If your firm had exactly $100k to invest in digital marketing in 2014, what would you do with it? What would you expect from the investment? How would you allocate the resources?
This month’s article outlines the specific outcomes you should expect from your digital marketing and makes recommendations on how to allocate your budget.
We’ve written about this topic a few times in the past, but more conceptually than here. In this month’s article, I wanted to explore the topic in more depth — to literally outline where to invest the dollars. But, every firm is unique. So, to do it, I had to “conjure up a firm” and make some assumptions. I’m writing this from the perspective of a mid-sized A/E or consulting firm with revenue in the range of $20M – $30M — for more details on my assumptions jump to the Appendix at the end of the article. Otherwise, press on.
Your 3 Critical Marketing Objectives
Before you begin any planning exercise, I think you should start by defining your desired outcomes. What do you expect from your digital marketing efforts? Your objectives should be specific and measurable. “Build brand awareness” or “position ourselves as thought leaders on XYZ topic” are not effective objectives in isolation because they’re not measurable.
I think your digital marketing objectives should include, at minimum, the following:
- Marketing Leads Generated – Potential clients that have demonstrated interest in your expertise and have “raised their hand” to allow you to market to them.
- Sales-Ready Leads Generated – Potential clients that are actively looking for a firm like yours to solve a specific business problem (possibly with your help).
- Qualified Opportunities and Won Business – Could be described as a number of opportunities or a total pipeline value. You should expect and plan on generating some percentage of your annual business from your digital marketing efforts.
Desired Outcomes for Our Hypothetical Consulting Firm
So, let’s put some desired outcomes against our $100k digital marketing investment in our $20-$30M firm. This is a lot risky to do since every firm is different — I think Ian Brodie put it best when he said, “your numbers are your numbers.” There’s really no sense in comparing your numbers to someone else’s. After all, a specialist healthcare architecture practice is going to have very different marketing metrics from a similarly sized management consulting firm operating in 3-4 markets — they have different markets, different services, different profit structures…you name it. But, I really just want to give an example of how to think about setting objectives.
- 300 Marketing Leads Generated – It’s been our experience that a firm generates anywhere from 20-30 marketing leads for every 1 sales-ready lead. I believe our hypothetical $20-30M firm should be capable of generating 300 marketing leads in 2014 from its digital marketing.
- 10-15 Sales-Ready Leads Generated – A mid-sized firm could probably expect to generate 10-15 direct inquiries from its online content assuming that its online content is high quality (I based this number on the findings of The Bloom Group research report, The State of Online Publishing in the Consulting Industry — specifically, take a look at the section “Comparing Leaders and Laggards in Online Publishing” — I’ll reference this report a few times in this article, so I would suggest giving it a read if you haven’t already).
- One or Two New Clients (Qualified Opportunities and Won Business) – Here things get very difficult because every firm is different in what it does, who it serves and what it costs. For comparison, the most successful firm in our 2012 Content Marketing Survey was generating 27% of its annual revenue online. The most successful firms I know are generally looking to acquire a handful of new clients each year with the resources to engage them in a deep and meaningful way — in my opinion, a firm looking to generate 7-8 new clients in a year should consider 1-2 new clients generated online to be a successful business outcome.
Strategically Allocating the Budget
If you look closely at The Bloom Group’s various research studies on thought leadership development and thought leadership marketing, I believe you’ll draw the same conclusion I did. Leader firms — the firms that generate the best outcomes from their thought leadership marketing efforts — tend to invest more resources against the content itself and less against the promotion of it. In simple terms, the firms that have the most success with content marketing invest more time, money and thought on what they have to say and less on promoting it. So, strategically, I’m going to invest our $100k like this:
- 55% — Content Development and Packaging
- 45% — Content Promotion
Tactically Allocating the Budget
Some other interesting insights from The Bloom Group’s research that can inform our marketing allocation:
- Leading firms tend to actually produce less content — they’d rather produce comprehensive thought on a small set of topics less frequently than a bit of content on a range of things all the time.
- They tend to be more comfortable utilizing ghost writers to think through topics and present them in an entertaining and intuitive way.
- They’re more interested in how they actually package the content — they use more interactive graphics and such to aide the story they’re trying to tell.
- Most importantly, they’re much more likely to base their content on the findings of primary research than on just the perceptions of consultants alone.
So, here’s how I’d invest our resources tactically:
Content Development and Packaging
- $30k — Primary Research — High-level topical research to create unique insight about specific business challenges and identify broad topical themes for many forms of content.
- $15k — Content Packaging — A video, interactive graphic or combination of the two to communicate the findings of the research in a way that’s both useful and easy to consume.
- $10k — Ghost Writer — The goal of the broad thematic research is to provide useful insight that consultants can use as the basis for follow-on articles and blogs. But, doing this can be outside the comfort zone of many consultants. A good writer helps consultants articulate their thoughts and ideas
- $10k — Social Media Training — One of the most effective ways to promote a firm’s content has proven to be through the consultants’ networks themselves. A tweet or LinkedIn group discussion from a consultant related to a firm’s content tends to be more valuable than most bought media. And, leading firms are much more likely to formally invest in training to help their consultants do so (this is actually from The Bloom Group / AMCF Social Media Study — 71% of leaders train their consultants; only 29% of laggards do). So, rather than putting dollars towards a social media agency, I’d rather train the consultants on how to do it.
- $15k — SEM — We’re still finding that paid search is an effective means to connect a firm’s content with executives likely to find interest in that content. This is especially true of putting the content in front of people that we believe would find it valuable, but might not be actively seeking it. Generally, I’d recommend mixing some Google paid search with LinkedIn profile ads and sponsored company updates.
- $20k — Retargeting — Finally, I’d suggest allocating some of your online marketing dollars towards retargeting. While high-quality, research-based content can be a great source of marketing leads, still only 4-5% of visitors to that content may convert. Retargeting can be an effective way to engage with folks who interacted with the content, but then directly bounced from the site or failed to convert. A good retargeting campaign can offer exclusive content to returning site visitors.
Hopefully, if you’re in charge of marketing an A/E or consulting firm, this article gave you some useful thought about how to allocate your marketing mix — both strategically and tactically.
Appendix: All the Assumptions I Made
So, you want the nitty gritty — these are the assumptions I made and the story of my hypothetical firm:
- We’re talking purely about digital marketing — in this case, I mean a firm’s efforts to position itself as a topical expert online and connect with potential clients that could benefit from its expertise.
- I’m including all aspects of digital marketing — inbound marketing, content development and outbound marketing.
- I’m not including business development expenses — for purposes of this article, we’re just going to assume that your relational marketing efforts are what they are; whether you have dedicated BD folks or leader/doer/sellers, those investments are not part of this discussion.
- I’m also not including software costs — the ongoing fees you pay to maintain your website, your marketing automation system, or your CRM.
- I’m focusing on mid-sized consulting, architecture and engineering firms that work with private sector clients — firms with revenue around $20-$30M that provide a service that has a long sales cycle, is a large capital investment, and is delivered by a collection of highly-talented knowledge workers.
- I’m assuming your firm is well positioned — meaning you’re not trying to address too many markets or provide too many services than is reasonably appropriate for a firm your size.
- I’m also assuming that success looks like a handful of client wins in a year — possibly only 3-4; maybe as many as 10-15; but, certainly not 100-200.
- Finally, I’m assuming that your firm is already committed to a marketing approach based on content or thought leadership (If this does not describe your firm; if you’re relying mostly on offline tactics — events, promotions, and promotional marketing, I’m hoping this article might encourage you to take pause and think about incorporating more content and digital marketing into your mix).