The Independent Financial Advisor's Guide to Measuring Marketing

9 min read
May 21, 2018

Recently, a friend reached out to me for a favor. She owns a growing small business and plans to hire her first full-time marketing associate.

“I don’t really know anything about marketing. Can you help me write a list of interview questions?” she asked.

I responded, “You don’t need a list. There’s just one important question.”

It’s true. You can size up whether someone is a legit marketer with one simple question: How do you measure the effectiveness of your marketing? Put another way… what are your KPIs?

If a candidate struggles with this question, or does not have experience tracking key performance indicators, or doesn’t even know what a KPI is, they don’t have marketing expertise. With this one question, you can distinguish true marketers from those who have simply performed marketing-centric tasks.

This may seem cutthroat, but employers won’t be fooled if they rely on this litmus test. Otherwise-promising candidates will tell you, “KPIs just weren’t important to my previous employer.” Sure, some employers don’t know better. Don’t make the same mistake.

Consider this analogy: marketing without measuring is like playing soccer without keeping score. Yes, you can make a case that there are great benefits to playing just for fun. If you want to be a winning player, however, you need to keep score. When your livelihood is on the line, I bet you are playing to win.

Whether you’re in a position to employ a marketing manager or you’re serving as your own CMO, you need to measure effectiveness.

So What Should I Measure?

This seems like a question that would elicit a really complicated answer. It’s actually not complicated at all. In fact, I can answer with just one word: results. I could theoretically end this blog right here, but I’ll dig in.

Live by this rule: whatever initiative you take on for the purpose of marketing, measure results.

By making this a rule, you will eliminate a lot of risk in your marketing. When an advertising salesperson shows up at your door to sell you a billboard/park bench/restroom wall, my advice is to take a hard pass if the campaign is unmeasurable. Do some businesses find billboards and park benches helpful? Sure. You may choose to set aside some discretionary dollars each year for such initiatives, just for fun. However, the bulk of your strategy should be measurable in my opinion. I predict the more you track results, the less appetite you will have for the unmeasurable.

The good news: in the digital arena, we can track everything! Modern marketing with all its dashboards and data is a lot more fun than marketing was at the beginning of my career. It can also be quite overwhelming. Don’t fret if Google Analytics intimidates you. Train your eye on a few KPIs to start, like page views and unique users, for tracking the overall health of your marketing. Then, follow the data that speaks to your specific efforts. 

Let’s take a look at some common marketing channels and how we can measure results.

Measuring Email Campaigns

Any platform you use for email marketing (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) will provide data on open rates and click-through rates (CTRs), and anyone who is responsible for sending email campaigns should be able to speak to these metrics.

Let’s revisit my friend, the small business owner who is hiring a marketing associate. She wants to know, “What’s the right answer? What’s considered a good open rate?”

My answer to this question: a good open rate (and the same for a good CTR) is one that is better than it was last period.

When assessing open rates and CTRs, it’s not necessary to keep up with the Joneses. There are a lot of variables, such as industry, size of the list, and email frequency. You can find average rates for your industry with a little online research, but don’t discount other variables. A firm emailing 100 contacts will have much higher open rates than another that is marketing to a list of 20,000 contacts. An apples-to-oranges comparison will not tell us which one is doing a better job of email marketing. As with all of your marketing data, the point of tracking KPIs is not to tell you how you compare to other firms. Your marketing data should be used to guide you to your personal best.

So what do open rates and click-through rates tell us? How do we improve them? In a nutshell:

  • Open rates speak to a couple of things: for starters, the subject line of your email. Put effort into writing compelling subject lines and you will be rewarded with better open rates. Your open rate also speaks to the consistent quality of your campaigns. If your followers typically enjoy your emails, that will be reflected in your open rates. Another factor that may affect your open rates: the day and time of your sends. It can take careful experimentation to find the optimal time to send.
  • Open rates don’t tell us the whole story about the effectiveness of our content, so we rely on click-through rates as well. The CTR tells us if our content actually connected with the recipient. If a reader clicks a call-to-action linked in an email, bingo! Our content was of interest. Marketers can improve CTRs by segmenting their audience so their content is highly relevant to the recipient.

Measuring Blog Posts

If blogging is part of your content strategy, I recommend tracking a very simple KPI: views. Knowing how many people view each post will prepare you for an important challenge: getting more views! This is when you really begin marketing. There are unlimited ways to get more prospects to read your blogs, from the obvious (such as social media sharing) to the more industrious (like including a call-to-action linking to your blog in your email signature). For more ideas, you can watch a recording of a webinar I did for XYPN’s partner, RightCapital.

If you put the effort into creating and publishing blogs but don’t pay attention to whether or not people are reading them, you might as well be out on that soccer field kicking the ball around alone, blindfolded. Tracking views will help you identify which topics resonate so you can focus your efforts on developing more related content and driving prospects to that content.

The next step is figuring out which content converts the best. The ultimate goal of any marketer, conversion happens when your audience takes an important action. Two particular actions are fundamentally significant: becoming a lead or becoming a customer. You can track all kinds of conversion rates, but at the end of the day you want to know, “Did this effort bring in leads or customers?”

How do you get this information? I am fortunate to have a shortcut at XYPN; we use HubSpot for marketing automation and the platform serves up insightful analytics on our blog content. Marketing automation platforms (like HubSpot, Pardot, or Marketo) are a major investment, but, rest assured, you can get the same information from a free tool: Google Analytics. Here’s how:

Be sure your blog post includes a conversion opportunity, such as a form to receive a free download or to request a consultation. In Google Analytics, you will set up a “goal”. A URL destination goal will do the job. Your URL destination will be a specific thank you page that people who fill out your form are directed to upon hitting submit. Google will calculate the number of people who completed your goal based on if they landed on the specific thank you page.

Yes, it takes a bit of effort to set this up, especially the first time. Moving forward, you can clone some of the pieces (like the thank you page) so you’re not developing so much from scratch each time.

Measuring Other New Media: Videos, Podcasts, etc.

If content like videos or podcasts are part of your marketing strategy, your tracking approach will initially be similar to how you measure your blogging. At minimum, track your views, downloads, etc. Take note of overachieving content and under-performing topics. Use your data to inform your content plan.

From there, the approach is entirely different. Why? The business objective for producing this type of content is different. Let’s look at another soccer analogy. Your blog, with a prominent and relevant opportunity for conversion, is the striker on your team. Your YouTube channel may provide an assist, but it’s unlikely to score the goal.

Rest assured, YouTube is not designed to be the goal scorer. It’s best used in a supporting role—the awareness phase of your marketing funnel. That’s partly due to the overall design of YouTube, which aims to keep viewers exploring their rabbit hole. Rather than let traffic slip away to another site with a call to action, they masterfully suggest more videos that are eerily right up your alley. (Sure, you can include links on your channel homepage and in your video descriptions and annotations, but if you focus on CTRs of these links, you will be disappointed.)

Also, YouTube comes with different user intent. Those who turn to YouTube or to podcasts for information do so with different intent than those reading web content, generally speaking. Does that make these marketing channels inferior? No. They can be invaluable for building brand awareness. (I’m looking at you, XYPN Radio).

To dive deeper into measuring the effectiveness of your videos or podcasts, focus on engagement. That leads me to the next point…

Measuring Social Media

I could sidebar here and get into a dialogue about whether social media is really crucial to building a brand. I’ll save that discussion for another day (spoiler: not necessarily). If you have chosen to make social media a part of your strategy, how can you measure effectiveness? Look at engagement.

If you track sheer number of followers alone, your data is not speaking to your effectiveness. You may consistently grow your following month over month, but your followers may be tuning out your posts. For social media to serve as a viable vehicle for marketing, you need your followers to engage with your social content. 

When you start tracking engagement (likes, comments, clicks, retweets, shares), you will begin striving to produce more engaging content. Experiment and take note of what resonates with your audience. Do they respond to polls? Do they appreciate informative blogs that speak to their needs? Does humor go over well? What types of curated content get the best engagement?

If gaining traction on social media is your goal, set yourself up with a spreadsheet to track engagement per post, grouped or tagged by type of content. Perhaps you want to study the ideal time and day for engagement as well. Look for patterns. Plan to do more of what works.

Measuring Cost-Per-Click Campaigns

I recently started an experiment at XYPN to syndicate our top-converting blogs on a pay-per-click basis. We already know these particular blogs lead to customer conversion, so it’s a no-brainer to pay a small price for more readers, right?

At first glance, the experiment went great! People clicked on our blog when they saw it as “suggested content” on trusted news sites. In fact, we got so many clicks we maxed out our budget each day. Success? Not so fast. If we were only measuring traffic, this is where the story would end.

Almost immediately, I noticed this traffic wasn’t converting. I anticipated the conversion rate of these blogs to suffer a bit because paid traffic never measures up to organic traffic. I was surprised, however, that this traffic didn’t convert AT ALL. Not one reader accepted our no-fail offer on the blog page to become a lead. Because we were closely watching the right metrics, we killed this experiment before wasting a lot of money.

What should you look at if you’re spending money on pay-per-click advertising? Look at the traffic sources for your goal completions. How many new leads came from this paid campaign? If you’re satisfied with the number relative to your spend, give it some time. Then, look at goal completions for customer conversion. Consider the lifetime value of a client against your spend and evaluate your customer acquisition cost. (In the case of my experiment, my budget divided by 0 customers = a customer acquisition cost of…math, math, math…fail!)

Measuring Consistently

Never underestimate the importance of measuring your marketing on a consistent basis. If you’re the CMO, set aside time each day, week, or month for tracking. Whatever the schedule, get into a sustainable habit. Your data report should speak to your results, but it shouldn’t be so tedious that it requires an unreasonable amount of time to pull together. If you employ a marketing associate to track your KPIs, you are not off the hook. Schedule time to review the data regularly. You can’t have a winning team if the key players ignore the score.


About the Author

As XYPN's Director of Marketing, Jennifer Mastrud is tasked with sharing the movement at XYPN. Her expertise is in branding, marketing, and public relations. She’s as passionate about the XYPN message as she is about innovating new ways to share it. Before joining XYPN, Jen accumulated several years of experience representing national brands in diverse sectors including technology, gaming, TV, and education. She’s based in Minnesota, but travels frequently to warm up.

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