We were asked recently the interesting question: “If a company had $1 million to spend on audience development, what lever gives the best ROI?”
The simple answer to this question is: it depends.
The complex answer to this question is the same, only with more details. It depends. It depends on your audience. It depends on where they go to consume information, to learn about new things, to gather data in order to make decisions. It depends on how many times and how many places they see your message.
In order to get a more actionable answer than “it depends”, you’ll need to invest a portion of that $1 million in testing. Take 10% of it and invest in each of the “levers”, each of the channels you have accessible, to make that determination. Let’s say you broke up 10% of your investment, $100,000, into 4 channel groupings for a couple of months (or at least the length of your sales cycle): social media, advertising, public relations, and search marketing.
Inside each channel, allocate the grouping’s funding accordingly. For example, you’d take $25,000 and invest in tools and talent for a social media campaign. $25,000 would go to a variety of advertising tactics, from display ads to PPC ads to perhaps even direct mail. You’d invest $25,000 in public relations (with the caveat that many PR programs take a couple of months to start generating momentum unless your product/service is stellar), and $25,000 in content creation and search optimization.
Let the programs do their thing, whether you’ve hired agencies, freelancers, or built a project team internally. Give the programs a clear set of objectives and expectations about how much audience each should generate, then let them run concurrently.
At the end of your two month program, look at your analytics. What program created the most audience? What program created the most valuable audience? Assuming the testing period ran over the course of at least one full sales cycle, you should be able to tell which levers delivered the highest ROI, and then allocate the remaining budget to any levers that generated positive ROI. Keep in mind that if you’ve been running a concurrent test, there may be synergies among the top 3 or 4 levers that could vanish if you stop funding all but one of them. Consider funding each lever proportional to the results generated.
The results will vary wildly from company to company, because every audience is different. For some companies, public relations outreach is a goldmine. For others, it delivers mediocre results. For some companies, social media creates amazing audiences. For others, it saps resources. There is no one magic lever or magic bullet that will work for every company to grow an audience. Certainly, there are aggregate best practices you can use as starting points, but ultimately, the answer will likely be a unique combination of several strategies and tactics that works for your audience the best. Only by testing will you find out what works best for your audience.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology