Walk into the marketing department of any large organization and you’ll likely hear conversations about the same things: open rates, click-throughs, reshares and leads.
These are all examples of the data that makes marketers more effective in a digital-first age. Having a solid grasp of the relevant metrics helps marketing and other departments decide everything from budget allocations to creative design and even what kind of talent the company should hire for in the future.
Small businesses can use data in exactly the same way as larger firms, but it’s not a shift that happens overnight. In many cases these are duties that might fall to a single marketing manager or marketing specialist. Within the smallest firms, it might even be the owner or CEO.
The technologies available to help measure marketing efforts — including a CRM and marketing automation tools — might not be purchased until a company has already been in operation for a while. Once a firm buys them, it obviously takes a little time to get up and running as you move to a more data-driven marketing approach.
In the meantime, though, what should a company do? How do you measure marketing without data?
This is not to suggest small businesses should be making gut-instinct guesses with their marketing dollars and hoping for the best.
Hard numbers aren’t the only indication a campaign or tactic is working well or not. There are intangibles and “soft” measures that emerge every day, once we know how to look for them.
Are you prepared to bring on the technology and tools to become one of the many companies whose use of data takes their marketing to the next level, these are a few of the areas you should be watching:
You might not have invested (yet) in tools to automate and optimize your use of social media services, or social listening tools to get a sense of the sentiment among your target audience. That’s okay, because you can zoom in on specific interactions.
Instead of hard data about the reach of a social media post, take a little extra time to read and assess the depth of the comments you’re seeing on a post. Are they commenting at all? Are they offering any counterpoints or additional ideas? When they reshare your posts, what extra value do they add, if anything?
Just by studying a few examples of your social posts you can get a sense if you’re offering up content in a way that prompts rich discussions or a simple “like” here and there.
This isn’t limited to social media, of course. Do the same thing with comments on your blog posts or even what customers might fill out by hand on a feedback form.
Before you begin using any martech tools, the first step for many organizations is to identify their ideal customer profile (ICP) and think about all their potential attributes. This could include everything from their budget to their common needs or wants, and even demographic data like where they live and how old they are.
The next step is making those details less abstract by developing what’s called a customer persona — a representative example that you describe the way an author might create a fictional character. It helps make marketers remember their intended audience as they create messages to send them or advertise to them.
Assuming you have a persona or two already established, one way to measure the success of your marketing is how aligned they are with the customers who walk through the door (or shop online). Are they interested in your products and services based on their pain points? Can they afford what you’re selling?
In the startup world, entrepreneurs talk a lot about “product-market fit,” but in this case it’s more a matter of customer-persona fit.
If you’re seeing customers who look nothing like your personas, on the other hand, you won’t need hard data to know it’s time to rethink how you’re marketing, and perhaps where you’re marketing as well.
Some of the best marketing campaigns in the world — whether it’s a TV commercial, a billboard or an email newsletter — comes down to great storytelling. Usually, however, that means you’re essentially continuing to tell different aspects of a single story, rather than multiple stories.
If you’re a small business marketer, how often does it feel like you’re having to start from scratch in order to develop new creative for a particular campaign? If you’re completely trying to rewrite the story you’ve been telling, it’s possible it just didn’t resonate properly with your intended customers. Maybe it didn’t reflect your brand.
Think of it like superhero movies — they’re often part of a “franchise” of films with different plots, but they always carry elements that make them recognizably part of a particular world. There’s a consistency in tone, approach and the hero’s quest.
Great brands behave the same way in their marketing, whether they’re large companies or small ones. The storytelling they do is not the equivalent of a new book each time. A campaign is more like a new chapter that’s part of a larger brand story. There can be moments of surprise and delight, but also aspects that will be familiar to customers.
The end result of these stories may be difficult to quantify without technology, but you should be able to collect some anecdotal evidence. How well do your customers seem to understand your value proposition before they even do any business with you? How often do they mention moments in your story that jive with their own experiences?
Eventually, you’ll probably arm yourself with technologies that will allow you to use data in ways that were previously inconceivable. At this point, just getting yourself into a measurement mindset will prepare you for a far more effective kind of marketing, where the intangibles can be backed up by information you can trust and act upon.