Export News, September 2011

Would you bet on the Welsh rugby team to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy on 23 October? After all, you can get odds of over 200/1 by backing them.

Still not interested?

How about if you had some secret knowledge of the team, aware they had a secret team of Welsh Sonny-Bills stashed in the Welsh highlands and would surprise everyone?

Information changes the way we are willing to invest, and it is same for deciding what to spend on your exporting marketing.

Measuring marketing effectiveness is one of the greatest challenges for Kiwi companies as they work out how to use their precious resources to compete on a world stage against larger, well-funded opposition.

How often have you seen a promotion of your own fail? Or spent money on advertisements or brochures and had no idea whether they’d had any effect?

What would you do if your board authorised a $40,000 promotional budget tomorrow? Take an advertisement in a trade magazine, produce a brochure or case study, run a sales promotion, do some sponsorship, a combination of these? How would you decide what tactics to use?

How do you judge whether all those marketing dollars are going somewhere useful? For any tactical promotional activity there is typically some sort of measure.

With the growth of online marketing tools like Google Adwords, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, marketers are actually awash with numbers.

All kinds of ‘analytics’ are available for these communication channels, with marketers able to tell to a high level of detail who is clicking, where and for how long.

For a website you can use free tools like Google Analytics to track almost anything. Unique number of visitors, how often and how long they visit, what country they are from, what other popular sites are linking to yours, how many people are completing contact forms, specific page views and whether they download anything (e.g. an ebook or video) while they are there.

For an email newsletter you can easily track who opened it and what they read.

Online advertising through services like Google Adwords, Yahoo or Bing allow you to track your campaigns closely.

Statistics such as position on the page, impressions, number of clicks, click through rate, and cost per click. And you can integrate this information with your website analytics to see who and how people are coming from these advertisements to your website.

With the more traditional tools like print advertising or direct mail, it is still possible to track effectiveness in terms of leads generated through phone or email, or perhaps even shifts in brand awareness if you are measuring that on a regular basis.

Events like trade shows also yield numbers, in terms of people attending and the number of leads generated. Similarly statistics can be gathered for online events such as webinars.

All of this data can be used to calculate a return on your marketing investment, for example a ‘cost per click’ calculation for an online advertisement or a ‘cost per lead’ from a trade show.

Turning data into intelligence

The challenge you’re left with however is that you can measure all of these activities and still be no closer to understanding how much it is really contributing to your business. It is easy to become obsessed with the numbers and miss the point of it all.

“Measurement has gone too far, expectations of measurement are too great, and measurement has clouded our judgement instead of informing it,” lamented blogger Eric Wittlake recently in response to a growing obsession with tracking numbers, especially around social media.

“As marketers, we have allowed strategy to become second to data.”

The ease of tracking how many people have clicked your Google ad, or ‘liked’ your Facebook page, have for some obscured the real purpose of measuring.

Promotion is only valuable in terms of how it influences whether someone chooses to buy your product or service, i.e. does it sell? The real strategic measure of whether your marketing activity works is evaluating how it pushes people through a sales cycle to become a customer.

How do you build this ‘real’ gauge of marketing effectiveness?

The first step is documenting a typical sales cycle for your product. There are various models you can use, but it can be as simple as identifying the major stages one of your customers goes through, from the point they first learn of your product, right through to the time they become a satisfied customer.

For example, you might have a ‘suspects’ stage, a ‘prospects’ stage, a ‘proposal’ stage and finally the ‘sale’ stage.

Next is establishing some sort of system (anything from a spread sheet to specific customer database product) that tracks the numbers of potential customers at each stage.

From here you can track the movements of prospects through the sales cycle on a regular basis, assessing how many shift from stage to stage and at what sort of pace.

Now comes the powerful bit, aligning ‘solutions’ like advertising or trade shows with ‘problems’ such as gaining suspects or converting a prospect into a proposal.

For example, you could prove that investing in Google Adwords might help generate suspects, or that an online white paper helps prospects move through to the proposal stage.

Getting the right structure behind your metrics

By applying your promotional tracking numbers to how people move through your sales cycle, you have a truly strategic picture of your marketing activity.

You know the levers that really fill up your sales funnel, and what helps guide people along that process towards handing over the cheque.

Of course it is not an exact science, but some structure is better than none. Instead of endless numbers that mean little, you will have a few key measures that really mean something.

This is a core issue, because good marketing can make a huge difference to an organisation’s ability to expand export sales. But if you can’t provide solid measurement, your board and management are not going to be willing to invest.

Having that hard evidence makes a real different to your decision-making and how you allocate your resources.

And although Wales are very unlikely to repay any punters’ faith, you can actually beat the big guys in your export markets with some smart marketing information.

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