Starting anything new is difficult. Getting momentum for a new facet of your business, or one where you’re making major changes? Yeah, that’s going to be some work. If your business isn’t already experienced in the marketing game, getting up and rolling is a big deal. So how do you do it? How do you go from novice to expert (or at least from novice to “we kind of know what we’re doing”)?
The answer is not to simply start firing off ads willy-nilly. It’s to be thoughtful and intentional about setting up a marketing infrastructure that can support everything your team needs to be successful. Only then can you be consistently excellent at marketing, and not just lucky here and there.
The first step? Figuring out what your expectations are. The only way to get somewhere is to know where you’re trying to go, and that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
Alignment to business goals is critical
What is your business trying to do, and how does marketing make that possible? One thing that we’ve found in our work with our clients is that a lot of organizations that come to us (or to any marketing consultant) for help are in similar places. They might historically focus on sales, but now they want to dip a toe into the marketing waters to try to make sales’ job a little bit easier. Or maybe they’re looking to really build and maintain a consistent lead generation machine and feed contacts to sales in a bigger way. No matter what your business goals are, it’s important to make sure that what you’re doing with your marketing is synchronized with them. And sales and marketing must be on the same page regarding those goals.
How is your marketing performing today?
One of the toughest things about setting expectations when you aren’t an expert in the field is knowing what is easily achievable and what is desperately optimistic. Setting your sights low can lead to some easy early wins, but it’s awfully difficult to reach your full potential as a business that way. And although you’ve probably heard that “if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars,” that’s not completely true here—setting lofty goals that you can’t reach can lead to disillusionment in your team, even if the results you have are actually pretty good.
The answer is to get an idea of how things are performing right now, and use that knowledge to inform your goal-setting decisions. One of the first questions our team will ask a new client is “are there marketing efforts that you’ve tried already, and how have they performed?” Baseline metrics are a godsend when you're planning for what’s next. If your current setup is pretty advanced and simply needs a facelift, you can set aggressive goals as you aim to take your business to the next level. But if you’re a total novice, incremental improvement might be the name of the game as you build the foundations that will lead to greater future success. Knowing where you’ve been is key to figuring out where you should try to go next.
And those early goals should, as you might guess, be determined based on your revenue goals. Again, marketing goals and business goals must be in sync—and as ever, revenue is the point of pretty much everything we’re doing. A lot of this comes down to simple math. If you have a good idea of what to expect from your audience based on your baselines, you can craft an equation that can take you to the promised land. If marketing can bring in X leads and help them to convert at a rate of Y%, you’ll have Z number of marketing-generated opportunities—and if you know the rate at which those opportunities close and become customers, you can work back from there to see how many leads marketing needs to generate in order to meet your revenue goals.
Just tossing ads out there and hoping for the best might get you where you want to go, but only through sheer luck. Building a smart and intentional process based on what you know is how you get to consistent, repeatable marketing success.
Segmenting goals to build momentum
While setting sights too low is a bad way to build marketing momentum, a great way to do it right is to segment your goals. Rather than lumping everything you’re trying to do into one bucket, you can divide and conquer—and if one part is running great while another suffers, you can adjust your tactics or shift resources to benefit the work that’s struggling.
How do you do this? There are tons of ways, but one way to look at your marketing in a segmented fashion is the way we do: story, strategy, and scorecard. Another way to phrase that would be to think about your brand, your marketing tactics, and your measurement of results.
Is your marketplace understanding your offerings in the way you wish them to? When your sales team talks to prospects, do they hear pain points that align with the things your business can solve? Is your story crafted in such a way that it communicates what you bring to the table to the people that you want coming to that table? These are the issues that a strong brand can solve.
Your strategy is all about how you take that brand and share it with the world. Do you know where your audience is, where they go to learn about your industry? If not, time to find out. But if you do, you need to meet them there in the ways they want to interact. Knowing your audience is critical to smart strategy, but if you can distribute your message intelligently, you’ll meet your goals.
And finally, do you know what the results of your marketing investment are? What’s happening after someone sees an ad, or visits your website? Do they stick around? Do they move on immediately? Are people coming back again and again, and eventually becoming customers? With today’s increasingly digital landscape, it’s easier than ever to measure how your marketing is performing—and as budgets increase, it’s more important than ever to make sure that your investment in marketing is paying off.
What marketing KPIs are most important?
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter: what should you be tracking to make sure you’re setting goals and expectations properly, and meeting them? The thing is, it’s hard to answer that question specifically. It’s always going to depend on the precise tactics that you choose to employ as a part of your overarching strategy. For instance, if you’re going heavy into blogging and white papers, there are certain content marketing KPIs that you’re going to want to track, but if you’re going a different direction some of those will apply and others will be pretty pointless.
But the way you’re thinking about your key performance indicators should be pretty standard no matter what engagements you settle on. Look at what, if anything, you’re tracking now, and see whether it applies to what you’re going to be doing going forward. If so, keep tracking it. If not, it’s extra—ditch it. And if a number isn’t telling you anything useful, if it’s a “vanity metric” that just makes you feel cool, ditch that too.
Think about your measurements in the framework of the “story, strategy, scorecard” triad. Give yourself a score or a grade on each of the three as you start out. How strong is your brand? Are you executing intelligently? Have you been measuring results, and if so, are they good? This is your starting point.
Remember that while KPIs are obviously important—measurement is a full third of your marketing foundation, after all—you should not allow yourself to fall into the trap of becoming a fanatic about them. You don’t have to have a number for literally everything that you do, as long as you know how to determine whether or not what you’re doing is having the effects that you desire. There will always be projects that can’t be tied to a quantifiable goal, or where the effects are so subtle that they’re really hard to measure. A lot of times rebranding or refreshing your brand can be one of these, but it’s clear that there are effects. A qualitative goal is still a goal worth having, in the right circumstances. Without the right story and strategy, you’re never going to capture attention.
You’ve got to have a plan
There are many goals that you could set for your marketing that would, in one way or the other, improve your business. And a lot of time there’s more than one right answer. That’s actually a good thing. It means that there’s also a number of different directions you can head, different tactics you can try, different ways to take your business to the next level. But in order to get there you have to have a plan. You have to set expectations and know what it takes to achieve them. Fumbling blindly through the dark will never get you to consistent, repeatable success.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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