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Reevaluating Expectations Around Marketing Results

The last time I wrote to you about this topic was back in April of 2020. The article was about our new perspective, at the time, on paid media. This piece serves as a follow up now that we’ve had 9 months of data, experience, and results to mine.

The concept of time — specifically the time it takes to see results from your marketing investment — has been the primary focus of my thoughts and efforts for many years. It takes a substantial investment of energy, time, and money to radically change a firm’s biz dev efforts. And the highly motivated companies that work with us know this going in.

But sometimes our prospects are in a particular rush. They think they might benefit from cherry-picking among the details of our offering — shortening this phase, and cutting that one out — in an effort to ‘go live’ sooner. Once, we even had an owner of a firm build his firm’s entire site, by himself and with very little experience, over a weekend. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, it turns out. Downright easy, really. After all, this is one of the reasons we largely got out of the web development business five years ago. Anyone reading this article could have a new site halfway to completion in the time it’d take them to finish this article. So sure, you could rush through that and any other part of the process as much as you’d like, at your own risk. But Newfangled is in the results business, and the results business doesn’t work that way.

We’ve been focusing on the discipline of results-based marketing for creative and digital firms for 25 years. We’ve learned a great deal, sometimes the long and hard way. I don’t know of any firm that has focused as closely on this one discipline for this audience as we have. Our expertise began exponentially growing in 2016 when we simplified our services to focus exclusively on website, content, and email marketing strategy. Focusing on fewer things in a deeper way accelerated our learnings. Couple that with the development of our Insight Engine, which finitely measures the efficacy of our clients’ marketing efforts, and we’re able to offer fact-based insights in a way we never could before. Now, we don’t guess. We know.

Questioning Digital Marketing Results

Firms hire us because they want to see results. They’re sick of their own marketing taking a back seat in their company, wasting money on efforts that don’t work. They’re tired of asking themselves the same questions over and again about what they should be doing to fuel their business development. When we agree to work with a firm, we’re agreeing to meet a very high bar of client expectations. It’s a bar that many firms, products, and services promise, but few actually deliver on.

What’s more, the conditions around that bar — the combined effort required to generate real, measurable, and attributable business results that clearly impact the firm’s bottom line — are constantly evolving. The role of and the expectations we have for email and content have changed significantly since we started focusing on these disciplines 5 years ago. If we weren’t paying such close attention, we surely wouldn’t have noticed it. When Ali Amoroso, our Director of Content Coaching, first told me about the clear pattern she was seeing among her clients, I didn’t believe her. This was at least half in part due to the fact that I didn’t want to believe her.

Ali recognized, rightly, that it was taking longer and longer for her clients to see a real, attributable uptick in organic inbound traffic in response to their content creation efforts. This was terrible news for us, and for our clients. It meant that, most likely due to the surfeit of content being published by people trying to play the content marketing game, that it was going to take even longer for our clients to see results from our efforts.

Challenging the Role of Email

Email was already under fire. Most people distrusted it as a lead development tool, and much of the world was taking very real action to limit its reach. In both cases, the many ruined it for the few. On both the content and email fronts, the web was awash in clutter that made our jobs more difficult as time went on. A frustrating aspect of this was that our clients were the good folks. They weren’t writing useless generalist content and then spamming it to giant lists of unqualified prospects in hopes of who knows what. Our clients were doing it the right way. They were actually making the web a better place by generously sharing their true, deep, and hard-earned expertise with the specific audience that could most benefit from their knowledge, whether or not they hired them.

So, there we were. We had great firms paying us dear money for results that were, as we told them, likely 9-15 months out from the day they launched their new program. And just getting that program up and running was likely going to take them 3 months time. An 18 month incubation period is a lot to ask of anyone, no matter how much faith or discipline they have.

How Long Should You Wait to See Results?

It’s a lot to ask any firm to do this work, and invest the money and effort required over an 18 month period before seeing results. It was only the mature firms (in terms of perspective, not necessarily years), with a long-term view who were willing to make an investment like this. Those people tend to make fantastic clients. But even then, waiting a year and a half to really know if this is working is a long time, for them and for us. It was the element of our business that I struggled with the most.

It was in part due to this long-term play that some firms wanted to whittle down the initial work required to launch. I understood this need, but a pattern quickly emerged. The ones who said they wanted to rush and cut our 12 week timeline down to 6-8 weeks were almost guaranteed to take 6 months to launch instead of 3. I’d tell them that, they’d laugh because they’d said the same thing to their clients and seen the same pattern, but still, they were in a rush to see results.

I got it then, and I get it now. The agency business is hard. Simply surviving as a business is too often on the minds of most principals, and that’s in normal times! I love how high the stakes are for Newfangled. We all cherish and thrive on the fact that our clients are counting on us to help change the direction of their firm, for good. It’s an exhilarating level of responsibility.  But, when results start taking longer to realize, we know we have to make a change.

I’d had the feeling for quite a while that we were missing something, and when we were faced with the elongated timelines for both content and email, it was clear we needed to act on that feeling.

The last article I wrote was about Paid Media, and specifically its critical role in a firm’s marketing strategy. I wrote that article based on what we had observed in the market up to that point, and what we saw in our immediate future. In the six months since, we have developed more expertise in Paid Media through both aggressive talent acquisition and a wealth of direct client experience than we had amassed in our previous 25 years combined.

The results of these efforts have had an incredible impact on our work, process, perspective, and, most importantly, time-to-results (TTR). On average, we’ve cut the TTR for our clients in half.

Paid Media Results Timing

What has changed, though, is the more lengthy side of the equation. As a reminder, it previously took 3 months for our clients to go live with their new marketing systems under our guidance. It then took 9-15 months to start seeing results, for a total of 18 months. Now, because of the customized and integrated approach we have developed around content strategy, website design, email techniques, and paid media, we are regularly seeing ideal results with 6 months of launch.

In short, we understood and continue to understand our clients’ paramount need to reap the benefits of their combined marketing investment. We have cut the TTR in half. We have not, however, done that through skimping on or rushing through the critical early stages of that process.

One of our biggest takeaways from this most recent wave of change in the firm is how important the integration of each of the four key elements (site, content, email, ads) is. Ads drive traffic to the content on the site. Prospects convert on the site in response to different content offerings. From that point on, they receive regular emails that contain new content that reaffirms the firm’s expertise in the mind of the prospect and keeps them top of mind until they are ready to discuss an opportunity with them.

The primary importance of content strategy, website experience, and email hasn’t changed. What has changed is the timing of our reliance on those elements. The correct use of paid media allows us to let the content and email efforts develop in a healthy and responsible manner. Without an excellent content and email regimen, ad dollars are wasted. Without the near-term wins created by the right ad/content strategy, a standalone email/content strategy might be truncated before it has a chance to see real results.

We are constantly evolving. The strategies and techniques that generate results for our clients today will surely each become ineffective over time. Since we focus solely on this, we’re going to see this coming before you do, and we’ll be on to the next approach. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But it’s incredibly fun and rewarding.

Results That Matter

To support the claims made in this article, here are a few anonymized results from clients who have been running on our new, integrated platform over the last six months.

* * *

System Live: 3 months

Initial Results: We are targeting very active keywords with high search intent, and those are driving the majority of the traffic. We drove in 3 contacts the last 30 days, 2 of which are actively communicating with us about future work.

* * *

System Live: 3 months

Initial Results: We launched at the beginning of this month and we already have two qualified contact form submissions.

* * *

System Live: 3 months

Initial Results: We’ve generated 6 inquiries from right-fit prospects in the first three months. Of those, one has signed, and three are still in process.

* * *

System Live: 6 months

Initial Results: The overall account was seeing a 4.70% CTR. Compare that to past campaigns which were seeing a .51% and .57% CTR for all of 2020.

One of these individuals is a highly qualified lead from someone they worked with previously. This person is now at a new company and has reached out to them for a potential opportunity. What’s most interesting about this is this person did not search “client name” or directly go to the website, but rather searched for his company’s need and found the client’s ad. They are now in late stage conversations about a large, multi-year engagement.

Our Work’s Not Done

Although we’re very proud of the progress we’ve made, we’re even more excited to take this to the next level. I believe in deriving energy from your successes to gather the courage needed for the next leap you want to make. We know we’re on the right track, and we’re thrilled with our well-proven ability to deliver late-stage, right-fit prospects to so many of our clients. The next goal is to be able to guarantee that level of success to every firm we agree to work with. That’s a goal that’s worth showing up to work for each day.

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