The Delicate Art of Letting Sacred Cows Go

Forced change is one of the hardest aspects of communications today. With consistent technological evolution and its impact on the Internet and media, change we must. Often change requires letting go of sacred cows, meaning those marketing and communications initiatives that are important to us or the company yet we know their not working.

Why would a company continue efforts that produce little or no results? Precious “must have” initiatives can pale in comparison to other efforts when it comes to delivering actual results. Still internal stakeholders feel these programs are the way business should be done.

External perception and trends can provide as much if not more peer pressure. You need look no further than the perception that every business and nonprofit should be active on Facebook.

This is where data can offer a great marinade, the evidence that helps spur a conversation about change. But you need to have that conversation, probably many of them to get an organization to let go of its sacred cows. The process of helping people move beyond set beliefs also requires a deft hand that allows them to save face.

Begin with Clarity

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Every organization should have a mission that helps the company or nonprofit determine its communications goals. When you understand where you are going, you can build key performance indicators (KPIs) that clearly show whether or not a particular tactic or initiative is meeting its goals.

KPIs are a black and white type of measurement, specific in their intent. You may even want to break goals into types of actions. Consider some of these possible KPIs:

  • Engagement will be determined by the amount of website traffic referred from each social network (branding). A successful social network post will yield 5% click through.
  • Successful website content will be determined by a) amount of shares, totaling 10% of visitors (branding) and/or b) amount of email sign ups, a goal of 5% (lead gen)
  • Successful social network communities worth investing in will produce lead identification through email sign-ups, online chats and contact forms. Five percent is the target for all social networks (lead gen).
  • Eventually customers should be produced by identified leads. We expect a 10% conversion rate for identified leads (ROI)

It’s fairly easy to set up these types of goals with a combination of web analytics and CRM. Almost every marketing automation system empowers this type of tracking.

However, the real yield in these efforts is gaining clarity about your customers. While your sales people may understand customer profiles in general, data yields exact profiles. For example, they work in mid-cap companies and are either directors or vice presidents. They tend to work in technology or security concerned industries. You may be able to determine gender and age. Sixty eight percent are women aged 30-49.

In addition, you can map customer behavior. They interact with us on Twitter, but share our content on LinkedIn, too. Those that like our page on Facebook never share the content, nor do they click through.

What Your Data Allows You to Do

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Suddenly, you have a clear picture of how your customer interacts with you and who they are. It is important to identify what is working and what may be failing, including your sacred cows.

I think its critical to look at the data with an attitude of discovery. If you go in and say this isn’t working, then people act out of fear. Covering up and saving face becomes more important than changing. This is the conversation to have: Look at what this data is showing. Maybe we can better meet our KPIs if we tweak our current outreach. What do you think? Make it a safe conversation where everyone has a voice.

Don’t push to cut things unless everyone or a majority of your team is in agreement. You may need to go through a cycle or two in your program before prescribed change is agreed upon.

Perform an audit of your communications and content. Experiment to see if you can get more yield on social networks, email, ads, etc. Instead of generic content, you can now drill down and offer specific content that may be more compelling (e.g. contextual). For example, instead of offering photos of men at work, show pictures of women at work. Perhaps offer custom content for your top industries as the reward for signing up for emails.

If getting authorization to experiment is difficult, data should help to justify A/B tests. Try it once and see if the results are different. What CMO won’t give something a one-time try to see if they can get more engagement, leads, and potential customers?

As you experiment, you learn more about the role of each medium in your networks. Poorly performing sacred cows continue to stink. Each time you present the data about which actions are meeting KPIs and which ones aren’t, it becomes clearer that some initiatives must go. The question may be changed to should we cut this? And then when should we cut this?

The process of experimentation helped vested internal stakeholders see the poor performance, try to save it, and realize it was simply no longer a viable communications path or method. You may have known through this whole process that your sacred cow needed to be cut. Going through the process was necessary to create palatable change within your organization.

Usually, we see change as a moment in time. But in reality change is often an evolutionary process. This was the case when Tenacity5 announced its stance towards Facebook marketing last week. We experimented and changed approach a couple of times before letting the overhwelming and consistent data inform our decision.

What do you think?

Vulcan Marketing

Star Trek TOS - Spock

Why, why, why create yet another type of marketing?

Well, I’m not. It’s just a metaphor for emotionless marketing without personality, a danger we face in the age of marketing automation.

Vulcan marketing refers tongue in cheek to an over-focus on big data driven algorithms, automated paths, statistical decision making and content decisions.

For those of you not familiar with Star Trek lore, Vulcans do not experience human emotions. The beauty of Spock’s character — half Vulcan and half human — were his struggles to embrace humanity, much like today’s marketers.

Understanding Human Motivation

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Avoiding Measurement

I'm still running away
Image by Vincepal

Would you like to learn how to create an integrated multichannel marketing program? Register today for a Marketing in the Round training with Gini Dietrich and me in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New York or Washington, DC.

I was talking with Gini Dietrich about our forthcoming book Marketing in the Round, and which topics people would find interesting. We discussed measurement, and both of us noted that whenever we get into the nitty gritty of ROI and outcomes blog traffic drops precipitously.

Generally, marketers and communicators avoid measurement.
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Why ROI Will Never Die

Twi flip

This post celebrates the release of two books, Katie Delahaye Paine‘s Measure What Matters and Olivier Blanchard‘s Social Media ROI. Zoetica is giving away five free copies of each book today to the first 10 people who answer the question “Why will ROI never die?” on our recently revamped web site (thank you RAD Campaign for the excellent design).

Of all the social media memes, the ROI conversation is built to last. It actually preceded social media through generation after generation of marketing, and is the issue clients care about most. Because many marketers cannot commit to outcomes preceding a marketing or communications campaign, this question will continue into the next century, too.

There are some who have an extremely literal (and somewhat narrow) view of ROI, the text book definition of quantifiable sales numbers mapped to output. While accurate, many executives do not understand the difference between a desired outcome and literal ROI. They just want to know, “Will we get what we need if we engage in this marketing activity?” To them that is ROI. Guess what? They’re the ones hiring, and this question is absolutely valid.

This timeless truth dates back to John Wanamaker’s legendary quote, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Department Store Mogul Wanamaker graced the earth from 1838 to 1922, and is considered by some to be the father of modern advertising.

This issue is resolvable today. At least online it can be thanks to customized URLs. Literal ROI may be a little more challenging, particularly for high-end consultative sales, but for other types of outcomes there is no excuse. Whether it’s foot traffic, increased conversations, a better reputation, these things are all measurable online using approaches such as the Three As of measurement. Further, tracking systems like Eloqua are changing the game for consultative sales, tracking initial web visits all the way though to the sales identification process, and then leads.

Regardless, you can build in measurement to gauge the success of a program from the outset. A good strategy has clear goals that it is trying to achieve, which gives a strategist something to measure against. Not having measurable outcomes — sales or other desired results — is the mark of a shoddy strategist.

As to the ROI purists, organizations invest in marketing communications for more than immediate, direct financial outcomes. Smart companies and nonprofits know that branding and marketing creates opportunities, many of which are measured as leads. But even communications vehicles that produce attention, while guilty of creating hype bubbles, can be measured.

Marketers have to deliver real outcomes, end of story. Clients do not hire or stay with firms that can’t produce ROI or outcomes. Clients hire marketing consultants that perform and help them avoid pitfalls. Similarly, marketing staffers need to produce internally. Companies and nonprofits retain employees that deliver results, and the rest find themselves looking for employment before too long. That’s business.

That doesn’t mean you should promise the undeliverable. Instead, offer a different path. More importantly, hone the practice of strategy, including measuring outcomes from the start. It is an essential skill set! There will always be marketers and communicators who cannot deliver on this. In fact, most cannot. That’s why the ROI meme will never die. Poor marketing will always create the need for it.

Win Your Free Copy of Measure What Matters or Social Media ROI

Book Giveaway

Don’t forget, Zoetica is giving away five copies each of Katie Delahaye Paine‘s Measure What Matters and Olivier Blanchard‘s Social Media ROI. If you want to win a copy, simply answer the question, “Why will ROI never die?” Please leave your answer in the comments section on the Zoetica contest page (responses that do not address the question seriously will not win).