Experimentation: 80% of your time, 20% of your budget
Digital marketing trends constantly evolve to keep pace with technology. What worked in April of last year may only be somewhat effective now. Digital marketers must make time to experiment with new techniques to discover what works today. But what does this mean for budget planning? Convincing people to deviate from what they considered wildly successful in the past is difficult, even with data proving declining returns.
When Adam Smith, Digital Marketing Manager at IMPLAN, approaches leadership for budget, he understands angling for a smaller proportion for experimentation makes sense.
“The 80/20 in terms of budget is let’s spend 20% of our actual ad spend on these experiments, see what has some growth, and then we’ll fold that into the 80% [we know] works.”
As they find new audiences and novel ways to engage them, they apply their learnings to existing campaigns and incorporate proven experimental campaigns into their recurring plan. The lessons they gather from the 20% they spend on experiments are what keeps the other 80% successful.
While they may only spend 20% of the budget on experimental campaigns, Adam says it comes with a steeper human resource cost.
“80% of our time will be spent on the innovation or planning or strategy or creating content for these new experiments or campaigns we want to run. Whereas, 20% will be on, like I said, our day to day, tweaking the keywords or finding new audiences or just trimming up what’s already there.” Proven campaigns have the infrastructure in place to be repeated with minimal adjustments. New campaigns are demanding, but Adam says the effort is definitely worth it. “It’s obviously taken a lot more work, but in terms of just our budget and cost per click and some of those key metrics, I mean, it’s changed the game for us.”
The Best Results Start With a Plan
Adam finds obtaining executive buy-in on a new digital marketing tactic means developing a detailed plan for measuring output at different phases of the campaign. As he says, “If you have a plan, it’s an easier sell.”
Adam reports that some of his highest-performing campaigns incorporate multiple channels. As an example, they may use Facebook or LinkedIn advertising to drive clicks to a blog post. People who read the blog post will see additional advertising to drive them to a gated piece of content, and the lead will be passed along to sales at the point of form fill.
While developing their digital marketing plan, the team answers the following questions:
What is the target demographic?
Which tools will this campaign span across?
What is the ideal user workflow?
Which benchmarks should I use at each step of the workflow?
How can we adjust if a benchmark is failing?
Adam and his team develop litmus thresholds for campaigns by establishing metrics for each advertisement, piece of content, and form fill. “Tangible takeaways all through the process” allow them to get the most out of their investment, even if the pipeline generated isn’t what they’d hoped. They may learn subcategories in a vertical perform better than others or that certain digital marketing channels work better with some demographics than others.
“You’re testing a lot of variables at once because you’re testing the channel and you’re testing the practice of conditioning the traffic, but then you’re also saying, ‘Hey, real estate does better on Facebook, whereas finance is better on LinkedIn.’”
While marketers can learn something new from subpar campaigns, the real reward comes when they find “the golden nugget. We put all our resources towards that. It scales well and now we’re off to the races here with whatever’s working or whatever audience we’re finding.”
Because they take the time to nail down the architecture and data output upfront, Adam can easily turn a successful experiment into a recurring campaign.
Running Lean Is the Quickest Way to Learn
Wearing a lot of hats “is difficult but good because it gives you perspective on the holistic requirements for a campaign and what the actual work entails.” Not all Digital Marketing Managers spend time on operational setup and learn the inner workings of UI/UX design, but they’re useful skills Adam has added to his toolbelt.
Adam says operations work “help[s] build a great understanding of timelines, how hard something simple as ‘run an ad to this audience’ is (i.e. target audiences, campaign parameters, design elements, and files, etc..).”
As part of a three-person team, Adam finds timely communication and a flexible attitude are key. The necessity for a can-do attitude also informed their hiring process.
“Even as we’re going through some hiring process stuff, it’s like, ‘Do you have the intangibles and can you problem solve and work well as a team?’ The other stuff… We can teach graphic design and we can teach you ad management or how to work a budget.”
Picking up tasks outside of his comfort zone to help his team meet deadlines has given Adam a keen appreciation for the best learning resources. His top recommendations include HubSpot’s INBOUND conference in Boston, The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, and Katie Martell’s website and newsletter. Adam also highly recommends making the time for certifications on the digital marketing tools you learn along the way.
Chris is the VP of Marketing at CaliberMind and the host of the Revenue Marketing Report. Chris has a proven ability to identify unique opportunities to ignite brand and revenue growth into new markets and product segments. He believes that often attitude -- not aptitude -- shapes outcomes.
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