The Dirty Side of Marketing

February 19, 2010

Marketing is Dirty

Recent grads and people from other fields usually have the wrong idea about marketing. After multiple years of interviewing people for marketing positions, working with marketing interns, and discussing marketing with non-marketers it seems that the non-practitioners form their ideas about marketing from:

  • Having watched Mad Men and thinking that  marketing is advertising and it involves coming up with a crazy creative, tough negotiation, and a lot of romance
  • Reading Seth Godin books and feeling like it’s about coming up with purple cows, telling stories, and something about forming a big tribe
  • Watching  the mistakes that SouthwestUAL, Baja Fresh and TGI Fridays, and others have made and then thinking they would  never do that because they are smarter than those big dumb brands
  • Using Twitter and Face book on a daily basis and thinking that just because they have 100+ followers/friends and have top scores on MafiaWars/Farmville/InsertYourAnnoyingAppHere they are experts in social media and think is the only useful marketing vehicle
  • Surfing the web for hours and wondering why don’t all those companies simply re-design their websites

I could go on, but you get the idea.

And then what happens? They get a job.  And with the job comes meetings. And in one of those meetings the  Sales Manager starts talking about quality of leads coming from Marketing, the CFO asks about  Return On Investment, and the CEO  discusses how marketing goals need to be aligned to the overall strategy and asks for comparison with what competitors are doing. Then some negotiation about budget goes on and when the marketing staff regroups there are a lot of spreadsheets being thrown together for metrics.

And those metrics take time. Metrics for email results (clickthroughs, open rates, deliverability, etc.), metrics for the website (visitors, pageviews, clickpaths, conversions, etc.) and for the pay-per-click campaigns (impressions, daily budgets, word rankings, conversions, etc.), and the list goes on. At the end of the day our brave new marketer starts wondering what happened to all the nice marketing creativity, brainstorming sessions, and cool toys he saw on movies and expected to be part of.

The harsh reality is that marketing, let me rephrase that, effective marketing is a dirty job. Sure there is creativity, there is coming up with new ads, a new website, brand discussions and user personas, but it is all backed by serious analytics. Results are what marketers are after. Everything else is a means to that end.

This bucket of cold water thrown at the newbies leave many upset. Our schools are partly to blame because very little practical marketing is taught (recent graduates know the four P’s but have no idea of how exactly to use them and what tools are available). Inevitably some will get disillusioned and leave the field of marketing. Others ‘get it’ and take the analytics side of marketing with gusto and become excellent at slicing data and putting it to work.

With time all that number crunching and metrics become second nature and while they are still important, the “fun” aspects of creative brainstorming, marketing positioning and message, filling walls with post-it notes, and even going to offsite meetings for some R&R before that big push towards a deadline are what you remember most.

To sum it up: Marketing is dirty. Numbers, statistics, and real grunt work is done behind the scenes. But we love it because our work is what makes or breaks a company. We love it!


The Danger of Email Marketing Benchmarks

February 15, 2010

A recent article from BtoB Online about email deliverability reminded me of how dangerous this whole thing of email marketing deliverability numbers can be. Studies from multiple email marketing service providers show different numbers when it comes to delivery rates, bounce rates, open rates, clickthrough rates, and more.

I work for a B2B software company and we do regular email blasts. Our open rates average 30%. Is this good? If I were to look at benchmark data from MailChimp we are doing way better than their published rate of 18% for companies in the software industry.  If I decided to spend the money for MarketingSherpa’s Email Marketing Benchmark Guide their benchmark open rate would probably be different.

Comparing Apples and Airplanes

You know that comparing different industries is irrelevant and that emailing B2C is nothing like B2B, but when you see reports that paint a good or bad picture about how email is doing in your industry, you tend to look at it carefully. Just beware of that inevitable question “why are we not getting the same results?” from your boss. Reading these isolated numbers and trying to use them as your overall goal will only lead to frustration. Yes, looking at different email marketing metrics is good to give you and your team an overall sense of how others are doing and also to spot trends but you should set your goals based on your overall objectives and historical performance.

Instead of asking how to match the industry averages, ask instead:

  1. How can we improve deliverability?
  2. How can we improve open rates?
  3. What can we do to improve clickthrough rates and, more importantly, to get people to buy/download/register?
  4. What are the most important metrics we should track?

The last question is probably the most important. The more you try to track, the less you will be able to do. Focus on the 3 to 5 key metrics for your email marketing program and the rest will follow. Evaluate how you are doing on a monthly and quarterly basis and try to improve every time. Analyze the results you get by segment (geography, products purchased, industry targeted, job titles, etc.) and start fine tuning the message, email design, subject line, date and time sent, and other relevant variables to each segment and you will start creating your own baseline.

OK, if you insist, here are some links to benchmarks I found online. A good starting point is the major email service providers (ExactTarget, Silverpop, Lyris, Eloqua, ConstantContact, Emma, etc.).

As I said, look at them but don’t bet on them or try to set your goals based on what others are supposedly doing. Industry benchmarks are only useful for bathroom reading.

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