One of the fun parts of our jobs here at Credo is talking with companies who have grown a great lifestyle business to the half million dollar or so per year mark, and are now ready to start marketing.
This is fun because if a company has grown to that mark off essentially no formalized marketing, doing real marketing can really take their growth to the next level.
The important thing is approaching marketing in the right way. And that’s what I want to talk about with you today, because I have seen two types of companies:
- Those who do it very well and grow substantially, and
- Those who don’t take my advice and don’t grow which leads them to declare that “marketing doesn’t work”
My goal when you finish reading this article is that you’ll end up in the first camp and not the second. From my perspective, declaring that “marketing doesn’t work” is just like saying “sales doesn’t work” or “accounting doesn’t work” or “copywriting doesn’t work.”
Marketing, just like all of these others, is a core function of a business. It works, but not the same for every company at every stage across every channel.
In this article you’re going to learn the following things:
- The mindset you need to approach marketing with for the first time
- The recommended realistic timeline for starting new channels and optimizing them to profitability
- What you need in place at your company before investing in new marketing initiatives
- How to determine which channels to invest in first
Let’s get started.
I was recently speaking with a SaaS company who mentioned to me that they’re looking to marketing “as an experiment.”
I have heard this quite often over the last few years. Unfortunately, it is the wrong way to think about marketing, and I told this company as much. It turns out that they weren’t really thinking about marketing as an experiment, but rather an engagement with an agency as an experiment in if that’s how they want to grow their business for the foreseeable future.
This opened up an interesting conversation about marketing mindset though.
First, companies I see be successful with marketing understand that good marketing:
- takes time to get going,
- takes time to start working, and
- takes time to become profitable.
Companies that succeed with marketing also understand that not every channel is going to work for every company at every stage in every market.
This is why every channel in marketing takes time to know if it’s going to work and then how well it is going to work. We’ll cover that in the next section.
Second, companies that succeed with marketing understand that each channel needs its own budget. Before investing in marketing you need to be prepared to establish an initial budget (with guidance from a professional based on your goals) and commit for long enough of a period of time to know if the channel will work.
Third, companies that succeed with marketing are metrics-driven and tracking towards their goals. They understand what a customer is worth to them and how long they are willing to take to make a customer profitable.
In a high ticket software subscription SaaS company, this may mean spending thousands of dollars to acquire a new customer because that’s what it takes to get in front of, warm up, and ultimately sell them in. In an e-commerce company where your average cart value is $50, the amount will be significantly smaller unless and until you have a good idea of customer lifetime value and how often a customer buys from you again. This is why D2C can often stomach higher acquisition costs than a pure e-commerce company.
Finally, companies that succeed with beginning and then growing their marketing initiatives have an investment mindset instead of an expense mindset. They’re playing the long game and realize that you can’t expect results from a brand new channel in a short amount of time with minimal investment.
Now that you understand the mindset necessary for investing in marketing, let’s talk about realistic timelines to results and how I personally go about starting and testing new channels and giving them enough time to know if they are going to work for us.
The number one thing I see companies who don’t succeed with marketing get wrong is that they don’t give new initiatives enough budget or time to know if it’s going to work.
Let me be extremely clear here – a few weeks is not enough time to know if a channel is going to work. Even a month is not enough when starting a channel from scratch.
Marketing takes time (but not an infinite amount of time) and consistent action to yield results. This is why output goals are necessary to achieve your outcome goals, and whoever you hire should have an execution plan as well as a strategy set. Both are necessary, as we will discuss in the fifth section of this post.
So how should you think about marketing timelines?
My process is this:
- Try 1 new channel each quarter.
- Give it 2 quarters to know if you can get it to work.
- Monitor results weekly and monthly, adjusting outputs every 2-4 weeks to prove or disprove hypotheses about what may improve results.
- If it’s not working after 2 quarters/6 months, cut it. If it is, double down until you can’t scale it any further.
This system works because starting a new channel or undertaking every 3 months is a lot, but not too much. If you start 4 new channels or major initiatives per year and 2 work, you’ve added 2 new viable and profitable channels that can scale in a year. If you only do one new channel every 6 months and 50% work, you’ve only added one new viable channel.
One every quarter is enough to be aggressive without overwhelming yourself or your team.
I give every channel 6 months from the time we kick it off before we decide if it’s worthwhile to continue working. Usually you’ll really be able to tell about a quarter in, but I tend to keep things running a bit longer because I want to make sure we’ve tried everything possible to make it work.
This includes things like:
- Dialing spend up and down
- Changing creative and copy in ads
- Increasing and decreasing quantity and length of content
Basically, I want to do everything we can to make a channel work so that we aren’t left wondering if there was more we could do.
2 quarters is also enough time for a channel like content and SEO, which takes longer to start showing results, to start working. You don’t want to cut these channels at just one quarter, because you’ll barely be seeing results at this point. At 6 months you’ll have a much better picture, though ideally you’d let these run for at least 9 months. But you should be seeing some results before then, and if you’re not then you need to switch up your strategy or who’s executing on it.
There’s a common misconception I hear from companies just getting started with marketing that they can just hire an outside provider to take care of everything, including goals and measurement and strategy.
Basically, they believe that they can just outsource the whole thing and it will work.
Unfortunately this isn’t true, because the outside provider isn’t the party that is ultimately responsible for results and the budgets required to achieve them.
The buyer (company hiring the agency) is.
If you’re looking to grow your company, before hiring an outside provider/agency you need to have at minimum the following in place:
- An understanding of how many visitors are coming to your marketing site and where they are coming from.
- Your current number of leads/orders/revenue per month.
- An idea of where you would like the above numbers to be after a certain amount of time. This should be discussed with potential agencies to see if it’s reasonable and if they can get you there.
- Someone who has been tasked with spearheading marketing.
- A basic understanding of the various marketing channels and how they work conceptually.
I speak with a lot of companies who have no understanding of their current website visitors or their current lead/order/revenue metrics, which makes it very difficult to impossible to set reasonable goals.
I mention point 4 above, a person internally (even the founder) tasked with heading up marketing, because you want to ensure that you are delegating marketing and not abdicating the responsibilities.
Someone internally needs to be responsible for the numbers and making time in their schedule every week to push marketing forward. Empower that person (or if it’s you the founder, claim it and schedule it into your week).
The next question I get most often is where to start, meaning “which channel should I start with and how much should I put towards it?”
While it’s a natural question, a bit more work needs to be done ahead of time before determining which channel and how much budget.
That work includes:
- Understanding your current audience metrics, especially website traffic
- Knowing your current number of leads per month, the length of your sales cycle, your conversion rate from lead to paying customer, and on average how much each new customer pays you per month (or per transaction) and for how long (or how many times per year).
- The specific marketing knowledge you already have at your company
- Your timeline to needing to see specific results (while recognizing that your growth goals may be wildly wrong simply because you don’t have accurate insight into your current metrics.
Once you understand the above four points, then the question about which channel(s) to start with can be answered.
To talk in broad terms:
- If you have budget to allocate towards it, paid ads can be quicker to at least generate traffic (and hopefully conversions) than SEO or content marketing. There are also other marketing tactics and options that you could use to generate some shorter term traffic and revenue.
- If you are willing to wait a bit longer to see results but ultimately drive traffic and conversions consistently and at a lower cost per conversion than paid ads, SEO and content marketing will be a viable channel for you.
- The faster you need to see results (or need to learn the channels that should be viable for you), the more you’ll need to spend up front.
The truth is, you’re always spending something. My old boss Will Critchlow, cofounder of Distilled and founder of SearchPilot, used to say you have three things you can spend but you can only pick two:
If you want it done well and fast, it’s not going to be cheap.
If you want it good and cheap, it’s not going to be fast.
And if you want it fast and cheap, it’s not going to be good.
Pick the right channel(s) at the right investment level and measure it over enough time (I recommend 2 quarters for a brand new channel) to know if it’s going to get you to your goals alone or in conjunction with other channels (which you should stack on quarterly).
Planning vs execution
Now that you’re clearer on the right mindset for investing in marketing, realistic timelines for results and starting new channels, what your company needs, and the channels that will give you a better chance of succeeding within your own timelines, it’s time to get to work.
Companies always ask me about the right marketing strategy for their business, but I never get asked about how to then go about getting marketing done.
It’s like they think that if they know where to go, they’ll just get there.
I’ll be honest that maybe they’re just better operators and project managers than I am, but from my experience I don’t think that’s really the case.
I think the real problem is that planning and “strategy” are easy work. It’s easy to sit and think and strategize about what you could do. It’s fun for some of us to create scenarios and goals.
What’s hard is actually getting things done so that you can start moving towards your goals.
There are many planning frameworks out there but the one we use at Credo for overall company planning, and thus marketing as well, is EOS from the book Traction by Gino Wickman.
Our cadence is this:
- Plan annually with goals for the end of the year
- Break those plans back into quarters
- Every person at the company has 2-3 ROCKS (big things they’re heading up that are specific and measurable and to which they are accountable) each quarter
- As a company (we are 5 people) we review ROCKS weekly with a stoplight system where green means it’s moving forward with no issues, yellow means some progress but needs more work, and red that no progress has been made or help is needed.
Remember – for outcomes to be achieved they require consistent outputs and actions. Measure your outputs as much as you measure your outcomes.
I’ve thrown a lot of knowledge at you in this article. I hope you’ve gained some new insights and feel better prepared to get your marketing investment started.
If you’re looking for help getting it started, we have two offerings at Credo you might be interested in:
- Marketing strategy consultation (our Concierge service) –