Data-driven marketing brings an amazing 224 percent return, but will you get there?

"With x million visitors on our site, all you need to do is to get one percent of them to buy, and we’ll all be rich." -- How many times had you heard this?

modern water clock

Time-Flow Clock

Credit: Luna04 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Before anything else, I am a marketer. Not any marketer: a metrics-obsessed marketer. The type of marketing I do the best, and enjoy the most, is data-driven marketing.

It may be because my first boss ingrained early on this measurement obsession in my head, but also certainly because I have seen first-hand how effective (and gratifying) it is. During my early years in the job, we did not have a fraction of the tools that exist today. And yet, while the tools we have now are good, even great, they are still very dispersed, and it’s not always easy to select the proper ones.

How the pros do it

This is why I was thrilled to find that VB Insight had launched an extensive survey of 3,000 marketers and looked at tools used on more than 3 million websites. The results of that survey are contained in a comprehensive report (although you’ll have to buy it if you are not already a subscriber to their research).

I have always surmised that there is only one way to optimize the efficiency of marketing: through data-supported trial and error. Optimizing marketing is not guesswork and it is not black magic. It takes techniques, tools, and of course domain expertise.

And it has a straightforward impact on business, with even a small improvement potentially providing a huge bump to the top line. If your business has a 4-phase customer acquisition funnel, and you improve each phase of the customer acquisition funnel by as little as 5%, the overall improvement is 22% at the bottom of the funnel. Not bad...

The VB Insight report specifically focuses on these techniques and tools used to measure and improve conversion rates.

Low cost, high return

Among the finding of the research, the relative low cost of the tools (in many cases, less than $100 per month) makes them easily accessible. The average return on investment for respondents to the survey was 224%, with 6% of respondents reporting more than 1000% return. These numbers look great, but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary...

A resume booster

Mastering these techniques can impact not only your business, but also your career. Knowing how to successfully leverage such tools is becoming a highly marketable skill. A friend at VB Insight told me that once I have read this report, I should go and ask for a raise! Joking aside, many executives I know are ready to pay top dollar for this kind of skills.

The caveats

Of course, there are a few caveats and pitfalls you need to be aware of, and again the VB Insight report gets into some details here. Probably the biggest challenge is the disparity and fragmentation of the tools. As stated in the report:

There are still very few solutions that offer a single tool for every aspect of CRO [Conversion Rate Optimization]. Some have tried to incorporate every technique through acquisition. Others seem happy with their corner of the CRO story.

Because of this, you need many tools (often up to seven!) to assemble the complete solution that is right for you. And you also need to get these tools to work together, which often means exporting/importing or copying/pasting information between them, or consolidating exports into a spreadsheet. It reminds me of some good old data integration requirements, but unfortunately also sounds like we are back to the pre-BI days.

One thing I did not find in the report is the indirect cost of such programs. How much time are people spending using these tools? The cost of the tools themselves is low. But if you have highly paid marketing analysts or digital program managers spending too much time slicing and dicing numbers, or scheming complex multivariate tests, are you still getting this high ROI? Or you spending more than what your optimizations will bring you? Never an easy question to answer.

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