So, you had a successful marketing campaign? Prove it.
Leadership is going to want to see exactly how the budget is producing results, sales and business development are going to want to be sure they aren’t just spinning their wheels, and marketers need accurate baselines and mile markers throughout the process to ensure they aren’t wasting anyone’s time or money (including their own). Measuring campaign success should always be a priority for any marketer, but proving the results of your investment are especially timely now given the state of flux with the economy and priorities across the public sector.
In GovExec’s webinar on June 14th, 2023, we gathered a few of our best marketing minds to discuss this very topic, including indicators throughout the stages of the funnel, how to measure success and what to look for, the role of research when executing your marketing strategy, metrics and other performance measurements you can tap into, and more.
Anna Pettyjohn, Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing, was joined by Michael Mellody, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Digital Operations, who supervises all digital revenue across GovExec’s media platforms, and Aaron Heffron, President of Research and Forecasting, who oversees all research, forecasting, and insights, including traditional market research and strategy and content development.
Success in marketing can vary across different campaigns. How can marketers define success, and what goals should they set in each stage of the funnel?
The marketing funnel is the baseline to understanding and measuring the success of your programs.
The marketing funnel differs slightly, but not completely, from the sales funnel. At the top is broad, overall awareness: do your prospects recognize your company’s name, are they familiar with you, do they have a basic understanding of what you do? These are things your brand needs in order to be part of the conversation. Top of the funnel equals top of mind.
As you progress down, you need to be asking, “Do our prospects really know what we do?” This is especially important for companies entering new spaces. Customers may be aware of you, but they don’t know exactly what you do, or if you’re trying to do something different. This is the point where you should be highlighting the breadth of your portfolio, particularly if you are a smaller or newer company.
Finally, in the last portion of the funnel, you‘ll want to understand if your customer actually considers your brand when weighing their final options. In the public sector space, where many parties are involved in collaborative decision making, are you part of the final three or four being seriously considered? Is your message resonating enough that it’s believable and there isn’t anyone that doesn’t feel right about your brand in final considerations?
When Heffron evaluates the efficacy of marketing programs, he assesses what stage they’re trying to break into, gets to know their goals at each level, and procures the right feedback from the right individuals involved in those particular stages.
Having clear goals up front is critical to forming a strategy and getting buy-in from stakeholders. What kind of goals should marketers be setting for themselves and their teams?
Your marketing goals should depend on what your internal goals and metrics are.
At the top of the funnel, metrics help you measure and understand awareness, like impressions, traffic, emails, and leads generated. Seek out high level awareness building to not just get your message out there, but make it stand out and uniquely differentiate you from your competition.
Further down, the emphasis should shift from awareness to engagement. Here, you’ll evaluate CTRs, email open rates, and move from lead quantity to understanding lead quality. Change your perspective from looking through the lens of a single campaign, to looking through the lens of the leads you’ve generated. As you go further, tie together multiple campaigns and multiple data points on individual leads to understand how interested your prospects are in your solution and their intent to buy. What signals do you have that would suggest that?
Recently, Mellody has seen company goals gravitate towards the lower stages of the funnel. This is a natural response in an uncertain market where results and revenue are at a premium. When there is uncertainty and clients are not investing in the top of the funnel, it creates opportunities for others to strengthen their brand position. Mellody elaborates on these opportunities in the webinar and shares what forward-thinking companies are doing differently than everyone else.
Heffron sees measurement metrics fitting into two categories: behavioral and attitudinal. Behavioral tells you what people are doing when they get your content, receive your outreach, or attend your event. Behavior measurements give specific numbers (like CTR) and are an easier way to measure success or failure. It’s more black and white.
The more nuanced measurements lie on the attitudinal side, which are more difficult than pulling clicks or traffic. What are the customers’ attitudes towards your brand? Here, you’ll evaluate content effectiveness as opposed to the effectiveness of your tactics. You know it’s hitting, but is it hitting right?
Both behavioral and attitudinal measurements help to tell the full story of your impact.
Before a marketing team launches a new campaign, how can they leverage research?
It all begins with establishing the right goals and metrics, and understanding what you want to accomplish.
To determine what you want to accomplish and understand potential outcomes, you should obtain feedback from your customers. Are you trying to change hearts and minds or do you want to spur them to action? Understand the trigger points and barriers (technical or attitudinal) that prevent them from receiving your message. This is also a chance to dig into what is important to your customers, what they need to learn, and what their opinions are, with respect to what they want from your content.
Then, take a snapshot of where you are at one particular date and time as your benchmark. You’ll never know how much you moved the needle if you don’t know where that needle was to start. Hear Heffron speak to ways you can establish this critical baseline in the webinar.
From a planning perspective, there’s so much you can do to validate hypotheses, but hypothesis testing should continue even after the campaign begins. Mellody recommends using the “test and learn” approach. You’ve likely heard of the minimum viable product (MVP), which is the least developed product that you can create to maximize your learnings and validate hypotheses before you scale. For marketers, the corollary is a minimum viable campaign (MVC). What is the leanest marketing campaign that will give you conviction in your original hypotheses around content, channel, and messaging? Before you invest in scaling up, you can have confidence that your efforts are headed in the right direction.
Be realistic about your goals. You're not looking for wholesale change, but to get the most you can. Not every marketing campaign can do or answer everything. “Don't go a mile wide and an inch deep,” says Heffron. And be sure to engage executive leadership so that everyone is on the same page on what defines success when all is said and done.
What indicators do you typically look for as signs of success in the top of the funnel?
Understand your place among your competitors, and think about success through two lenses: campaign level and brand level.
At the campaign level, Mellody says there are metrics that are important to track, like reach and awareness, which can be seen through traffic, impressions, and emails. But, be sure to keep an eye on engagement. You can see early indications of engagement even on high level campaigns. Watch the webinar to learn what metrics to look for. At the brand level, it’s important to understand how you are perceived outside of any individual campaigns, but also customer sentiments on specific aspects of your brand. Try to learn things like how trusted you are, how your customers perceive you in terms of innovation, forward thinking, social responsibility, etc. Invest in that understanding at the top of funnel and it will pay off as you go further down
While absolute numbers are great if you can derive them, Heffron notes that you must also understand your place within your own competitive set. Absolute numbers don't mean much unless you can look at them year-over-year or month-over-month as you go. On the other hand, you can take action right away on your relative positioning to your competitors. Look at four or five competitors you’ll compete most with in your space and understand customer perceptions of them compared to you. Leverage your marketing efforts against their weaknesses, then measure success relative to your competitors’.
How should marketers be measuring campaigns at the middle or bottom of the funnel?
You can’t measure the success of a campaign by the final dollar alone.
When Heffron works with clients on this, he looks at conversion rates. How far did you get into the process, and how long were you a legitimate competitor? Did it come down to you and one or two other companies, but something out of your control (as a marketer) happened, like price difference?
There is a lot you can leverage on losses. Use the post-award process to receive feedback from people you were marketing towards. Listen to where there was a disconnect in their understanding of you and what they thought you could deliver. Then, tweak this for the future. There needs to be an emphasis on understanding your customer, whether you win the contract or not. Every engagement, every marketing opportunity is a chance to learn about your customers.
A campaign is just a battle in a longer war. Even if you were not successful, the legacy will play forward if you keep the pressure on at the lower level so you aren’t just flooding the market. Play the long game building off of the foundation you constructed.
How do you know when you need to pivot a campaign?
Understand perceptions and internal goals at all times, and don’t panic over poor performance.
You’ll need to pivot when your company’s internal goals change and performance isn’t where you want it to be. For instance, if the Business Development team shifts focus to prioritize new accounts. It can be helpful to pause and reassess your efforts during these moments. Does the content still work? Do the channels still make sense? As far as performance, Mellody says not to panic. Try to figure out what variable is not producing. You can optimize your campaign without blowing things up and going back to square one.
Heffron recommends making sure that the tools and tactics you're using fall cleanly under the brand umbrella. Part of the pre-campaign research means putting brand manifestations (content, website, etc.) in front of people and asking if it makes sense. You can see if there is a cognitive disconnect between what they’re seeing in the moment and what they understand about the brand.
One of the best examinations Heffron does is message testing. Marketing writes up the best pitch for their brand without any identifying information. After the audience reads it, they are asked what brand they think produced it. More times than not, they list competitors. This would be an indicator that it’s time to pivot. If you're trying to change perception, it’s possible, but difficult. Fortunately, not all companies need to do that. You can get people to embrace who you are by making connections based on audience feedback and perception.
How can marketers drive greater performance by synchronizing their brand and demand activities?
Understand the space you occupy, not just in the market, but in your customer’s mind.
According to Mellody, the most effective marketers and brands have a cohesive strategy throughout the funnel and brand/demand phases. Positioning, the space you are occupying in the market, and ultimately in your customer’s mind, is the connective tissue. When you're driving either brand or demand, you need to evaluate if the positioning is consistent. Hear Mellody and Heffron discuss positioning, and how to do it correctly, in the webinar.
What do you do at the end of a campaign and how can you duplicate for success?
Make the space to dissect the campaign.
Both Heffron and Mellody recommend allowing yourself time to reflect on a campaign no matter how hard it may be to create the space. Often, one campaign will finish and you’ll already be running to the next without time to dissect. But the more you can allow yourself to reflect on what you originally wanted to accomplish (looking at your baseline and where you wanted to go), the better you will do next time.
Success isn’t 100% completion of your goals; it’s about how far you went relative to the benchmarks. First, review the percentage that worked and see if you can repeat it, or some portion of it. Then, hone in on the percentage that wasn’t realized, and focus on what you could have done differently and how you can progress. Be honest in this process and create space to review. It’s worth it.
For information on how GovExec can help you in your next marketing campaign, contact Solutions@GovExec.com.