How to Improve Marketing ROI with Deliberate Practice

Marketing and PR teams are under constant pressure to deliver results – measurable outcomes in both dollars spent and leads generated. Teams many times overspend time and resources on things they aren’t fully sure will deliver value. Why? Those choices are easily defensible to their senior management. Falling into this trap is easy and alluring – the marketer’s version of not being fired for buying IBM.  But it diverts attention and resources, putting data-driven minded marketers off course and limiting marketing ROI. 

When the C-Level says, “We need to do….”

Consider the following input a typical marketing/PR team will get from senior managers on tactics/direction:

  • “We need to be at XX tradeshow, all the competitors will be there.”
  • “Why aren’t we in that article that highlights our main competitor?”
  • “We need to have XX new social channel up and running.”
  • “We need to amp up our email efforts to our new industry sector we just entered – it’s been our best performing channel for all our vertical markets.”

What’s missing in each case is empirical proof vs. anecdotal “evidence” of needs or gaps. Anticipating the pain that comes with these “we need to…” statements pushes marketing and PR teams to become order takers, spreading their time and money too broadly.

Even when teams can report “success”, it’s hard to distinguish when it was luck vs. proper planning and execution. At best this provides short term relief and results. At worst, it provides false confidence and over-reliance on strategies that may betray in the future.

The customer journey role in avoiding the “order taker” trap

It takes a great deal of fortitude – and data – to counteract these pressure-filled directives and questions from senior management. Outside of industry norms and blogs, marketers have another resource to turn to beyond their own data – a better understanding of probability and Bayesian thinking.  

For the unfamiliar, Bayesian thinking is simply the notion that the more you know, the more likely you can predict what will work in the future. For marketers, that means not only a 360 degree understanding of the current customer journey but also continuous integration of new, objective data.  That means marketers need to evaluate:

  • Industry benchmark data/strategies that are found via Google Analytics and other tools for general channel order;
  • Their own real world data for gap analysis, budget resourcing and tactical planning; AND
  • Implement a framework for regular and consistent testing to evaluate not only the current performance, but also how likely it is this plan will work moving forward.

Here’s where many marketers and PR teams fall into a trap. Even if they properly execute the first two steps, they lack the framework or discipline to revise and test their assumptions. That requires deliberate practice. And as it turns out, deliberate practice is hard.

How deliberate practice can drive marketing results 

Deliberate practice goes beyond random A/B testing or running a simple pilot program on a new social channel. It is focused on iterative performance improvement, and requires two key elements:

1. An external teacher or consultant

  • Many times, a team or individual cannot see the same assumptions or mistakes they are making. Having an external voice, be it an external agency or consultant, can help identify detrimental patterns or repeats of strategies that don’t account for changing conditions.
  • Having peer input from across the organization can also help marketing decision makers round out their thinking. Doing so can create a better sense of holistically what might work best for the organization.

2. Living in the learning zone with constant feedback

  • Living in a state of constant evaluation takes discipline. Unlike paranoia, it’s a healthy state where constant testing and new data are seamlessly integrated into plans and strategies. It may suggest doing something out of the norm or pivoting from traditional strategies. This is where fresh data is vital to make the case for a directional change.
  • Tradeshows are a classic example. Just because a show worked before doesn’t mean it’s a wise future investment. Do buyers still go to the show? Will budgets keep them from attending this year? Did the leads to MQL rate from last year’s event justify the budget? Is the planned budget and staff able to support a strong and relevant presence? Or instead could applying data-driven techniques to the tradeshow strategy drive stronger outcomes?

Having a wide-ranging plan and relying on what worked before are safe zones for marketers. Even data-driven marketers many times fall into a comfort zone of thinking they have solved for their strategy issues. This mindset sets teams up for the inevitable marketing ROI dip that leaves them scrambling to make up ground. Only by constantly analyzing and testing their assumptions, with deliberate practice mindset and techniques, can marketers stay in line with their business and customer needs.

Derek Lyons
Senior Vice President


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk