The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

Chapter Two

Written by Neil Patel & Ritika Puri

Know Your Marketing
Framework

Shooting darts in the dark is not a marketing strategy.
Jessica Oman via Firepole Marketing

In the last chapter, we introduced you to the most important rule in marketing. Know your customers. Who are they? What do they value most? What inspires them? What brought them to your brand? The list of questions goes on.

Take off your marketer-goggles, and start perceiving the world through your most important stakeholder. Your buyer. That means listening more than talking — learning more than teaching or marketing.

It’s this vision that drives the web’s most successful marketing campaigns.

And after reading the last chapter, you’re more than convinced. You’ve deployed customer surveys and hopped on the phone with your most engaged buyers. You’ve written the most in-depth user personas on the planet.

What comes next?

Now, you need to build a scalable, sustainable marketing engine. Think about it:

  • You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint.
  • You wouldn’t start a business without a business plan.
  • You wouldn’t take a road trip without your navigation system.
  • You wouldn’t build an online app without wireframing the UX.
  • And you wouldn’t spend six figures on a house without knowing what you’re buying.

Why should your marketing plan be any different?

Whether you’re spending $100 on Facebook ads or $100K on customer education videos, you need a carefully planned strategy. Trust what we say when we tell you that spray and pray is not an effective approach to marketing. Every marketing plan needs to start with the results that you want to achieve. ROI is not a guessing game.

Ignore the Stereotypes, Think Like a CEO,
and Trust the Numbers You See

Marketing suffers from a pretty big problem — cost. More often than not, C-suites are risk averse to spending money on new initiatives with tough-to-quantify returns. CEOs and CFOs perceive limited value in the ‘money sink that is marketing. Customer acquisition? Well that’s a crapshoot. How is it possible to find out whether your campaign generated any sales?

Here’s the thing. Online marketing is profit-driven. It’s not an investment, and it’s not an expense. When executed correctly, it works. We know it works because it’s possible to track anything and everything, all the way down to the source of the click that generated the sale. With the right tools and a little bit of creativity, you can prove the value of your marketing. Web analytics are just that robust.

Marketing should command the same amount attention and respect as any high-value business function. You just need to structure your programs around the goals that CEOs and CFO care about most — profits and revenue. As your company’s marketing team lead, the ball is in your court to communicate the value of the results that you’re generating.

The thing about executives is that they don’t care how much web traffic you’re driving. They care about the sales and new business that resulted from your marketing spend. That’s it. If you focus on reporting click data, social media shares, and email open-rates, you’ll have trouble inspiring buy-in from your executive team.

So here what you need to do:

Build a strategy that positions your marketing initiatives as an ROI generating, critical business function.

The problem is, marketers struggle to make this mission-critical connection. Take what marketing leader Andeas Ramos says about content marketing, a technique that we’ll review in chapter 7.

So far, I have not found a single case study that shows content marketing is successful. I’ve searched the web; I’ve looked at dozens of “leading websites”; I’ve talked to many people, incl. heads of agencies and published authors. None of them have been able to give me an example of a content marketing campaign that showed it was financially success, i.e., profitable. Not one.
Andreas Ramos via his blog

He summarizes the steps that a meaningful content marketing study should include. Even though he’s talking specifically about content marketing, we feel that his tips are channel agnostic and can help boost the success of any type of online marketing. Here’s what you do to prove your marketing program’s ROI:

  1. State the campaign costs
  2. State the revenues that resulted directly from the campaign
  3. Describe the tracking process
  4. State the number of leads and sales generated from the marketing initiative
  5. State the maximum profitable cost-per-lead (maxCPL) or cost per acquisition (maxCPA)
  6. Use statistically meaningful numbers — small sample sizes generate misleading analyses
  7. Establish a control group to benchmark the success of your campaigns

Here’s an example case study from marketing consultant Mark Spaner:

Clockwork Home Services is the leading franchisor of contractor home services in North America. The company wanted to find more targeted sales opportunities for hvac, plumbing, and electrical franchises. They also wanted to make more efficient use of a their small sales force and to educate contractors about the benefits of owning a Clockwork franchise.

Here was his strategic vision:

Spaner’s team deployed an email marketing program. Whenever a magnet tool was downloaded, an e-mail series on that topic was automatically deployed on a pre-determined schedule.

Here was the outcome of his marketing initiatives:

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you’re reading this guide, you may be running a marketing campaign for the very first time. You don’t even have a strategic plan, let alone results that you’re ready to report.

The reason why we’ve walked you through this methodology and example marketing campaign is because we want you to have a full, 360-degree view of what to expect from your marketing strategy. We want you to fully understand the types of results you should expect to see from your investment, so we won’t be shy about throwing information your way.

We want to teach you how to start with your big vision and work backwards to deploy the right initiatives. Keep reading to learn how.

Step 1: Understand the Value of Timing

Marketing success comes from reaching the right customers at just the right time in their decision-making process.

Put yourself in place of a customer, and think about the last time you shopped with your favorite online store.

Imagine that you’re shopping for an upcoming vacation. Weeks ahead of schedule, you have plenty of time to make a decision about what you need, but you still see some items that you like.

Within 24 hours, you begin seeing ads for those exact items in your Facebook feed.

Coincidence? Absolutely not.

Strategic and careful planning? More than you may realize.

You’ve shopped with this retailer before, so you’re subscribed to the official mailing list. Days go by, and then you receive a 20% off coupon code. Feeling compelled to buy the items you’ve been waiting for? You bet.

As a next step, maybe you set the items in your shopping cart. The coupon code expires, and yet another week goes by before you go back to this retailer’s website.

But when you do, there’s a surprise waiting for you — the price in the shopping cart has dropped.

It’s game on. You’re ready to buy.

To a casual observer, these promotional efforts seem like convenient coincidences. The reality is the polar opposite.

On the other side of the computer screen is a marketer who is carefully analyzing and responding to your behavior patterns. And it’s not just one marketer. They’ve built entire enterprise systems around the goal of moving customers through the purchase funnel.

The idea is simple: figure how to promote the right products and brands to the right customers, maximizing revenue in the process. That’s not a simple problem when you’ve got a busy website along with 225 stores doing about $10B in sales annually
Bob Thompson of CustomerThink on an analysis of
Nordstrom’s brand relationships strategy

Whether you’re working for an enterprise brand or running a small business, you need to remember one key lesson — that timing is absolutely everything.

  • Banner advertisements perform better when shown to audiences who’ve already expressed interest in buying your product.

  • Coupon codes are most relevant to customers who are interested in shopping with your brand but reluctant (for some reason or another) to pull the trigger on the purchase.

  • Email marketing campaigns are most compelling for customers who’ve subscribed to your product or brand.

When strategizing your timing, you need to think beyond basic metrics like time on site, time of day, day of week, or month of year. What you need to do is sync the timing of your marketing campaigns to your buyers’ perspectives and psychology.

That level of analysis will help your team deliver the right marketing message at just the right time.

Our recommendation is to study your favorite brands across the various marketing channels that they’re leveraging to connect with you. Before you keep reading this guide, try to answer the following question:

How are these marketing programs fitting together to effectively reach you and fellow prospective buyers?

We want you to answer that question before your keep reading this guide. Consider this to be your last exercise from the perspective of a consumer.

Step 2: Establish
Your Core Marketing Goals

Every marketing program needs a carefully defined set of goals. Otherwise, you’re basically throwing arrows in the dark.

Without clear goals, marketing campaigns have the potential to be dangerous for your business.

If you’re not sure about what you want to achieve with your marketing, you risk wasting time and money — both of which are incredibly scarce resources for your organization.

So what are the types of goals that your business needs to achieve?

You need to focus on objectives that translate directly into ROI for your business.

For example, you may set a goal to acquire new users. Why? Because your business needs paying customers to remain sustainable and grow.

Another goal you might set is to boost shares and follows on Facebook. Why? Because social media engagement generates exposure for your brand. That’s why TOFU Marketing runs facebook ads. To build awareness and interest around its brand.

How do social media shares translate into direct revenue for your business’s sales pipeline? Well, it’s free marketing. And presumably, if you connect with the right audiences, exposure boosts the likelihood of bringing in more leads. Branding has a very clear place at the top of the sales funnel (a concept we’ll address in the next chapter!). To build a customer base, you need visibility around your products and services.

Let’s take a step away from social media. We’ll get to a more in-depth conversation in later chapters and don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves now.

Goals should be custom-tailored to your business’s revenue objectives. There is no such thing as one-size-fits all approach to determining marketing ROI. You need to really dig deep to understand what objectives your executive team cares about most. Revenue and sales. Your goals can be as straightforward as lead generation, a key framework for moving prospects down the sales pipeline.

Here is an example from NewsCred, a company that helps organizations license content from premium publishers. The company has published an informative homepage to educate audiences about its product. At the bottom of the page is a call-to-action to encourage interested prospects to request more details. This is the absolute first step required to convert interested audiences into paying customers.

For CrazyEgg, a core goal of the company blog is to drive free-trial sign-ups. This banner follows users as they scroll through blog content:

In the last chapter, we drove the point home that customers are the lifeblood of your marketing efforts. To be effective in reaching them, you need to truly understand their needs, values, personalities, and interests.

But you can’t ignore your business either. To select the right goals, you need to take the following three steps:

  1. Identify your customers’ needs
  2. Identify your business’ needs
  3. Connect the dots so that your company and customers are seamlessly aligned

Here is an example of how Speak2Leads, a platform that helps sales teams respond to their leads faster, has established that balance into a cohesive brand positioning (which they call a pitch). I (Ritika) helped the company prepare this to help unify the company’s messaging across communication platforms. This is a concept we’ll cover in chapter 3.

Step 3: Start by Asking Questions

Not sure what your company’s marketing goals should be? Start by asking questions and listening as actively as you can.

In research, statistics, and analysis-driven classes, professors call this concept ‘the research question”, a concept we’ll talk about in chapter X when we dive into your analytics strategy.

There are certain types of questions that you need to answer before diving into any marketing strategy. Consider the following:

  1. What are your company’s strategic goals right now?

    Are you hoping to promote visibility or generate leads to your business? Or maybe, you’re hoping to do both. What’s important to consider is that some marketing programs are better fits for your specific goals than others. That’s why you should understand what your company needs right now. It may make sense to focus on traffic generation efforts first and then invest in an explainer video in a few weeks. Especially as you’re just starting out, you may need to stagger your marketing spend.

  2. How much can your company afford to invest in marketing upfront?

    It’s very rare that you will get your marketing system right on the first go. You need to run tests to see what works before committing to scaling your programs (chapter 7). The good news is that you can get started with $100 or less. This level of spend will help you generate actionable learnings, which you can reinvest in refining your marketing strategy. The bad news is that without direction, $100 here and there can quickly add up. At the very beginnings of your marketing program, you’ll be taking an upfront loss to gather learnings.

  3. Who are your internal stakeholders?

    Answer this question to help your team understand what results you need to drive and how to communicate results as effectively as possible.

  4. What types of results can we realistically expect to achieve?

    If you think that marketing with transform your brand into an overnight Hollywood success story, you’re dreaming. Viral campaigns don’t happen by accident. They require careful, behind-the-scenes planning. Marketing isn’t magic. You need to set direct and tangible expectations that align with the resources you’re willing to commit to your marketing programs. A good way to start answering this question is to research case studies from brands with business models and budgets that similar to yours. Remember that you need to do more than just replicate campaigns that you like. You need to adapt your marketing approach to your business’s exact needs.

Take the case of Speak2Leads. This company is trying to solve a key problem in the CRM world — that organizations take too long to connect with their leads and prospects.

As an early stage startup, Speak2Leads as one core need — to acquire as many high-potential leads as possible.

A key challenge that Speak2Leads faces is that the product is relatively novel. Many of the company’s prospects are problem-aware but don’t necessarily know which solutions are most valuable to pursue. Speak2Leads is tough to describe into a few short and sweet sentences, which is why the company’s marketing team has decided to send prospective customers directly to the product demo page:

Rather than leaving your customers hanging to simply ‘figure it out,’ take a lesson from Speak2Leads to make the customer acquisition process as interactive as possible.

The Speak2Leads team very much understands that there are a range of marketing options available. From paid channel advertising to content development, it makes sense for Speak2Leads to run a range of marketing tests. Regardless of campaign medium, however, one challenge is clear — the company needs to make their product digestible and relevant to their customers. A key way to take marketing beyond marketing and to generate leads is to demonstrate the product in action.

Step 4: Connect the Dots with Your Customers

Here is where the components of your marketing framework come together.

Marketing should follow the consumer purchase cycle. These are the steps that prospects take to become customers and that customers take to become repeat buyers.

It’s best to compartmentalize campaigns into the following key categories:

Awareness

  • Connect new prospects with your brand.
  • Make sure that existing customers are looped in regarding new products and services.

As an example, Harvard Business Review keeps its subscriber base informed of new products through email marketing:

Here is a banner ad on Slate to drive awareness about the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3:

Engagement

  • Keep new prospects interested in your company, products, and services.
  • Make sure that existing customers continue to re-engage with your marketing materials and rely on your company as a trusted resource.

As an example, check out Levo League, an online portal for women in business. The company distributes a regular email newsletter to bring subscribers to their website on a regular basis.

Klout, a company that measures social media influence, also strives to re-engage its user base via email:

Decision

  • Reach new prospections at the key points of decision, when they may be considering a competitor over you.
  • Reach prospects when they are considering a product but unsure of whether to buy it now or later.
  • Connect with existing customers when they are shopping around for add-on products and services.

As an example, check out online retailer 6PM. They’ve been retargeting me across Facebook and my favorite websites with items that I (Ritika) have added to my cart but haven’t bought.

Retention

  • Promote long-term brand loyalty.
  • Connect with existing customers when they are shopping around for add-on products and services.
  • Prevent drop-off and churn at all stages of the purchase cycle.

Last-minute hotel booking app HotelTonight recently gave its app users $15 in credits and sent an email reminder about it.

Remember this framework, as we’ll use it to guide our marketing channel discussions in later chapters. Feeling lost? Fear not. This discussion is a segway to the next few chapters, which focus on traffic acquisition and conversion optimization. Let’s get to it.

Key Takeaways

Before you move on to the next chapter, be sure to remember the following concepts:

  • Every marketing campaign needs to be part of a goals-driven framework. Know what your company wants to achieve before just jumping in with a test or marketing spend. Be as educated and strategic in your decisions as possible, even if your intent is to simply try something new or learn.
  • Remember that timing is everything. Strong marketing frameworks are built around delivering the right message to the right audiences at exactly the right time. Do not underestimate the power of this statement.
  • Start by listening and asking questions. Learn what your customers need, and take the time to understand your company’s most pressing priorities. The marketer’s job is to create connections between your brand and customers.
  • Remember that your marketing initiatives will fall into the following core areas: awareness, engagement, decision, and retention. Understand which of these four functional areas are most important to your business and why. Make sure that your marketing campaigns align with the goal that are most important for your business to achieve right now, in the medium term, and down the road.