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Money Can't Fix Your Marketing: Try This Instead

9 min read2023-04-04

What can’t money buy? In marketing, the answer is a lot. We’ve seen too many business owners throw good money after bad, thinking they can get better results from their marketing strategy just by spending more.

Raise your hand if you…

  • Doubled your spend on ads but haven’t seen a significant increase in sales.
  • Bought an expensive SEO service, but you’re still six pages deep on Google.
  • Followed your competitors onto Facebook only to learn your customers aren’t there.

If you’re focusing on the wrong marketing activities for your business, throwing more money at them means you’ll end up wasting thousands of dollars. And, like a receding hairline, you can’t get that money back once it’s gone.

Before you spend more on your marketing, you need to identify which tactics will get you the most bang for the buck. That’s why we recommend a good/better/best approach to your marketing strategy.

What does a good/better/best strategy look like?

Let’s say you’re considering three options for marketing activities: trade shows, SEO and paid search advertising. Trade shows are expensive but worthwhile in some industries, SEO is a powerful tool over time, and advertising tends to generate leads right away. But not every tactic will produce results that truly move the needle for your business.

So how do you allocate your marketing spend to get the most impact? Enter the good/better/best marketing strategy. You divide up marketing dollars based on the return you can expect from different activities.

Let’s examine this scenario from the perspective of a startup. This firm needs to generate leads as quickly as possible and has limited resources to invest in marketing.

  • Trade shows are great for establishing brand recognition and credibility, along with making valuable connections. But they’re expensive and risky in terms of return on investment. We’ll put this in the “good” category—either start small or save it for the future.
  • SEO boosts exposure and web traffic from organic search. However, this company is just starting to build an online reputation. It may have much competition for keywords, so any SEO will take a while to have an effect. Still, it’s cheaper than trade shows and reaches a broader audience. We’ll call this “better” and allocate some budget to it.
  • Paid search addresses the need for immediate leads. And driving conversions can help strengthen the business and grow their ability to invest in other marketing tactics. Paid search can also support SEO by showing which keywords work best in a given market. So, in this case, it’s our “best” option. This is where the bulk of the marketing spend should go.

If instead, we’re talking about a well-established firm with many resources, the calculus can change quite a bit. It might look something like this:

  • This company has built up a substantial share of voice for its target keywords. But they face stiff competition, and focusing on SEO helps protect market share. So, SEO is the “good” option and deserves a decent, if the smaller, share of the budget.
  • They need to maintain a steady pipeline of leads to support the sales team’s outreach efforts. For this firm, paid search has successfully driven leads and acquisitions. It’s the “better” investment and gets a bigger budget slice than SEO.
  • In this firm’s industry, building relationships through face-to-face interactions is critical. Plus, they’re launching a new product while fighting off competition from new market entrants, so it’s essential to convey a position of strength and longevity. In this case, trade shows are likely the “best” tactic, commanding the largest share of spending and resources.

As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. To determine which activities are better than others, we have to look at an individual company’s goals, needs and resources.

Four key factors in creating your strategy

In working with clients, we’ve identified four critical factors for creating a good/better/best marketing strategy that drives results:

Be realistic about your budget.

We’re talking brutal honesty here, not wishful thinking. If you’ve got, say, $20,000 to spend on your marketing for the entire year, that will take many things off the menu altogether. But, you can focus on activities where spending money directly increases leads and drives revenue.

If you have a smaller budget, one way to look at things is that you’re not using that money to build long-term success so much as growing a bigger budget for next year. Try working on a shorter timeframe that supports your long-term planning.

Rank your business objectives.

Consider which ones produce outcomes that generate the most impactful results for your business. Then assign them to different tiers and the marketing activities that support them.

Take lead gen vs. relationship building, for instance. Maybe your online leads take a long time to convert if they do at all while strengthening personal connections reliably brings in new revenue and growth opportunities. Building relationships could be the top-tier objective, with trade shows as your best marketing tactic.

Take your team into account.

Consider your staff: what are they excellent at, and where do they need help? If you have a solid sales team that’s great at converting qualified leads, then an account-based marketing approach might be best. On the other hand, if your sales team is struggling, you may want to invest in automated marketing that doesn’t rely as heavily on your team to deliver results.

In other words, leverage your strengths and bolster your weaknesses.

Be realistic about volume.

It might seem obvious, but we’ve seen plenty of newer companies make this mistake. You’ve got to be realistic about how many new leads you can handle. If your marketing drives way more leads than you can effectively service, you risk damaging your reputation and discouraging future sales.

We created this easy-to-use marketing spreadsheet you can download for free to help companies establish a good/better/best framework based on these business factors.

Don’t just set it and forget it.

The effectiveness of your marketing strategy, along with your spending options, will change as your business grows and evolves. That’s why you need to periodically reevaluate your good/better/best allocation to make sure it meets your business needs and takes advantage of new opportunities.

The key to allocating marketing spend in a good/better/best model is that you need to understand what you’re optimizing for. You want to work backwards—what are your goals for each activity, did you hit them, and what does the outcome mean for your business?

Setting time-bound goals for your good/better/best strategy will help you prioritize activities and evaluate success. Then, when you get to a deadline (maybe 3-6 months out), you can look at the results and adjust your strategy.

You might structure the evaluation as a series of questions, like:

  • Did we accomplish our goal?
  • What did we learn?
  • What do we still want to learn?

This easily repeatable process can provide valuable insights to help ensure your budget allocation is getting the results you want.

For example, let’s say you run a successful digital campaign that meets your goal of bringing in qualified, converting leads. Thanks to the revenue growth, you can now expand your marketing activities in other areas. Maybe trade shows are crucial for closing deals with distributors in your industry, but the cost used to be a hurdle you couldn’t clear. Trade shows may have become your next best investment now that you can.

Change your culture, change your results.

Spending without a strategy is like driving a train with no tracks: you’ll get nowhere fast. Yet somehow, it becomes very easy for companies to throw money around with little to show for their marketing efforts. And maybe it gets chalked up to that “grey area” of doing business, which is usually just a dumping ground for things people didn’t bother to measure.

Hopefully, this article has shown that you can put your money into marketing that drives the best possible performance with a bit of thoughtful planning. In addition to the mechanics of figuring out a good/better/best strategy, there are a few fundamental mindset shifts that will help you get this right:

Business isn’t an instinctual thing.

As with most things in life, seek first to understand. Suppose you don’t have a good picture of the actual costs, benefits and possible outcomes of different activities. In that case, you’re just making decisions based on instinct. But marketing these days is too complex to make uninformed decisions.

Setting priorities is critical.

You do it in your own life; why wouldn’t you apply it to your business? It’s crucial that you prioritize your business goals based on the outcomes you want to achieve. Following that, you can identify the marketing activities that are most important for meeting your needs.

Measurement gets better with practice.

One added benefit of the good/better/best approach to a marketing strategy is that you’ll get more consistent, reliable results from your marketing. Because the more you evaluate results over time, the better you’ll get at forecasting them.

Sure, the first time you forecast anything might feel like guesswork. But when you go back in a few months and do it again, you’ll have much more information. When you can say, “I don’t think I got a return on the $2,000 I spent on X, but I did on Y,” you know where to spend the next two grand. That’s why ongoing evaluation needs to be part of your decision-making process—and a permanent part of your culture.

Maybe all of this makes sense to you, but you don’t have the tools to figure out the measurement part? If so, we’d love to help. Whether you need guidance or execution, we’ll give you visibility into your marketing so you can make smarter decisions that drive results. Contact us today to learn how.

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