How to use a test and learn strategy to invest your marketing dollars in what works

It’s not easy to know what is working and what is not.

John Wanamaker said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.”

This is true of many companies. In our experience, many companies don’t really understand why they are carrying out marketing and whether what they are doing is effective. They rely on experts to tell them what they should do, and try to interpret trends from analytics and make sense from statistical noise.

They try and copy others who look like they are doing well. But marketing does not follow natural laws like physics. It is very hard to show to show that following what someone has done before will produce the results when done by someone else.

As a result, it’s difficult to see how one formula or approach can be guaranteed to deliver increased sales. This doesn’t mean, however, that there is no point in planning and having a strategy. It just means starting with an understanding of the limitations of strategy and being open to creating an evolving strategy that changes as you understand more about your situation.

Should you invest a lot of money in software and people?

You should not buy any tools before you have a first go at trying to deliver what you trying to do with the resources you already have.

What does that mean? Well, you could start today so that auto marketing plan, and put aside 50,000 dollars as your budget.

You could invest in a marketing automation platform like Hubspot or Marketo. This costs between $2,000 to $14,000 for a starter package for one year.

But you also need a person with experience to drive it for you. Say you can hire someone for $40,000.

Now, your first year costs are nearly $55k, and you have nothing to show for it during this financial year other than the potential pipeline you could create if you used the system the way it should be used.

If you are new to using marketing automation and you are in an industry where it hasn’t been used much in the past, then be prepared for some negative reactions.

If it’s hard to make your numbers right now, and you need to bring in 10 customers to pay for the $50k you are just spending, then you are going to get a lot of questions about why you doing this and whether it makes any sense to put all your money into this kind of activity.

You will have to succeed and quickly before you can convince people who think this is a bad idea that they should either suffer in silence, or agree with you. Nothing succeeds like success.

Use a test and learn strategy to start a conversation with customers

One approach is to try out a test and learn strategy, which is a process of planned experimentation. You try and set out to prove or disprove something and in doing so you get a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and you use this learning to try again and refine your approach.

The main objective of marketing is to start a conversation with potential customers. The first thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to get customers to talk to you. Are you going to do this by going to them, or having them come to you?

If you want them to come to you, you have to be able to show them something that is useful and interesting. This usually means that you are helping them understand an issue, solve a problem or make a decision.

Most businesses already know why their customers need their product. You will already have sales material, presentations, proposals and other documents that explain this. If you are in a fairly well-developed industry, there will be trade publications and journals that talk about the issues faced by your customers.

Research what existing publishers are talking about to find out what is considered important and interesting

Understanding what is out there is your starting point, and then you align yourself with the ideas in your industry. There are a number of publishers looking for content, so why not try and build a relationship with them and their audiences? Start by creating content that a publisher will accept as useful and interesting, and you are on your way to getting in front of potential customers.

All you to get started is a computer, access the Internet and Microsoft Word, Google Docs or OpenOffice. But you need to get started because the important thing is starting to understand your audience and start creating content.

Create a system to produce your content that creates relevant and useful material

You need a system to help you create focused and good quality content. No one gets up first thing and pushes out 2,000 words of perfect copy without thinking.

Start the day with some free writing, just a stream of consciousness set of words to clear out your brain and get it prepared for the day. Then you can get into flow and create something good.

What you do that you need to do is focus on writing content that is being created because you want it published. If you think of everything you write as due for publication and commissioned by someone else, your thought process will have a customer at the centre of your work from the start.

This publisher is a person who wants your material for a reason and is willing to promote it for you. This means that you are going to operate like a professional writer and have a commissioned list of topics. Each topic should have a proposed title, a purpose statement that explains why you are working on it and a synopsis of what the article is going to be about.

From the synopsis you can then create an outline of your argument with topic sentences, and fill in the details with copy, proof points and images.

Keep in mind that you want to use your content across a number of channels. You might be able to use all material you create on a web page or blog post but it could also make its way to into a document, presentation, brochure or sales letter.

Simply working like this is going to help you create more focused and targeted content that works for your customer.

If you haven’t got enough content already, then you should try and set a target number of content pieces to create using existing systems at no additional cost before starting to spend any money. For example, a reasonable target might be 50 blog posts on your site of at least 1,000 words each to get started.

Only then invest in productivity systems and software to expand your reach through better distribution

Once you have a system creating useful and relevant content then you can try and reach as many people as possible.

This is when you can start thinking of systems that help you automate your work, or streamline your workflow.

At this point, you know that by spending some money, you will save time and there is a clear business case for the investment you are about to make, which will help you grow sales and your business.

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