A few weeks ago, I hosted a panel talk about digital marketing trends. During Q&A time, someone towards the front of the room raised her hand and asked one of our speakers something along the lines of, "If you had a budget of $10,000 and you were faced with the choice of using the money to create a video that could go viral, or you could put it into advertisements, which one would you do? Would you go for the creative option, or would you go for the data-driven advertising method?"
Her question gave our panellists a bit of pause for thought - it was certainly an interesting question, and one that marketing professionals struggle with a lot.
After all, the marketing campaigns we hear about are the creative ones - the ones with a viral video, or a super catchy slogan, or a multi-faceted guerilla marketing campaign involving a gamified mobile app and hidden smart stickers, or whatever crazy new initiative a marketing executive had dreamt up. Very few go to their friends and say, 'Oh my God, did you see how cleverly that company hit me with dynamic retargeting ads on Facebook? I thought that was so creative/smart/clever!"
These high-level, creative type campaigns are also often what is encouraged in universities - recently, a friend informed me that for one of her university marketing assignments, she was working with a non-for-profit organisation, and had been tasked with fixing the issue of declining funding. Her solution was to build an app that would encourage kids to take an active role in caring for a particular animal. The idea is certainly creative and cute. It's also faithful to one of the core tenets of marketing, which is to create emotional connections with audiences. In that aspect, something like that would work...
...if the organisation has a lot of money to burn.
For some companies out there, this might be the case, in which case I say, 'Good on you! Feel free to go crazy with crazy brand-building campaigns."
But for most companies, I suspect that they can't say the same. Budgets are always tight, even more so for marketing - history shows when times get a little harsh and companies have to run leaner, one of the first things that get cut is the marketing budget. That's because it's easier for a company to say, "well, I'm in bad times, and it doesn't look like my marketing is helping out anyway," than to start firing people.
But when marketing budgets do get cut, the only people we can blame are the marketers ourselves.
Because we do such a bad job at proving our marketing is helping the business.
This brings us back to the question the lady posed to the panel. Be creative, or use data and run advertisements?
While the other panelists stated it was a fusion of both, I'd have to argue that when it comes to marketing, there's no issue smart use of data cannot fix. In fact, I'd even say data, both quantitative and qualitative can almost replace creativity in certain aspects. Companies can get by without sinking huge amounts of money into big campaigns.
So here are 3 reasons why investing your budget into data and advertisements is better for your business.
1. Data allows you to ID low hanging fruits you can target with ads
When you use data, i.e. from Google Analytics, you can quickly identify new opportunities for your business, i.e. new demographics, which you can then subsequently target with ads. For example, if your Google Analytics is showing you have frequent repeat visitors to your website, this might mean you have people who are interested in your product, but are still unsure whether they want to buy. This might be an excellent opportunity to retarget these visitors with ads showing a compelling special offer to push them over the line.
The best thing is, the more you use ads to target opportunities, the more useable data you'll collect. For example, pretend you're own a store that sells golf clubs, and you decide to experiment with Facebook ads because you got quite a bit of a following on Facebook. At first, you might start off with a pretty broad targeting of 30-65 year-olds who like golf. After a few weeks of running mildly successful ads, you can look into your advertising reports and see that the demographic of male 45-50 year-olds performs better than the rest of your cohort. That demographic then would be your new low-hanging fruit, and so you can create a new ad set that targets that narrower segment.
2. Data-driven ads are scalable and trackable.
Advertisements really shine in their scalability. If you decide to test Facebook ads, you'll be able to start on a budget of $10 a day. If it's not working for you after two weeks, then it's something you can just switch off. If it is working for you, then you can scale up to $20, and then maybe even to $50 a day, and the results would often scale with the budget without requiring any more effort on your behalf. Because advertisements analytics are so good nowadays, you can also see exactly how much your ads are adding to your bottom line. There will be no doubt as to whether they're working for your business or not.
On the other hand, a creative video campaign has an upfront cost, and there's limited scalability. If you spend $10,000 creating an epically emotional video, and it works, you can't exactly spend another $10,000 and expect double the results. Creative campaigns require phenomenal amounts of effort that can't just be turned up or down - they're all or nothing. The ROI from creative campaigns is also very hard to track, at least for small businesses. Your video could be seen a million times and shared by hundreds, but whether it does what it's meant to do, i.e. sell your product, is very hard to track (refer to the Dumb Ways to Die campaign). It's this inability to clearly track the ROI that makes it hard for companies to see the value in marketing.
3. Qualitative data replaces the need to be creative
One of the worst mistakes a company can make is to assume the creatives things they think of is what their clientele is going to engage with.
A better practice is to turn to your customer and get qualitative data from them. Look through your reviews and go through your customer insights to find out what people are saying about you, and then use their language. Often, you can craft strong marketing messages from what your customers have said, verbatim. You can also look at your customer insights to see what kind of content they engage with and share around the most, and work from there. For example, if you realise that any videos you share onto your page get the most amount of engagement, or that your target audience seems to share listicles type blogs, then those are the types of content you should be looking to create yourself. There's no point trying to carve out a demand that isn't already there. Again, it's about going for the low-hanging fruit first.
While I know a lot of people won't agree with my stance, and will argue that creative campaigns do drive home results, and can be quite cost-effective, I believe that this kind of mindset is incredibly dangerous, especially for small businesses. A company's aim should be always to quickly test, and use data find the methods that work best for them, before taking on riskier approaches. Data will also allow us marketers to prove exactly how much we're contributing to business's success, which is the most important thing. Sure, this approach makes marketing a lot less sexy, but it makes it a lot more effective.
Over to you! Do you agree with my stance? If you've run an awesome creative campaign, I want to hear about it too!
To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.