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How to Prove Marketing's Value (ROI)

And avoid the question "What does Marketing do, anyway?"

Hey folks đź‘‹, I'm Kenneth Burke. #BurkeBits is where I share stories, data, and frameworks to help you become a better marketer. Subscribe for free to level-up.

It’s probably the most terrifying question in our line of work:

“What does Marketing do, anyway?”

No one wants to pour their heart and soul into something only for those around you—especially your bosses—to question whether you’re doing anything at all, or to think that what you are doing is useless.

Yet so many marketers struggle to show how their work impacts top level business goals and bottom line revenue.

It’s a shame, too, because most marketers are doing good work that moves the needle. You just aren’t able to connect the dots for those outside of marketing.

And because you can’t connect the dots, people end up asking that terrible question.

But what if you could show marketing’s impact in an instant, and even keep people from asking that question at all?

I can’t promise you’ll never hear it again, but you can follow these 7 steps to clearly communicate what you’re doing, why it matters, and how it’s adding value.

This has worked for me, and it will likely work for you, too.

1. What’s the big idea?

Determine the top level business goal—the #1 priority driving the whole organization. It might be "grow revenue" or "become the industry leader" or "solve this one problem."

Companies aren’t always great at articulating this. The #1 goal may not be stated at all—you're just going about business as usual and hoping things get better.

This is common in smaller orgs, and makes it tough to prove that marketing is making an impact. (You can’t impact something that doesn’t exist.)

Fix that.

When a goal is not set for you, you’ve got to set one yourself.

Answer: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing for your business to accomplish, or the most important milestone to achieve?

That’s your goal. That’s your guiding light.

2. Give it a metric.

Your work has to be measured, or it doesn’t matter.

How are you going to know if you hit your goal? Assign a metric to it—dollars and customer numbers are common—and set a target to hit. For instance:

  • 50% revenue growth

  • 95% customer retention

  • Adding $X revenue

  • Gaining 15% market share

  • Reducing cost to acquire by $Y

  • Launching a successful partnerships program measured by revenue from that channel

This is usually where marketers miss out. You have to set a number and be accountable to hitting it.

Every tenured CMO is able to set a number, hit it, and communicate why it matters to others in the company. Whether you want a long-term, big title job like that or not, you have to be able to do this to prove marketing’s value.

3. What's the most important thing marketing can do to influence that metric?

There are plenty of ways to influence your goal, but which will be the most effective?

Let’s say the big picture goal is to increase revenue by 50% this year. Then your marketing team gets together and decides the best thing marketing can do to influence that number is improve the conversion rate on your website.

You’ve got plenty of traffic, let’s say, but folks ain’t buyin’, and you’re going to fix it.

Pro Tip: The most important thing you can do to influence that metric likely changes throughout the year. For instance, you may perfectly optimize your website within 6 months and then need to move on to something else. Just focus on one thing at a time.

4. Define the steps you’ll take to hit that number

Let’s say you’ve decided that the most important thing you can do to hit 50% revenue growth is to improve your website conversion rate. Great. How are you going to do that?

Lay out concrete steps—usually 3-5 things—that you’ll do to improve conversion rates. That might be:

  • Reduce image file sizes so pages load faster

  • Refresh copy to more clearly explain what you do and why it matters

  • Add an additional lead capture form or widget to your website

  • Review Google and Bing Ad keywords to better target high-intent buyers

  • Add clear calls-to-action on every page

Then get the rest of your marketing team on board with these steps.

5. Document and measure all of it.

Documenting what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, associated costs, and the results of that work is the easiest way to prove marketing’s ROI.

This documentation tells the story for you, using a logic tree that anyone can follow. You're trying to hit XYZ goal by doing ABC, and here's the progress or results of that work.

Put it in a doc, spreadsheet, or slide deck and you've got an easily shareable asset.

Side effect: This will also show you what’s working well and what’s not, so you can improve without anyone needing to tell you.

I’m pretty low-tech about this personally. I use Google Analytics, HubSpot reports, and then pull data from a host of places like Text Request, Calendly, ad platforms, etc. and pull it into spreadsheets. We track projects and quarterly goals in Trello and Google docs, respectively.

6. Communicate what you're doing and why.

You're one company. You should all be all the same page. Tell people what you're doing to help everyone hit that top level goal.

Depending on the level of transparency within your company, you might just share the doc or spreadsheet you created with everyone and say “look what we’re doing!” Or you might put together a monthly or quarterly report.

It sounds like extra work, but for any marketing leader—or anyone who hopes to become a marketing leader—this is crucial. It’s part of your job.

People can't understand what you're doing unless you bring them into the fold. So bring them into the fold, and communicate often.

7. Re-evaluate your approach to that #1 goal quarterly.

I’m not saying you should change what you’re doing every three months. One of the worst things you could do for your business (and your career) is to repeatedly move the target.

You’ll never get anywhere because you’ll keep starting over before it’s been long enough to see traction, and even your customers will be confused.

But a “set it and forget it” approach won’t work. You may keep doing the exact same thing(s) quarter after quarter, but you need to scrutinize the progress you've made and whether it's still the best course of action.

It’s easy for marketers to feel frustrated or disrespected when you’re asked to “prove it,” but that’s part of the gig. No one’s going to do it for you. Follow this framework, though, and that conversation becomes way easier.

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Have questions about this topic or something you’re working on? Ask away! I’m an open book and happy to help.