Marketing is good. But measurable marketing is better. Measurable marketing with well-defined goals – such as lead generation, social media follower growth, or sales funnel expansion – is better still. But if you want your marketing team (internal or external) to add value to your bottom line, you need to align marketing activities with the company as a whole.
Growth can mean different things to different people, and it depends upon where your business is in its lifecycle. If you’ve established a product-market fit and you’re focusing on user growth and conversions, your marketing activity should reflect this, focusing on the channels that are delivering the most signups at an affordable rate. If you’re gearing up for an IPO, chances are you’re paying more attention to monetisation and revenue, a different set of metrics which require a different suite of marketing tools to get results.
And while the trajectory of the business will be determined by the CEO and/or board, marketers are in a unique position to support this by adopting a fluid and agile approach. It’s important to set long-term goals – such as developing e-mail lists, or building a community around your brand on social networking sites – but you can also use existing assets to provide a short-term boost when you’re nearing the end of a quarter, or when HR needs help in attracting applicants to grow the team.
The value of different tactics
Marketers, then, need to make sure that they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons – whether they’re in-house or external.
If it’s all about immediate route to market and fast-growth, then PPC might be the answer. Social media follower growth can be put on the backburner.
If it’s about building brand awareness, a mixture of top-of-the-funnel blog content and social media advertising might be the perfect recipe.
If it’s about driving email signups, a downloadable eBook and landing page could do the job. It depends very much on the business goals for each growth stage.
Each of these results will have an attributed value, which should make sense in the context of a wider business growth plan. Here’s a video by VentureBeat, in which EventBrite’s Brian Rothenberg is interviewed about aligning marketing and product, to maximise user growth.
In the end, no marketing channel should be used in isolation, and while many digital marketing approaches lend themselves to particular growth goals – such as social media ads for fostering engagement, email marketing for pushing prospects further through the marketing funnel or search engine optimisation (SEO) for helping your target audience to discover you – they work best when they’re used together, with each element acting as a different piece of the jigsaw.
Communication, Communication, Communication
For today’s CMOs, communication is more important than ever. He or she will need to bring together disparate sets of information from multiple sources – from AdWords and Google Analytics to social networking data and reports from CRM systems – and process the information in real-time to make rapid decisions.
Marketers must tailor their strategic approach to the priorities of the business, and for that to happen there has to be constant communication at high levels, particularly between CEOs and CMOs, trickling through to the executives. This is usually a straightforward line of comms in a fast-growth startup, especially an agile one – whether executives are in-house or outsourced.
The best leaders are able to delegate, and it’s often enough for CEOs to explain their targets – whether it’s increased sales and sign-ups, page views to pull in advertisers and investors, or a drive for business-critical partnerships. Executives take care of the execution by feeding the hungry beast in-line with the broader strategy, reporting back about return on investment.
In an era in which priorities can change overnight, CMOs and executives must be kept in the loop, so as to react fast. After all, successful marketing is all about reaching the right people with the right message, in the right place, at the right time. This message must be optimised to convert according to business goals, based on considerations of audience needs and wants at that time.
Semi-regular input from a business leader will ensure that there’s no playing catch-up, and that executives are not pushing for reach and engagement, when hard sales become the priority. Often it’s as simple as grabbing a coffee and a chat, to keep all aligned. However, more structured meetings must take place, and formal lines of communication should be agreed as process.
With the agile nature of modern startups, teams are often dispersed – sometimes on different continents. Luckily, there are plenty of tools that you can use to facilitate communication between teams and individuals, including:
- Internal Social Networks (Yammer, Jive, etc.)
- Project Management Tools (we use Asana)
- Resource/Document Libraries (we use Google Drive)
- Instant Messaging (we use Slack)
- Shared Documents (such as Google Docs)
- Discussion Forums
- Video Conferencing (Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts)
Working with external teams
Speaking of outsourcing – while it can be a useful way to augment your capabilities without the burden of hiring full-time employees or allocating time and resources on job-seekers with the right experience, it can also lead to disconnects between departments and a locked-in contract with a supplier that doesn’t understand your business.
When considering the involvement of an external digital marketing consultancy, note their attention to your core business goals. There’s no catch-all approach, only bespoke strategies that are designed for specific clients. A constant awareness of the digital strategy’s impact on business goals is key to a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.
Of course, communication is still immeasurably important, and you can use many of the tools that have already been mentioned, but you’ll want to pay extra attention to sharing very specific types of information, including the following.
Share your in-depth business plan – or at the very least, a top-line overview – with all external teams, so that they know your overall goals, as well as your mid-to-long-term marketing targets. If your company has a strong internal ethos – such as Facebook’s mission to connect the world or Google’s “don’t be evil” motto – be sure that they know about it, as well as how it should be applied.
Determine the deliverables your external teams will be expected to provide, as well as how those deliverables will be measured and what they’re going to do for your startup. Overpromising and under-delivering is not a sustainable approach for either party, so set expectations early.
Catch up regularly (once per week on average) with external teams, to ensure both parties can report back on progress. Keep an eye on their results to ensure you’re getting your return on investment, and you’ll also need to inform third parties when goals change, or a new growth area becomes a priority. This might incorporate new messaging, fresh target audience focus, or the short-term energetic promotion of a product / service / event launch.
What keeps you up at night
Ultimately, external resources are there to make your life easier. When you’re lying in bed at night, struggling with a problem that you can’t solve, ask yourself whether an external team can support you. By offsetting this responsibility, you can focus on the bigger strategic picture, and ensure that your teams are working together for the common vision of the brand.
Measuring what matters
Measurement has always been important, but it’s doubly important when it comes to digital marketing, where every click can be tracked, every second can be analysed and every page can be optimised to make the most of your resources. Be sure to use a tool such as Google Analytics to track what users are doing, and to use the insights to take action to support your efforts.
Set up goals in Google Analytics to help you to better track when your visitors are doing what you want them to. This could range from visiting a specific page or making a purchase through an e-commerce site to signing up to a mailing list or spending a certain amount of time on the site. The goals you set up in Google Analytics will depend upon the goals of your startup, but it’s best to monitor as many potential areas of significance as possible, to track performance over time.
This article by Kissmetrics provides an overview of the critical goals.
Thereafter, you analyse which marketing techniques are bringing in the right types of visitor. For example, if it’s all about capturing data then you can look at the number of times you captured data from social networking traffic, digital advertising traffic and organic search traffic, compare it to the amount of money you spent on each channel, and then determine which one gives you the best bang for your buck. Once you know what works and what doesn’t, you can make sure that you’re allocating more of your budget to the channels that are generating results.
This is an ongoing process, and it’s all about making marginal gains, a concept which rose to fame thanks to Team GB Olympic Cycling coach Dave Brailsford. He realised that his cyclists could shave off a second here and a second there by making multiple minor improvements. The same holds true for digital marketing. Even a % improvement will pay major dividends over time.
Whilst your digital marketing strategy should align with the goals of the rest of the business, this isn’t where it stops. The most successful businesses are aligned from the bottom to the top; a sleek machine in which everyone knows where the business is, where it’s going, and what they need to do to help it achieve great things. This begins when the startup is founded, and should be instilled throughout as it grows as part of the company’s culture.
It can help to formalise this process, whether it’s by making the business plan available across the company and encouraging active feedback from different departments or whether it’s by using a tool such as a Focus Canvas to ensure that your entire ethos is laid out on a single page. Even if the marketing department isn’t responsible for its creation, they can lead the charge.
In the early days, when you’re focusing on growth, effective marketing alignment is even more important. One study found that companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve 20% annual growth rate, while companies with poor sales and marketing alignment have a 4% revenue decline.
The bottom line is that if your departments are working at cross-purposes, it’s your bottom line that will suffer.