Is Your Marketing Success Measurable or Make-Believe?

Is marketing an art or a science? The simple answer is: it is both.

On the one hand, persuading potential customers of the value of your product is at the very heart of marketing — and this persuasion is an art form. On the other hand, marketing initiatives must be backed by tangible, science-driven data. Without the insights gleaned from such data, there is no way to repeat success, and no way to gauge the true effectiveness of your efforts with any accuracy.

It's well been said that "if it can't be measured, it can't be improved." The fact is, the science of marketing revolves around what can be measured, either directly or indirectly. Without the ability to measure the effects of your marketing campaigns accurately, you'll be left with a few clear objectives, and no specific methods to achieve them. You'll have nothing with which to experiment, and therefore nothing on which to improve. 

In the final analysis, marketing teams are left with this key question: Are the company's marketing efforts measurable, or make-believe? Only one of those options leads to sustainable success.

How to Define Success in Marketing

Marketers are often quick to espouse the value of a certain advertising strategy or campaign. Perhaps they may point to the plaudits that a particular ad received or the number of awards that a previous campaign won. However, while such recognition is certainly welcome, it should never be viewed as the true measure of marketing success.

What truly matters in the world of marketing is how campaigns or other initiatives affect "the bottom line" (in other words, a concrete measurement of revenue or growth, such as year over year sales increase, or total revenue generated). Sadly, many marketers completely miss the mark in this regard. One study found that some 74% of marketers can't measure or report how their efforts impact their business.

The problem with this trend is that there may be other factors besides marketing that contribute to year over year growth — and without a way to measure marketing success accurately, there's no way to tell how effective a company's advertising truly is. For example, if a company launches a marketing campaign at the same time it completes a website redesign, which initiative is primarily responsible for the subsequent influx of new customers? Without solid analytics in place, it may be impossible to tell.

Using SMART Goals to Define Marketing Success

Perhaps the most important step toward accurately defining marketing success is to use SMART goals as benchmarks of progress. A SMART goal can be defined as an objective that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

There's a world of difference between a vague wish or desire, and a concrete SMART goal. For instance, you may want to increase the number of visitors to your website. That's your wish. However, expressed in terms of SMART objectives, you may establish the following guidelines:

  • You want to see a 20% increase in site traffic (specific) as measured by site analytics (measurable)
  • To accomplish this, you decide to optimize your content for certain keywords (actionable) that will attract a broader range of visitors (relevant)
  • You'll measure this initiative's progress for three months, and then make adjustments as needed (timely)

Using such SMART goals will help you to determine whether your marketing efforts are truly having an impact. For instance, in the above example, you want to see if changes in web content will lead to a higher traffic share. If, after the three months, you see little to no effect from your efforts, then you know that either your team is not making the correct changes, or that your content is already optimized for site traffic and you should look elsewhere to generate new leads and revenue.

In short, a SMART goal for your next campaign can act as a "North Star" for your marketing efforts. Your campaign may trend towards the goal, away from it, or yield few results either way, but with the SMART methodology in place, you'll at least gain a basic understanding of what's working and what's not, and where changes should be made.

Combining Marketing Science with Art

For many marketers, the joy of advertising comes from the creative aspect of the work. Instead of data points and analytics, a clever turn of phrase or a catchy slogan may provide an artistically-inclined marketer with a sense of satisfaction.

The beauty of SMART goals is that they allow marketers to experiment with the artistic side of marketing without the danger of hurting revenue or other metrics. Moreover, they enable marketers to focus their creative energies toward a specific objective. For instance, a radio advertiser may aim to generate 1,000 leads through commercials over a period of 8 weeks. This clear objective gives the marketing team in charge of radio creative a target to shoot for - and may even inspire them to deliver their best work.

The bottom line is that claiming success without measurement is ultimately self-defeating, and completely ignores the science of marketing. Such "victories" are hollow, since non-marketing factors may have been the primary drivers for results anyway. They might as well be "made up."

On the other hand, your marketing campaigns will be much more effective when you combine science with art and set SMART goals. You'll be able to identify weaknesses in your strategy and tactics and make adjustments as needed. Finally, your company will be in a much better position to enjoy sustainable growth for years to come.

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