Does PR and marketing work?

John Warren is a former daily newspaper journalist, lobbyist and construction and building products marketing and PR specialist who has worked with some of the industry’s leading brands. Here, he discusses marketing evaluation.

How will I know that what you’re doing/proposing to do is working/going to work? While the question is reasonable enough, the answer is not so clear cut, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.

If asking if something is going to work is a ‘reasonable question’, reason also dictates that you should expect to have to define the metrics that represent success, or failure. Or at least give it some thought. If lazy marketers aren’t giving enough consideration to campaign evaluation, there are also clients who aren’t doing it either.

Marketing, PR, content marketing, and digital marketing are fundamentally about doing three things: attracting prospects; converting them into qualified leads; and converting leads into business.

That journey, however, isn’t linear. Customers don’t behave in the neat way that we might want them to. They don’t read an article in the trade press or online, then click through a link or respond to a social media post, and then visit your website and follow a pre-prescribe user journey through that site before giving in to an irresistible and magical draw, which compels them to reach out and buy your product.

The reality is more like this: they’ll get their copy of a trade magazine, which they’ll skim through, put down and forget about until someone spills tea on their desk and then pick up again; they might get an e-shot, but they’ll ignore it; and the same for that mailer.

Then they’ll want something; they’ll remember that article that they saw two months ago, and they’ll revisit it, or their sales director will forward through a link to an e-shot.

This last element is dark social sharing. Forget Twitter and Facebook, estimates (and by definition they can only be estimates because they’re dark) suggest 63% of all social sharing takes place through email and other closed applications, for example WhatsApp. This process means your metadata is lost, and when the next person clicks it, they look like direct traffic in your analytics, skewing your results.

This is the reality. And it doesn’t fit neat models of evaluation in the same way that there isn’t a single channel strategy that delivers results.

KPIs need to be aligned to the buyer journey

The point is this: your KPIs need to be different at different stages of the buyer journey in the same way as your strategies need to be different.

If you are trying to attract new clients, those who don’t already know you, you need to be reaching out to people who are looking for answers. Prospects with problems; you provide the solution. This is where content marketing, social media and PR can be particularly valuable.

Measurement at this point is straightforward: how many new hits did your homepage or dedicated landing pages receive?; how many likes or reposts did you get?

Simple enough, but what about during the conversion stage? You have someone’s interest, now use it. Give your audience something of value and measure engagement. What was the average time visitors spent on your website site? What’s your SEO rank? How many re-shares or direct leads have you received?

And also think qualitatively. How many key messages did you deliver in that last blog post? Consider weighting each message differently and different stages of the sales funnel, shifting importance to reflect where you are in your campaign.

It’s then the ultimate measure. What should your sales be doing based on the metrics that have gone before them? If you reached out effectively and attracted new prospects, delivered the right messaging and drove their engagement across the right channels, it should be reflected in your sales.

I recently spoke to an installer on retail lead generation. The results of a lead generation survey revealed the majority of their customers knew about them through advertising in their local paper – the fly in the ointment was that they had taken a decision three years earlier to put everything into digital.

If ever there was food for thought, that’s perhaps it.