One of the most difficult challenges in new category marketing is quantifying the success of your various programs. When looking at peer companies at a similar stage, you’ll be hard pressed to find benchmarks that don’t come loaded with exceptions. You’ll undoubtedly have conversations with your team about whether or not the market is “ready” yet and will certainly get heartburn over marketing spend in relation to sales performance.
Creating a new category requires a whole new set of metrics that serve as milestones on your path to, first, building and scaling market awareness and, second, creating a sales pipeline. Taking the textbook approach to online marketing can deceive you into questioning product/market fit. Why are search volumes so low? Why does paid advertising produce nothing but garbage leads?
Well, it’s because you’re in a new market.
The proper approach is pretty straightforward. Marketing teams need to develop a set of metrics that measure the growth of their market, and in relation, the efficacy of their influence on that market growth. If the growth programs are instrumented the right way, then the correlation between market growth and pipeline growth will be set.
Measuring market growth.
The term thought leadership can take on many meanings, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s define it as any marketing program designed to build market awareness about a particular space, and also, to position a company, product or team as the driving influence in that space. The bet is that customers will want to buy from the market leader.
Typical thought leadership programs include investments in content marketing, analyst relations, or even planning an industry conference. Those who ascribe by the traditional marketing funnel would measure the success of these programs by the number of qualified leads generated as a result. Now, we’ll get to that part in a second, but how can you measure the impact of your thought leadership programs in growing your market?
A) Social Media Analytics. One tactic to consider is measuring the quantifiable growth in social media conversation around your market category. Think of it this way, everything that marketing does will end up on Twitter in some fashion, whether it’s an ebook, contributed article, or even a picture of a billboard on the local highways. Best-in-class marketing teams will chart the cumulative exposure of their market and can point to spikes of influence.
At Gainsight, we use a tool called Topsy (since acquired by Apple) to measure the growth in impressions of the #customersuccess hashtag. The conversation online around our market was fairly minimal in the time before our launch in April 2013 but spiked between April and June from our inaugural industry conference called Pulse, held May 30. We had said on stage that Pulse was the official kick-off for the Customer Success industry, and now we had the data to prove it.
The market then continued to grow exponentially month-on-month until another step-function event in May 2014 at, you guessed it, our second industry conference. Today the #customersuccess hashtag has skyrocketed well past 100M impressions.
These charts are great tactics to measure overall market growth (in terms of social influence) and map your influence in that growth. You’ll also need to measure the needle-movers that ultimately create those spikes and drive the trend-line up and to the right.
B) Organic search rank. You can expect, in general, for search volumes to be rather low for new markets. This isn’t a net negative, but rather an opportunity to build the online backbone of the industry that you’re creating. You’ll want to generate a ton of quality “early-stage content” that is optimized for search engine discovery, so when people search for your industry, you are ranking in the top five results. Let the competition spend significant dollars bidding on keywords while you’re organically dominating the top spots.
Once one of your web properties ranks high, your job is far from done. A key tactic to maintaining your organic search position is to continue the production of high quality content on a regular basis while driving high volumes of traffic via standard distribution channels like email, social, etc. Another approach is to leverage new products that will automatically generate and publish SEO-friendly landing pages at scale based on keywords being crawled from content produced on your website.
One of the solutions that does this best is Captora, founded and operated by key executives from Marketo. Beyond developing net new landing pages, Captora will also pull in competitive data to help you quantify and rank your thought leadership programs against the competition and recommend action to stay ahead of the pack.
Now if your CEO is like mine, he’ll appreciate these metrics for what they are, but challenge you regularly on how your top-of-funnel efforts are impacting pipeline. The good news is that inherently they are. But you’re going to need a much more defensible approach to pipeline planning than MQLs in order to win his/her trust.