Marketing: Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted
Do you measure the marketing ROI of having a presentable office lobby? Do you count how many leads you captured from spending an hour of your time with a community connector who invited you to have a cup of coffee? Of course you don’t. You can’t.
Right vs. ROI
You do these things not because they generate short-term financial gains, but because you know instinctively that they will pay unseen future dividends. And they’re the right thing to do. I think Albert Einstein put it best when he said that “not everything that counts can be counted.”
So why do marketers insist on demanding an immediate return on a blog post or Facebook spend? Or on a Google Adwords campaign? Or use a lack of same-day purchase metrics as an excuse to abandon social media efforts? As a reminder, human beings don’t make purchases in lock-step fashion like zombies, they form relationships with brands over time.
As an example, let me explain how this plays out in our agency. Over the past several weeks, we have brought on a number of new clients. Many of these client “wins” have come to fruition through a variety of means. When I stop to look back and think about how they came to a point where they signed an agreement with us, each client took a slightly different path. Here are a couple of examples:
- A device manufacturer first learned of our firm over five years ago through a friend of a friend who struck up a relationship, had lunch a few times, and ultimately found a way to work together.
- A commercial developer was referred to us through a colleague of the firm who had never worked with us directly but got to know the firm through some joint volunteer work through a chamber of commerce over nearly a decade.
- A professional services firm engaged us in an interesting piece of work after getting to know our team through joint service in a civic organization.
- A construction firm signed on with us after reading a piece of material we had written and distributing it to his colleagues. We first connected on Facebook.
Connecting The Dots in Reverse
I wish I was smart enough to be able to go back in time and know how all of these activities that we undertook (months and years ago) were going to add up to sales in October of 2014, but I’m not. There’s no crystal ball–not then and not now. All I can tell you for sure is that all of these prospects took different paths and lengths of time to become our customers, being gently impacted by our marketing efforts along the way. Steve Jobs said it best when he explained in his now-famous commencement address that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
I can tell you, however, that there were several common threads in these transactions:
- They became aware of our firm in some way
- They used our website to perform initial research on our firm and compare us to other agencies
- They visited our office to meet us and see our facility
- They received marketing collateral from us and distributed it internally
- They were given (and presumably read) thought leadership material that we had published in print and online
- They took their time before writing us a check
Our business and your business are being evaluated all of the time by the marketplace. Each customer take his or her own course to get to the point where the check is signed, but they encounter your marketing materials (investments you have made) all along the way. As they move from stranger to check-writer, they are exposed to:
- your website
- your blog posts
- your social media updates
- your business card
- your printed collateral
- your logo
Having all of these things in order is the right thing to do. You can’t isolate any one of these activities and determine the individual dividends it pays. It’s just like you can’t measure the potential value of an event you choose to attend or a sales inquiry you make with a prospect.
Does all of this mean that you should not measure the performance of your marketing activities? Of course not. It just means that you should look at the intangibles that won’t show up in the metrics on your spreadsheet.
I will never be able to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of the marketing materials we produce. Or tell you what would have happened if we never invested in a content marketing strategy that includes blog posts, books, and white papers. I can just tell you that it works and you should do it.
The reason this is so important is because too many marketers are searching for measurable returns on digital marketing activities that they will never be able to demonstrate. In some cases, they end up not doing the right thing because the short term return can’t be immediately seen.
Whether it’s offline or online, where you choose to spend your marketing dollars should be a matter of art as well as science. Measure, certainly, but don’t let measurement keep you from doing the right thing. I would encourage you to follow Jobs’ follow-on advice: trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.