Have you heard of the “toothpick rule” in U.S. politics?
A recent Think With Google article by Neil Hoyne had a great analogy about this rule and how it relates to measuring your marketing efforts. It evolved from practice in political lobbying—and what was “allowed” over time.
Here’s the Story…
Clearly, bribing is a big no-no in the lobbying world. At one time, though, the way to an elected official’s heart was through his dining calendar. Dinners were a common treat that led to the popularity of many steakhouses within blocks of the U.S. Capitol.
Then, in 2007, Congress said “no more!” to these hours-long meals. No lunches, not even breakfast was on the table. But they eventually landed on an exception: “food that you have to eat standing up using a toothpick” was permissible.
Hoyne’s point is, that this is not a perfect solution… But those lobbying folks had to start somewhere. Similarly, when it comes to marketing measurement, he notes: “Some imperfect measurement is better than nothing.”
Avoiding Analysis Paralysis
It’s likely you’ll never have all the data, the competitive analysis, the unbiased-yet-proven models of why a certain strategy or tactic will–or will not–work. You want proof, of course. But if you don’t move forward until you have 100% validation, you’ll never be able to move forward. It will be analysis paralysis forever.
But, you can start somewhere, just like the toothpick approach.
Measuring Marketing’s Value
There are some key metrics that will help you determine how much (and what blend) of marketing you need to understand your conversion values along the buyer journey. For example:
- the number of website visits
- the number of visitors who raised their hand to accept an offer, subscribe to your newsletter or download an ebook
- the number of those hand raisers who accepted a conversation with you about your product or service
- and then what portion of those people actually buy your product or service
As you know, that number gets smaller as you move down the funnel. So, it’s important to “do the math” from the top of the funnel to understand where you stand as you move through it. I use a standard spreadsheet to help my clients make these calculations.
The next step becomes what you need to do to get to your target conversion rate. If your current conversion rate is 14%, but you really need 18% to achieve your revenue goals, how do you get to 18%? Well, there are two ways to think about this.
- Improve the quality of the “things” that attract buyers to have a conversation with you or engage with your brand. Even if you still only get 1,000 website visitors, a greater number of them will be enticed to engage.
- Bring double the number of website visitors and there will be a better chance of reaching a qualified universe.
These metrics are valuable to know… But, sometimes, they’re not knowable.
Exploring the Unknown
There are a number of reasons why you don’t have the data you need:
- You haven’t invested significantly in marketing, so you don’t have examples of test initiatives that worked/didn’t work.
- You may have selected channels but haven’t spent enough behind them to actually understand if the initiative didn’t work because you haven’t invested enough, or if it just doesn’t work for your business.
- The program/initiative wasn’t given time to yield projectable results.
- KPIs haven’t been clearly defined or refined. Saying, “We want to grow our revenue by 35%” is just a wish. It’s imperative to be specific about KPIs all throughout the funnel.
Working the Workarounds
You can work on “fixing” these unknowns, but there are also some workarounds that provide a quicker path to insight. You might look at them as the toothpicks in the analogy.1) If you’ve done a strategic assessment of your growth plan, you’ll have identified where you need to focus on marketing investment according to the buyer’s journey. Knowing this, you could test an investment pointed directly to an opportunity in your sales funnel. So, top-of-funnel might require an asset that drives more people to your website. Further down the funnel may necessitate more ambitious engagement materials.
2) You might decide you’re going to pause your investment for six months while tracking the consequences. This sounds scary, I know, but in uncertain times this approach could provide some data to look back on as you plan for 2023.
It will be analysis paralysis forever.
3) Try investing in a smaller universe. For example, a social media platform. If you’re a B2B company, you might think about engaging your audience with a high-value asset on LinkedIn. Then, focus on understanding that conversion rate so you can apply that insight to your broader marketing program. For a B2C company, it makes sense to do the same on Instagram.
4) Testing messaging means ‘think before you spend.” Perhaps you’ll invest dollars in a small PPC messaging test to see which option gets more traction. Or, you might deploy an email campaign to nurture your existing database before spending a ton of money on a purchased list. You could also test two different assets to understand what’s performing well against an engagement KPI. This helps you untangle underperformance: Is it the asset that’s not working? Or the channel?
In the end, these workarounds aren’t so much of a silver bullet but rather a way to identify the gaps and work on closing them.
Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
In business, and marketing, it’s crucial to look at the big picture; the long-view. But if you’re constantly on the hunt for the one, big solution to solve your growth obstacles, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself standing still. Small, incremental movements like these allow progress—even if it's not perfection.
If you’d like some more guidance on how to navigate marketing measurement, even if you don’t have all the data to inform your strategy, here are some resources:
See our entire YouTube channel, Marketing Air-Cover, here for additional guidance on marketing strategy for small business.
You can find more about the Marketing Strategy Lab for small businesses here.
Learn more about hiring a fractional CMO here.