Inbound Marketing Strategy

3 Easy Ways to Find Out if Your Marketing is Working (Or if You’re Wasting Your Time)

Brad Smith
May 20, 2013
Here are a few business performance metrics to find out if your marketing is working.
Use these business performance metrics to find out if your marketing is working.

Months before showing up on a major stage or television event, comedian Chris Rock will turn up at tiny comedy clubs to test out hundreds, even thousands of jokes.

Instead of “performing”, he’ll just pull up a stool and go through a huge list of possible joke variations or ideas. Many flop and fail. The audience might become annoyed or irritated. And some leave.

But that’s not important.

Chris is looking for clues and insight. He’s looking for those few gems. Like a person’s body language or chuckle that let him know he may be on to something. He’ll continue to rework these jokes until he has 9 or 10 to create a show around.

Then he hits the big stage.

Rock’s approach is unconventional. But you can’t argue with his success — as the once high school dropout is among the most successful (and highest paid) comedians of all time.

And interestingly, it’s the same way a major animation studio prepares for it’s next big blockbuster.


What You Can Learn About Marketing from the World’s Most Successful Animated Studio

Pixar is a rare example of a company that grew rapidly, become wildly successful, and yet continue to innovate. Their string of success has been phenomenal since the first Toy Story came out.

They’ve earned an incredible 27 Academy Awards, with 7 of those for Best Animated Feature.

And a lot of their success has to do with the everyday collaboration and creative process. They create elaborate, detailed storyboards as “work in process” and continue to examine every scene or frame from every different angle.

They also go to great lengths to experience their research or “learn by doing”. This includes scuba diving to learn more about the visual aspects of fish in their natural habitat for Finding Nemo.

Pixar has a fundamental belief that it’s better to fix problems during the process while they’re actively learning, then obsess over the initial planning phases and believe they have everything figured out.

And one of the keys to “learning-by-doing” and iterating quickly is to make sure you’re getting constant, reliable feedback in the form of “actionable metrics”.


How to Use “Actionable Metrics” to Learn, Iterate, and Grow

The “Lean Startup” movement has swept through technology companies over the past few years.

Pioneered by serial entrepreneur and Stanford professor Steve Blank, and further developed by Eric Reis, it borrows concepts from other industries like Toyota’s manufacturing processes to improve your chances of success.

And one of the most important concepts from The Lean Startup is actionable metrics.

Many times, companies focus on vanity metrics — things like the number of Twitter followers — that doesn’t necessarily impact or correspond to important parts of your business.

Actionable metrics on the other hand allow you to focus on key business drivers, and simplify how you track or measure results. In most cases, all you need to track are 5-10 basic key metrics. And if you can figure out how to improve those, then you’ll be able to significantly impact your business.

Digital marketing is great because there’s all types of data available to track your performance.

However, that’s also the problem.

There’s too much data. Especially in a world that evolves minute-by-minute.

So how do you make sense of it all?

And how do you take data — raw numbers or percentages — and turn them into insights to improve your marketing ROI?


Start by “Mapping” Your Sales Funnel to Improve Key Business Performance Metrics

Sales don’t materialize out of thin air. So every business has an online sales funnel with key steps or stages.

New visitors arrive at your site, check out a few things, agree to receive more information or make a purchase, and then they might re-purchase or let their friends know.

So if you want to boost your bottom line, then you need to address and improve the stages that come before it.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a waterfall effect that spills over into more revenue and profit (while also costing you less in the long run).

You can start to track these important stages by adding more context to your numbers. Take for example, the old copywriting AIDA framework:

Here are a few key business performance metrics you can track to find out if your marketing is working.

Step #1. Traffic & Awareness: Consumers today see several thousand advertising messages every single day. So the first goal in digital marketing is to get attention. Visits and pageviews are obvious examples of attention. But you should also dive deeper into the individual sources sending you traffic. This is the first step to figuring out how your marketing campaigns or activities are working, because you can compare how much demand or attention they’re generating vs. what they cost you in time or money.

Step #2. Engagement: The “missing link” between new visitors to your website and loyal customers is engagement. So you need to pique their interest, and build trust before they’ll start to purchase (or recommend you to their friends). You can start to gauge interest or engagement by looking at how many pages they visit, how long they stay on your website, and how many of your new visitors “bounce” or leave immediately.

Step #3. Conversions: Last but not least, you need to see real actions or conversions taking place. Because more Facebook fans are nice — but they don’t pay the bills. And people might tell you they like something, but if they aren’t actually opting-in or giving you their credit card information, then it doesn’t matter. So these can be actual sales, or other “micro-conversions” like opting-in to a quote request form or your weekly newsletter.

Of course, once you start tracking all this stuff… you’re still not done.

Because “marketing” isn’t a one time thing. It’s ongoing and recurring and comprehensive.

If you want to improve key business performance metrics significantly over time (like double your revenue in the next year or two), then you’ll need to constantly create new ideas, and experiment to improve on each stage of the sales funnel.

Create new hypothesis for each campaign → Test in real-time to get actionable feedback → Iterate quickly based on what you learned and proved (or disproved)

Rinse and repeat.

Because the best insights you’ll get aren’t from your competitors or other benchmarks.

But from comparing your own results over time.