Don’t Let Shiny New Objects Distract You
Vendor/Self-Appointed Industry Expert: So, what’s your Pinterest strategy?
Me: I don’t have one yet.
Vendor/Self-Appointed Industry Expert: Really?!? Are you crazy? You are missing out! All your customers are there! Our agency/technology/approach will make you tons and you can really capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Me: Sigh. Please go away.
Be honest. Most of you are reading this story only because you saw the Pinterest logo and got excited aren’t you? I spent the last week at eTail West and the above conversation happened no less than a zillion times — and, yes, that is an exact number. The entire conference seemed abuzz about the darling of the tech world right now, and for good reason.
Pinterest has an ungodly amount of momentum behind it: it is the second fastest growing website in history behind Facebook I believe, has a fantastic concept, and has the potential to be the next great thing. People are signing up for it faster than the site can keep up with and even little old me has more than 100 followers already! WOW! I’m pretty popular.
And therein lies the problem: I have more than 100 people following me and I have no boards and no pins as of yet. While I am likely the exception to the rule when it comes to Pinterest use, unfortunately, when it comes to direct marketing, far too often the rule seems to be to find a shiny new object and immediately make it your #1 priority.
While this approach can help keep you “cutting edge” it often leads to you trading dollars (all the proven, successful tactics and channels, such as search) for cents (the shiny new toy). The great news is you can do both: continue to strengthen the foundation that all your marketing sits upon, while intelligently layering on new opportunities — and when you’re successful, you make both dollars and cents.
Evaluating Which Shiny Objects To Pay Attention To
Just like there will always be tried-and-true marketing methods, such as search, there will always be fantastic new things to try — it is part of what makes the digital marketing industry so enjoyable. But just because something is new, doesn’t mean you should chase it down with unbridled fury to make sure you checked off that box that says you did it (remember when iAds came out with a ton of buzz but also a $1m minimum spend? Glad you didn’t chase that one down now, aren’t ya?). Instead, slow down and do the work to properly evaluate the opportunity and see if it is good fit for your business. Three great questions to start with are:
- Is the new site/technology/shiny object affecting your business without your participating? For example, are you getting traffic, revenue, links, coverage, etc.?
- Is the new site/technology/shiny object affecting your customer base in a positive way? For example, are your customers using the new site/technology/shiny object more often, and if they are, what do you think about it?
- Is your brand naturally a part of the new site/technology/shiny object? For example, if you go to Pinterest and search for your brand/related product, are you already included?
While none of these will give you a 100% answer on what you should do, they should help give you a enough information to begin building a case to either put the new opportunity on the backburner for a bit or start exploring it more and begin setting the expectations for results.
Implementing the Test
So you’ve done the initial research and you determine your site, your customers, and your brand are all being affected by this shiny new object and you need to test it. Great! Now you must figure out a way to implement an effective test. While there is no one right way to do this, marketers most often hit three roadblocks:
1) Budget. Unfortunately, just because something new comes along for us to test doesn’t mean new budget comes along to pay for it, as well. The most common mistake marketers make here is they pull some money from an existing program to fund the new one. They reason it out by saying they are cutting the worst performing piece, or they are cutting so little it won’t matter. The problem with that logic is that if you are willing to cut the budget from an existing program now, then why were you spending that money in the first place? In other words, if you can cut the budget because it was underperforming, then why hadn’t you already cut it? You are willing to take something that is proven at making you X amount of dollars and instead spend it on something that has no proven value. Instead, I would argue the best way to fund testing a new program would be to do the research and make a business case so strong that there is no choice but to fund it (which is the same standard you hold your existing marketing to). If you have trouble making that case, then perhaps it isn’t the best test for you.
2) Setting expectations. “How am I supposed to know how it will perform? That’s why they call it a test.” Find yourself making that statement? While I understand the logic, it is also the type of thinking that leads to unsuccessful tests because you aren’t shooting for any particular result. Instead, set the expectation of what you would like to see happen from the test. Set goals for every metric you can think of: traffic, revenue, acquisition, ROI, interaction, impressions, everything. Then at the end of the test, compare your results to each goal to see where you fell short and where you succeeded. You likely won’t win on all of them, but the ones you do win on will help you determine where the new object might fit within your overall marketing plan (e.g. if it doesn’t drive great ROI, but it does drive new customer acquisition, you might evaluate/manage it differently). And more importantly, it will tell you how many pennies it will make you.
3) Evaluating Results. Every test you run will give you a set of data to evaluate whether or not the test was a success. Seems pretty basic, right? The problem is most people stop there. The better approach is to look at the direct results of the test, but also look at the results of all your more established channels and see how they were affected by your test. If you are using a more advanced attribution system, this is a bit easier to do, but even if you aren’t, you can still look at a few metrics to see the implied influence. For example, look at your branded term impressions on exact match. Assuming they are fully funded, this can give you a sense of whether or not your test caused more brand demand. Look at the contribution percentage of every marketing channel. Did it change? Did your SEO program deliver 5% less revenue? If so, you could have just moved revenue from a free channel (SEO) to a paid channel (your test). There are a thousand ways to look at this data, but the most important thing to remember is you can’t look at it with a motive in mind — meaning you can’t be looking for ways to prove the test worked or failed. You have to have an open mind, otherwise you will find data that will support your case either way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking on Pinterest. I am not against testing new opportunities, and I am not saying all new things are failures. But what I am against is running from one buzzword to the next to the next to the next, betting on it being the next big thing that will change your business by 50% overnight. More often than not, when you find yourself doing that, you lose track of the marketing efforts that got you to where you are today and you end up trading the dollars those campaigns are making you for shiny bright objects that took a ton of time, energy, and money to make you a just a few pennies.
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