousands every month, you can pretty well ignore Google Analytics as a tool for helping you plan your next steps. It might show that ‘this’ article created greater interest than ‘that’ article, but rather than agonise over the topics you should be writing about now, just write more, and then write even more.

Of course, website stats can be both interesting and useful, but the difference between 2500 visits in May and 3500 visits in June might be good for your ego, but until you look at the bigger picture over a longer period of time, it suggests little more than a fickle audience. And dropping back to 2500 visits again in July doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, as it might just be because [UK] school holidays have kicked in.

Being hell bent on analysing your activity stats is your prerogative, but learn to be philosophical about them and think beyond the stereotypical responses, because stats will rarely give you black and white answers.

Return On Investment

Dupont’s Assistant Treasurer, Donaldson Brown, is credited with coining the phrase ‘return on investment’ in 1918, and the buzzword acronym, ROI, remains universally ingrained in our business investment vocabulary.

With marketing, however, the obsession with measuring success in monetary terms to ensure a return on investment belies the importance of taking action.

Ironically too, the cost of marketing in accountancy terms is only ever seen as an expense, and never as an investment. As such, the questions asked by finance are typically along the lines of, “how much are we spending?” or, “why are we spending so much?” instead of, “how much are we making?”

If accountants put all marketing costs into the ‘investment column’ instead of the ‘expense column’, everyone from line managers to shareholders and investors would ask, “how much are we making” [from marketing], and that question would do what? It would drive action at every level, make everyone in the chain accountable, and produce a far greater return on investment.

Action changes everything.

“Success seems to be connected with action.”

Conrad Hilton

Instead of thinking about ROI as the Return On Investment, think of it as the Risk Of Inaction.

When you publish any piece of content, whether it’s a single post, article or newsletter, ask yourself what the ROI will be; the Risk Of Inaction if you only post this piece of content.

And every time you think you want to analyse the stats, remind yourself about the Risk Of Inaction, and that your own Marketing Performance is all about taking action, not taking measurements.

Use this Risk of Inaction as a way to motivate yourself or your team to focus on doing more, creating more, and publishing more. You’ll be surprised by how much better your results will be for doing so.

With more than 30 years experience in business and marketing, Clive is the visionary behind The Marketing Alliance, launched in 2018. Clive leads a curated tribe of accomplished marketing and business support professionals who consistently delight clients through their creativity, innovation, strategy and an unwavering commitment to excellence.
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