“We got most of our leads from referrals. This pandemic has us till caught flat-footed.”
“Most of our leads have always come from conferences, trade shows, and speaking events. That is how our budget was set up and we don’t know how to adapt yet.”
I still hear comments like these from prospects and clients on a weekly basis. research from our own Hinge Research Institute shows that referrals are down and face-to-face conferences, trade shows, and speaking events have a way to go before people are comfortable attending them again. So how do marketers adapt and generate more visibility, leads, and trust in these unprecedented times?
Hinge Research Institute’s annual High Growth Study research tells us that one of the best pivots that marketers and others can make is to leverage research more (at least quarterly). It has proven to be highly impactful marketing technique. In our recent High Growth Study, we identified a small group of marketing techniques that provide exceptionally strong impact for the level of time and effort they take to implement. To identify these techniques, we subtracted the effort required from the impact realized. Think of them as high impact for the effort invested. While not all techniques apply to every audience, research gives you an effective and efficient way to fill the gap of leads that you are not getting from referrals, conferences, trade shows, and speaking events.
Most marketers and business professionals think of research as a tool to make better business decisions. It is a cost made for an inward function: learning more about competition, branding, messaging, pricing, etc. However, more and more folks are realizing that they can leverage research as an investment for an outward function: teaching target audiences about industry and peer behaviors, priorities, trends, and perceptions. By using “Research as Content,” you can take that one research study and repurpose its content dozens of different ways throughout the year. Suddenly you are in a position to measure the number of leads, meetings, sales opportunities, and dollars that were generated from campaigns leveraging all or part of the research content. It puts the value of research in a new and different light.
If that is not enough to sell you on using more research this year in your marketing initiatives, here are two very compelling reasons:
1. Firms that do frequent research grow faster.
2. Firms that do frequent research are more profitable.
Let that soak in for a minute.
How many other marketing tactics that you use can be documented as helping companies grow faster and be more profitable? Perhaps leveraging research should move up on your list of marketing priorities.
A Pivot You Must Make
Beyond research, one of the most important and impacting pivots you can make is to transition to digital marketing. This is a game changer. In fact, our latest High Growth Study research shows that high growth firms (defined as having a compound annual growth rate of 20% or greater over a three-year assessment period) get almost half of their leads from digital sources.
Even if your organization has begun digital marketing, it needs to take it further to truly benefit from it. Technology maturity is a key to success. Our research shows that high growth firms are significantly more mature in their technology skill sets and the more mature they are, the more digital leads they are harvesting.
When I talk about digital marketing, I am talking about a few specific areas that need to be addressed and prioritized. They include:
- A high-performance website that provides thought leadership, differentiation, and calls to action to continue engagement
- An email or marketing automation platform to stay in contact with prospects and clients not ready to buy
- A Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy that ties together content, keywords, and search rankings
- A social media visibility strategy
This is not an afterthought. It has to be a top priority for your organization. An effective digital marketing strategy will require a lot of investment of budget, resources, and times. There are new investment requirements for skills, technologies, programs, and more. Perhaps, that is why we found that high growth firms are spending significantly more on marketing than slow- or no-growth firms. What percentage of firm revenue is your marketing budget? Is it closer to the no growth firms or high growth firms?
Another Important Pivot: Blogging
Blogging is a must when it comes to showcasing thought leadership. Thought leadership is important to differentiate, educate, and create trust. So, if you are not blogging, add it to your list of pivots for this year. If you are blogging, you are not off the hook yet. While blogging is a great tactic to showcase thought leadership and build followers, our research shows that some of most effective ways to promote thought leadership is through podcasts, video blogging, and marketing videos.
High growth firms have figured this out and use these tactics much more effectively than slow- or no-growth firms. Can you afford to go another year without showcasing your thought leadership in podcasts, video blogging, and marketing videos?
Finally, when I have this “need to pivot” conversation with folks, two questions always arise:
1. How do I approach my senior management about more marketing budget?
My answer is always the same: measurement. Senior management wants to see that you took those extra dollars and spent them in ways to help your organization grow. Especially when it comes to digital marketing transformation, you will want to measure. In the beginning, your metrics may be simple: number of new followers, number of qualified leads, etc. You just want to show that the numbers are going up—you are making progress. As you become more sophisticated, those metrics will change to number of generated meetings, amount of revenue tied to generated sales opportunities, etc. You are not going to come out of the gate with the most effective campaigns. You will need to measure and test. Then you will get to the point where you can optimize.
Here’s another tip for you that has worked for me in the past. Keep your senior management informed of marketing performance with regular reporting and eventually on-demand dashboards. Keep in mind that most senior executives do not come from the world of marketing. You have the ability and duty to educate them on specific key performance indicators they should be tracking. They are always happier when they see those numbers going up—especially if they impact revenue.
A while back I worked at a large, SaaS-based company and one day was sitting in a meeting right next to our Chief Revenue Officer. I saw him open his laptop and look at a dashboard with speedometer type reporting. It was near the end of a quarter and he—and I—saw that Marketing performance was all in the green. So, when the subject came up on where to invest some extra money we had, his answer was Marketing. Marketing did not even have to make a case for the extra money. Give the CXOs or partners the visibility they need to help you. Most CFOs or VPs of Finance have to sign off on marketing expenditures week after week. They just see money going out the door. They rarely get to hear how that spent money actually turned into more money.
2. These are great pivots, but we have a small marketing department. What can we do?
Let’s go back to our research and the beginning of this article. In our High Growth Study research, we actually address high impact techniques for the time-crunched marketer or small marketing teams.
I would start with leveraging research and then getting your thought leadership out there through blogging, guest blogging, podcasts, video blogging, and public relations. Once that starts taking off and you can show a positive impact on your marketing and sales funnel, then I would make the digital marketing transformation. If you have a small marketing team, you might be able to do both pivots by leveraging outside resources with specialized experience.
If you have questions about how to use research as content, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]
If you feel that you are leveraging research as content, have a solid, digital marketing framework in place, and are looking for other ways to pivot, I recommend that you download our guide, “Getting Back in the Game,”which is a playbook filled with plays and pivots that are sure to help you generate more visibility, leads, and prospect engagement. In either case, make your move and pivot today!