budget free marketing

The more you spend the more you make, that’s one way of thinking about marketing. But this is not the whole story. Nearly all the money you spend on marketing is focused on learning, indirectly achieving your targets not directly.

You must listen you your customers and prospects, this is an investment.

You must learn about the problems that your market is looking to solve, the people who are tasked with solving these problems and the ways in which they wish to solve these specific problems, this is an investment.

And mapping all of this to your goals as a business – again a strategic investment.

You must learn about the changing dynamics of your market by working with paid industry experts (analysts), this is an investment.

You must network with business partners, learn about their businesses, this is an investment.

Then with all this sunk investment you invest more in creating compelling content that is designed to offer value to your prospective customers. This in an investment.

Next you must tell your prospective customers about all that you have, so you must advertise, promote your wares by training your sales teams and being present at the places that your prospective customers attend. All this is an investment.

You must advertise, using a mix of mediums and services – further investment.

And when you have invested, you start to look for leads, which must be managed and acted upon. Most of these will not become customers in the short term, that’s again an investment.

There is an old adage “half of what I spend on marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half”. But the reality is that nothing is waste, it’s learning, allowing you to focus and tune your efforts to best effect.

If you expect 1+1 to equal 2, you will be disappointed. The simple fact is that marketing investments steer your product direction, your strategy and your sales efforts, but they do not directly convert to money in the bank. It’s a complex and indirect path.

When you plan to invest a specific amount in marketing, you must be prepared to listen and use what you hear, this is the initial return on your investment.


Obviously, the sum of all these sunk costs must lead to a return, but over what time period are you expecting this return.

Sales and Marketing, along with infrastructure, product development and many other costs are there to support a business, the result being a return on all this investment. Business is a complex formula, where every variable influences the result, but at any given moment looking at a snapshot of a point in time doesn’t give a complete picture of the process.

In business there are certain times where a small change can lead to a massive change in the trajectory of business. For example, you may publish an article on a blog site that gets a cohort of people very animated and leads to a massive uptick in interest in your specific product, leading to a boost in site visits, leads and activity for sales. When this happens it’s exciting and something to enjoy and learn from. And of course, when you get this response you immediately want to repeat the success. And sometimes you will have identified a formula which works again and again, while other times it will not be repeatable. The lesson is to never give up, but to try again and again, and continually learn from every attempt.

While we always want out content to become viral, we must treat every piece of data we capture is important and use it to continually improve.

Marketing is always about efficiency and effectiveness. It’s not how much you spend than matters, it’s how you learn from every interaction and continually improve.

Nothing happens for free, but the most effective and efficient marketing is not the most expensive, it’s the most appropriate for the audience you need to target. When you understand your audience, how they learn, how they choose and what motivates them, then every dollar you invest goes further. Conversely you don’t have an intimate relationship with your target, nearly everything you invest will be wasted.

Answer these four questions, and your marketing will become dramatically more effective and efficient

  1. What Business are you truly in?
  2. What business problem do you solve?
  3. Who specifically has this problem?
  4. How do these specific people desire to solve this specific problem?






It was an impossible situation, the question had been asked, and it didn’t matter how it was answered, every answer would lead to the same place, and not one she could come back from.

The question seemed so simple, so reasonable, and yet it would start a clock starting that would end with her needing to find a new job.

The question was from her chief executive and it was this “how much new business did that ad campaign create?”

There are several ways to answer that question. She could start by saying “Ad’s do not create new business directly; they are just one element of awareness that smooths the way for our company and product to be considered”

Or she could say “That ad created 10 new deals this year and 30 new deals over the next five years”

Or she could say “In the same way that any variable in an equation is critical to the\ final number, this ad campaign was instrumental in every deal we have closed, worked, won and lost”

It doesn’t matter what she says, because the chief executive hears “we spent a lot of money on something that cannot directly be attributed to results”, and now there is no trust, no confidence, and there is no obvious way of rebuilding these critical team requirements.

So what can she learn from this situation?\

Firstly, marketing must have a strategic plan, one that includes measures of success that are leading indicators of the goals you are trying to achieve, and not just the ultimate lagging indicator of revenue. That’s not to say that revenue isn’t important (it’s critical), but every journey must be measured by your ability to take every step, as well as the eventual arrival at the destination.

If you plan to go from New York to Boston, you have to take the subway to the airport, pass through TSA, board the plane, which must take off, travel and land, before you disembark, collect your luggage, obtain your über, arrive at your hotel, check-in and get to your room. Every step on this process demands careful planning and execution, and the more you think about it the more steps you can identify that also must be planned and executed flawlessly. Not one step on the process can be skipped if you want to succeed. And every step has choices that require investment and provide a different level of performance depending on the choices you make.

If you were to measure your trip to Boston by any one step in the process, you would get a misleading impression of the effectiveness and cost of the process. Marketing is no different. If your boss demands that you provide an ROI for a specific single element of marketing, any response you give will be equally as misleading.

The leading indicators of your marketing will vary depending on the plan you define. But here are some ideas.

  1. Contacts - How many people are your marketing too, each week?
  2. Inquiries - How many of these people are actively engaged in consuming your marketing?
  3. Leads - How many of these people have provided you with intelligence about their intent (budget, authority, need and timescale)?
  4. Opportunities - How many of these leads have been acknowledged by your sales team as worth investing sales effort to follow-up (Have assigned a proposed close date and proposed value to)

I Call this model CILO (Contacts, Inquiries, Leads and Opportunities) and every single market investment can be measured against these criteria.

An email, will be sent to a number of CONTACTS. Some of those CONTACTS with open the emails (INQUIRIES), and some of those opened emails will lead to the sharing of intelligence (LEADS), and some of those LEADS will lead to an OPPORTUNITY.

Now some of those OPPORTUNITIES will end up as CLOSED WON business.

Of course, One OPPORTUNITY may have lots of associated LEADS, and each LEAD may have lots of associated INQUIRIES. That’s that nature of demand marketing, it’s not a 1:1 model, it’s a funnel!

Emails, webinars, white papers, events, web pages, blogs, tweets, adverts, SEO, SEM, everything can be reported against a CILO target. And using this level of consistency across every element of marketing ensures that the lake of data you create can be mined in the most effective way.

They don’t teach you these skills in business school, but they are critical to achieving business success.





When the Europeans implemented GDPR, every marketing automation company in an attempt to not be the poster child for evil, asked their lawyers for advice on how to become compliant.

And once let off their leashes, these legal minds went to work and functionally neutered marketing automation platforms (MAP), not just for use in Europe, but globally.

One of the most interesting features of MAP for B2B companies, is the ability to identify from IP addresses which companies visit your website, and understand the pathways they take through your website. In itself this knowledge is not per-se a lead, but it provides a valuable understanding of how you are engaging with companies. Unless you are luckily enough to have got someone to engage through a direct digital communication (email for example) or have been able to cookie their browser, you may not know exactly who you are looking at, just the company they work for. But in the world of B2B which you can be very specific about personas this can be enough to identify a department or even a specific role, and this in the hands of a B2B Account Based Sales team is pure gold.

But here’s where GDPR broke this model. Using IP Lookup is only as good as the data companies load into their name servers, and if a name server says Japan or USA, this doesn’t mean that the person who you are engaging with isn’t in Europe or a European, and according to GDPR, you need to have their express permission to use their “data” before you can report on it. So, your purer that pure, angel of a marketing automation vendor doesn’t want to provide you data that may not be perfectly GDPR compliant, even it it’s not European data… just in case.

In a world where we all receive calls at 6:30 every night while we're eating dinner from people trying to sell us insurance, you can see why the EU is so hot on policing this stuff, but there must be a middle ground.

I’ve been able to build a process using by websites log files and an open source IP lookup tool and a talented PHP savvy team member to resolve my specific need. But I know every other B2B company is feeling the same pain.

B2B marketing is not B2C and we can use focused tools without blanket bombing the world with phone calls and emails. And there are safe ways for MAP companies to set rules by which B2B companies can analyze data without breaking GDPR rules. What is not acceptable is for MAP companies to limit functionality.

Rant complete!

This is not an argument for, or against science or religion, but a challenge that modern marketers face.

Conversion Rate Opimization

Over the past decade the technology of conversion rate optimization (CRO) has grown into a powerful tool in the marketing mix. Previously known as A/B testing the tools available today have turned the art into a science. Everything can be tested on a website, every word, every graphic, every color, every font, every tag, every sound, everything. And by understanding the statistical relevance of every visit against controlled questioning you can continually improve your websites.

This technology can become all-consuming though. With continual changes being made to drive up specific conversions, it is possible to lose site of the artistic/business requirements of a website.

The reasons for a business website to exist, start and end with the people you are communicating with. It is critical to understand your audience intimately. Who are they? What problems are they looking to solve? How do they want to specifically solve these problems. The more detail you know then the better you can create content to fit their needs.

Of course, the devil is always in the detail. Much of what you innately know about your audience can be subtle and hard to document.

And this is where the art and the science can clash.

What happens when you optimize your website in ways that drive up conversions of a section of your audience which is less likely to actually become a paying customer? Well if you’re A/B test criteria are met, then that will become your new websites reality.

When you designed your website, you sat down with a team of experts covering user experience, creative design, web design and your business needs. Then you handed off the built website to the CRO folks and they have tested and changed everything element by element over an extended period of time. Visitors to your website are spending longer on your site, visiting more pages and completing your registration forms, but somehow your lead quality has been going down, and sales are complaining. So, you come up with changes that will filter out earlier, visitors who are less likely to become qualified leads, but your CRO team doesn’t want to implement them, because that will lower their achievement.

You have hit the barrier between the business goals and the goals of your CRO team. But the CRO team will always have the “data” to prove their method is working.


You need to choose if you are going to allow the creative/business team to direct the website or you are going to allow the data driven CRO group to run the website. Whichever choice you make will slow things down.


And this is where great managers live, ensuring that every part of the marketing and sales organization have the same vision, the same views of success and an understanding on the relevance and importance of each team.


CRO should never be a silo’d activity, but a business focused group deeply matrixed within your company.


Why is it that some companies dominate the first page of organic search, even when their offerings don’t seem to be the best fit?

There is a trick that many companies use, that significantly increases their search position. Here’s how they do it:

  1. Identify their competition
  2. Visit all their competitor’s websites, deconstruct their pages and identify the terms they want to be known for (looking at the text, the tags etc). Build a list of these terms.
  3. Take this list and parse it through the google ad-words auction. Rank each term by its price (the most expensive ones are the most interesting)
  4. Write content that directly uses the terms you have identified.
  5. Turn each piece of this content into a webpage, or include it on one of your existing pages, and have these pages automatically send all visitors to your main page.
  6. Publish these webpages, and wait for google to trawl them with their bots
  7. Now everyone looking for the terms you want to be known for will find directly relevant content with a very high match to the term, and it will move up the search results with every visit.

This is an intensive process, and needs a lot of content to be written. No one said it was easy, and this is where off-shore resources come it. You can have teams of people sitting in India, Pakistan or China writing this content for pennies on the pound. It doesn’t need to be good content, just relevant to the terms you want to own. The content itself may never even be seen by the visitor, as their visit to this “hidden” content can push them directly to your main webpages. But it will show in search results.

The fact that the content you are creating is 100% in-line with the search term, and talks in detail about the subject that the search term relates to is all that is relevant to search. It may even have terrible grammar. Machine learning AI systems are not grammar Nazi’s they are relevance Nazi’s.

What I am describing gives creative writers, English majors and most marketers hearth burn. But if your goal is to drive up your search results, this is the dirty, nasty way that works.

Of course, when you start down this path, there are lessons you will learn about what works and what doesn’t work as well. You will also learn how to optimize the process to drive the most relevant prospects to your site. And you will have to make sure that the people you attract actually find relevance on your websites, so that you can capitalize on your improved search results and actually convert visits to value.

Improving search is just one part of the marketing journey. And this is just one of the tricks used to improve search.

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