Measuring Marketing Effectiveness

“I’m convinced half of all the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” John Wannamaker

If you manage – or help pay for – your firm’s marketing expenditures, this quote likely has some resonance for you. “How do you know if it will work?” is a question I hear frequently in meetings with lawyers while discussing different marketing initiatives.

How does a firm track the effectiveness of its marketing efforts? The answer in most cases is anecdotally, if at all. If you are a sole practitioner dealing with every phone call and every potential client that comes through the door (and you engage in only one or two marketing activities) then you’ve likely got a good idea whether something works for you or not. But as the number of lawyers and the number of different marketing initiatives multiply, the picture becomes much murkier.

This problem is not new. The quote above is approximately a century old, John Wannamaker having been an American merchant credited with running the first full-page ad for a retailer in a newspaper in the late 1800’s. And while a host of new technologies have emerged devoted to tracking anything and everything, the challenge of measuring marketing effectiveness nevertheless remains substantial.

Below are four thoughts that shape some of my own thinking on this topic:

1. Not everything is measurable. 

At least not in a classic ROI (return on investment) calculation where if I spend X dollars on this initiative it will bring Y dollars in new business to the firm. Unfortunately, you can’t always draw this kind of straight line in marketing. Accept that we live in an imperfect ROI world, and that some things must still be done regardless. The classic example in this category is brand identities – i.e. the firm name and logo. No client is ever going to tell you that they hired your firm for a multi-million dollar matter because they liked your logo. That doesn’t mean it’s not important. No client is ever going to tell you that they hired you because of your fancy suit either, but that doesn’t mean you show up to new client pitches naked because the ROI isn’t there on wearing clothes. Your firm’s brand identity is its corporate clothing. Dress your firm accordingly, even in the absence of measurable ROI.

2. You should measure what you can.

Not everything is measurable but some things are. I can tell you from personal experience that a huge number of firms do not have even basic website statistics packages installed, and couldn’t tell you if their lives depended on it whether they get five, five hundred or five thousand visitors to their website in a given month. The conversation goes something like this:

Q: Approximately how many visitors come to your site in an average month?

A: We don’t know.

Q: Where is your web traffic coming from?

A: We don’t know.

Q: What are the most popular parts of your website?

A: We don’t know.

Q: What percentage of recipients opened your last email newsletter, and what links did they click on once they did?

A: We don’t know.

You get the idea. In my experience, lawyers LOVE this kind of hard data for decision-making purposes. (Wouldn’t it be handy, for example, when deciding the topics for a major client seminar to know which areas on your website or posts on your blog have been generating huge traffic, or that your last newsletter bombed completely but a specific article in the previous one was read and re-read extensively?)

3. The best data is your own.

Industry benchmarks are helpful guideposts when they are available (alas, for legal marketing they rarely are). But your own data can be even more valuable. Because a direct mail piece or a print ad campaign worked for another firm (or you think it did), doesn’t mean it will work for yours, and you will rarely have more than a very minimal insight into the effectiveness of other firms’ marketing. I regularly hear “it must be working for those guys down the street because they keep doing it” as evidence for why firm X thinks they should probably mimic the strategies of their nearest competitor. But if you don’t want to spend the rest of your firm’s existence playing catch-up, you need to know what works for you, not what you think might be working for them.

To this end, a valuable piece and yet one that is very rarely instituted is establishing an intake tracking system for new clients of the firm. Consider adding a single page check-box questionnaire as part of your retainer package for new clients asking how they came to your firm and which of your communication activities they have encountered. Keep in mind that marketing is often cumulative in effect and so rather than having them pick one, ask them to choose all that apply and then list all of your major marketing initiatives: website, seminar(s), blogs, directories, social media, newspaper, radio or TV ads etc. If this is done consistently it will over time produce a proprietary – and extremely valuable – dataset that can be used to improve the efficacy of your marketing expenditures.

4. Measurement costs money. 

The good news on this front is that there are sophisticated tracking tools like Google Analytics for website statistics (free, and amazing) or MailChimp, Constant Contact and other similar tools for email campaign management (cheap) that won’t break the bank. That being said, if you are going to take this new habit of measurement seriously, someone either at the firm or at your marketing agency needs to take the time to generate and analyze the available data, and boil it down into manageable and actionable summaries that your lawyers will actually have the time and inclination to read, and that service or staff time needs to be built into the marketing budget.

Google’s Display Network (essentially banner ads on other websites), which I have discussed in a previous column, offers interesting possibilities to test market reaction to different advertising concepts in a real-world environment, but testing multiple creative options means larger budgets for both the development and testing phases. At a more advanced level, sophisticated research tools are available through major market research companies like Ipsos to conduct market awareness surveys, pre and post campaign comparisons, and ad creative testing, albeit at a not insignificant price.

In short, the measurement tools are increasingly out there, at all kinds of different price points. It’s up to all of us to incorporate measurement as an element in marketing project planning and costing up front, and implementing these available tools more rigorously.

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