Posted by randfish
Sticking to what can be easily measured often seems like the safest route, but avoiding the unknown also prevents some of the happier accidents from taking place. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains why it’s important to invest some of your time and resources in non-measurable, serendipitous marketing.
Whiteboard Friday – Investing in Non-Measurable Serendipitous Marketing
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk about something that we don’t usually talk about in the inbound marketing world because inbound, of course, is such a hyper-measurable channel, at least most of the investments that we make are very measurable, but I love serendipitous marketing too. That’s investing in serendipity to earn out-sized returns that you might not be able to make. That’s a tough sell for a lot of management, for a lot of executives, for a lot of marketers because we’re so accustomed to this new world of hyper-measurability. But with a couple examples, I’ll illustrate what I mean.
So let’s say we start by maybe you go and you attend an off-topic conference, a conference that isn’t normally in your field, but it was recommended to you by a friend. So you go to that event, and while you are there, you meet a speaker. You happen to run into them, you’re having a great chat together, and that speaker later mentions your product, your company, your business on stage at the event. It turns out that that mention yields two audience members who become clients of yours later and, in fact, not just clients, but big advocates for your business that drive even more future customers.
This is pretty frustrating. From a measurability standpoint, first off, it’s an off-topic event. How do you even know that this interaction is the one that led to them being mentioned? Maybe that speaker would have mentioned your business anyway. Probably not, but maybe. What about these folks? Would those two customers have come to your business regardless? Were they searching for exactly what you offered anyway? Or were they influenced by this? They probably were. Very, very hard to measure. Definitely not the kind of investment that you would normally make in the course of your marketing campaigns, but potentially huge.
I’ll show you another one. Let’s say one day you’re creating a blog post, and you say, “Boy, you know, this topic is a really tough one to tackle with words alone. I’m going to invest in creating some visual assets.” You get to work on them, and you start scrapping them and rebuilding them and rebuilding them. Soon you’ve spent off hours for the better part of a week building just a couple of visual assets that illustrate a tough concept in your field. You go, “Man, that was a huge expenditure of energy. That was a big investment. I’m not sure that’s even going to have any payoff.”
Then a few weeks later those visuals get picked up by some major news outlets. It turns out, and you may not even be able to discover this, but it turns out that the reporters for those websites did a Google image search, and you happened to pop up and you clearly had the best image among the 30 or 40 that they scrolled to before they found it. So, not only are they including those images, they’re also linking back over to your website. Those links don’t just help your site directly, but the news stories themselves, because they’re on high-quality domains and because they’re so relevant, end up ranking for an important search keyword phrase that continues to drive traffic for years to come back to your site.
How would you even know, right? You couldn’t even see that this image had been called by those reporters because it’s in the Google image search cache. You may not even connect that up with the rankings and the traffic that’s sent over. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do that. It’s very hard to say, “Boy, if I were to over-invest and spend a ton more time on visual assets, would I ever get this again? Or is this a one-time type of event?”
The key to all of this serendipitous marketing is that these investments that you’re making up front are hard or impossible to predict or to attribute to the return on investment that you actually earn. A lot of the time it’s actually going to seem unwise. It’s going to seem foolish, even, to make these kinds of investments based on sort of a cost and time investment perspective. Compared to the potential ROI, you just go, “Man, I can’t see it.” Yet, sometimes we do it anyway, and sometimes it has a huge impact. It has those out-sized serendipitous returns.
Now, the way that I like to do this is I’ll give you some tactical stuff. I like to find what’s right here, the intersection of this Venn diagram. Things that I’m passionate about, that includes a topic as well as potentially the medium or the type of investment. So if I absolutely hate going to conferences and events, I wouldn’t do it, even if I think it might be right from other perspectives.
I do particularly love creating visual assets. So I like tinkering around, taking a long time to sort of get my pixels looking the way I want them to look, and even though I don’t create great graphics, as evidenced here, sometimes these can have a return. I like looking at things where I have some skill, at least enough skill to produce something of value. That could mean a presentation at a conference. It could mean a visual asset. It could mean using a social media channel. It could mean a particular type of advertisement. It could mean a crazy idea in the real world. Any of these things.
Then I really like applying empathy as the third point on top of this, looking for things that are something that my audience has the potential to like or enjoy or be interested in. So this conference my be off-topic, but knowing that it was recommended by my friend and that there might be some high-quality people there, I can connect up the empathy and say, “Well, if I’m putting myself in the shoes of these people, I might imagine that some of them will be interested in or need or use my product.”
Likewise, if I’m making this visual asset, I can say, “Well, I know that since this is a tough subject to understand, just explaining it with words alone might not be enough for a lot of people. I bet if I make something visual, that will help it be much better understood. It may not spread far and wide, but at least it’ll help the small audience who does read it.”
That intersection is where I like to make serendipitous investments and where I would recommend that you do too.
There are a few things that we do here at Moz around this model and that I’ve seen other companies who invest wisely in serendipity make, and that is we basically say 1 out of 5, 20% of our time and our budget goes to serendipitous marketing. It’s not a hard and fast rule, like, “Oh boy, I spent $80 on this. I’d better go find $20 to go spend on something serendipitous that’ll be hard to measure.” But it’s a general rule, and it gives people the leeway to say, “Gosh, I’m thinking about this project. I’m thinking about this investment. I don’t know how I’d measure it, but I’m going to do it anyway because I haven’t invested my 20% yet.”
I really like to brainstorm together, so bring people together from the marketing team or from engineering and product and other sections of the company, operations, but I really like having a single owner. The reason for that single owner doing the execution is because I find that with a lot of these kind of more serendipitous, more artistic style investments, and I don’t mean artistic just in terms of visuals, but I find that having that single architect, that one person kind of driving it makes it a much more cohesive and cogent vision and a much better execution at the end of the day, rather than kind of the design by committee. So I like the brainstorm, but I like the single owner model.
I think it’s critically important, if you’re going to do some serendipitous investments, that you have no penalty whatsoever for failure. Essentially, you’re saying, “Hey, we know we’re going to make this investment. We know that it’s the one out of five kind of thing, but if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. We’re going to keep trying again and again.”
The only really critical thing that we do is that we gain intuition and experiential knowledge from every investment that we make. That intuition means that next time you do this, you’re going to be even smarter about it. Then the next time you do it, you’re going to gain more empathy and more understanding of what your audience really needs and wants and how that can spread. You’re going to gain more passion, a little more skill around it. Those kinds of things really predict success.
Then I think the last recommendation that I have is when you make serendipitous investments, don’t make them randomly. Have a true business or marketing problem that you’re trying to solve. So if that’s PR, we don’t get enough press, or gosh, sales leads, we’re not getting sales leads in this particular field, or boy, traffic overall, like we’d like to broaden our traffic sources, or gosh, we really need links because our kind of domain authority is holding us back from an SEO perspective, great. Make those serendipitous investments in the areas where you hope or think that the ROI might push on one of those particularly big business model, marketing model problems.
All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.
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