January 6, 2014

Bench that benchmark—and target your marketing campaign results!

Bench the benchmark, set a target.

Bench the benchmark, set a target.

Last June, Bank of America’s Small Business Community asked me about setting benchmarks for digital campaigns. There’s no denying benchmarks have a lot of value. We use them to see how our campaigns perform based on the industry standard. Having a hard and fast number definitely draws the line in the sand between what is considered “good performance” and “bad performance.”

But a benchmark is just a number. As much as we want to match our number to someone else’s number, and label it “good” or “bad,” a benchmark can only tell a small part of the story.

Digital marketing is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. One percentage number is not going to determine if the campaign passes or fails. What if we drive only a small number of visitors to our site, but they are extremely engaged, spending ten minutes viewing multiple pages of content? What if those few visitors become ten strong leads or convert into hundreds of purchases?

A benchmark can’t tell us if our creative is fresh or if our list quality is good. It’s also not going to tell us if:

  • All those visits we’re driving to our landing page are bouncing out.
  • They are new or returning visitors.
  • Those visitors are funneling through the conversion goals we’ve set.

We need to look at the full picture, consider all the metrics we have at our disposal and diagnose performance based on our individual circumstances.

But, still, how do we explain to our higher-ups that our campaign “works”? Here’s what I propose: Don’t establish a benchmark, set a target.

Target setting is much more effective in digital marketing than in conventional marketing. It helps our digital team determine if a campaign was successful based on the distinct variables associated with the campaign, and lets us diagnose back on what to improve next time. Here are some of the metrics we look at:

  • Geo-targeting and list quality: Did we reach our targeted audience?
  • Creative analysis: Was our call to action strong?
  • Visits to site; bounce rate: Did visitors have a hard time finding our landing page?
  • Time on site; pages per visit: Were they engaged on our site?
  • Goals and event tracking: Did they follow the conversion funnel we set up for them?

It’s not too hard to bracket off a high and a low on the performance spectrum. Maybe the spread is wide, with the difference ranging between just a few to tens of thousands, or maybe there’s a gut instinct that the campaign will perform at a specific number or percentage. Somewhere in there, we can narrow down the target range to a number we know is considered successful. Then, we can set that number as a measurable goal for the next campaign.

So, instead of “we want to hit 10% because that’s the industry standard benchmark,” try these targets on for size:

  • We will reach 10,000 people in Delaware who are searching for hospitals that offer bariatric services.
  • 95% of our email list will open the email, and 60–90% will click through to the site.
  • From our 20,000 leads, we will drive 500 visitors to the site who stay for more than two minutes and view more than one page of content.
  • The bounce rate will be below 80%.
  • 40–55% of clicks will be on the Contact Us button on the landing page.

Just in case the targets are a bit too ambitious, we build some wiggle room by setting up a range (e.g., 60–90%, 500–750 visits, >80%). This establishes best practices and sets up a yardstick for measuring future campaigns. With measurable goals like these to prove success, we can confidently walk into any board meeting and justify our campaign spend.

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