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Performance marketing: Icing reserved for the most delicious cake

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Would you put icing on a mediocre cake and sell it as extremely delicious? I recently saw an agency marketing proposal that pitched development of marketing content plus fixed line-item prices for paid promotion of the content in Google, LinkedIn and Facebook (each channel happened to be pitched with equal budgets). I didn’t see a separate content strategy by channel and I didn’t see anything in the proposal that would allocate more or less of my precious budget to the highest-performing channel. It made me stop and think.

Icing on a cake may indeed help a cake sell better, but at the end of the experience, it doesn’t make for good business. Here are three common ways that marketers mistakenly put icing on the wrong cakes, coupled with ideas for avoiding the errors.

  1. Developing content without testing its worth. Don’t ice the cake before tasting it. It’s so much fun to get absorbed in creative ideas and fabulous agency proposals. The concepts are almost always exciting, innovative and smart. Emotions and subjectivity elevate with each mock-up, image and tagline. The team might even suggest that the content is “certain to go viral”. But the sparkling delight in the marketer’s eyes so often pales in comparison to the audience’s.  Idea No. 1 is to get some “tasting notes”.  Test the content with trusted fans, get votes on the content, get constructive feedback and let a relevant audience define the winners. 
  2. Promoting content because it was created. Once marketers have spent a lot of the budget on creating content, there is pressure to go out and promote it like crazy. What is the average ratio of budget a marketer spends on content creation versus content promotion? Too much spent on content creation leads to weak ROI, and too much spent on promotion leads to a weak audience experience.  Idea No. 2 is to be strategic about that creation/promotion ratio based on the performance goals of the content.
  3. Determining a fixed promotional budget by channel.  In an integrated marketing program, it’s natural to jump on a hot network bandwagon. Your vendor has a cool new ad unit or Facebook seems to be working in the B2B world so you have pressure to jump on it. Without actual performance results of a particular campaign in a particular channel, it’s quite difficult to maximize the investment. Idea No. 3 is to reserve a test budget and a variable incremental promotional budget. The variable budget is allocated to whichever content/channel experience is performing and gaining traction. Slather the winning performers with a thick coat of budget.

Marketers today have great fan bases and effective analytic tools to test content, to test promotional channels and to get early campaign insight. Sure, it may still be difficult to get an outstanding recipe for compelling, performing content, but it’s not as difficult in today’s online marketing world to put icing, or even a cherry, on the most delicious cake.

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