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Boost Your Marketing Budget With Better Tracking

by Jeff May

In these lean times, finding the money to do additional marketing for your organization can be a real challenge. But the reality is this: A sales slump is the time when you should be marketing your association most aggressively. For during these tough periods, your competitors are generally suffering also. If they pull back on their marketing efforts while you're accelerating yours, there's an excellent chance that your association will gain market share.

So why do associations slash their marketing budgets when times are tight?

For many association higher-ups, cutting seems logical because they can't attach a real value to how marketing benefits the bottom line. To them, it looks as if sometimes marketing helps generate sales—and sometimes it doesn't. Success may seem entirely arbitrary.

Most often, the problem is not that you're spending money on marketing that isn't working, it's that you don't have a reliable process to evaluate the return on your marketing investment. Given the growing number of ways you can market a product or service to a specific audience, it's more important than ever to confirm that your message, the type of media you use, and your timing are all correct. Testing and tracking are the keys to developing a successful marketing strategy upon which you can continually build.

Testing and tracking don't require a time-consuming, complex system. Marketing professionals have been using several simple methods of gauging response to marketing campaigns for years. Let's take a look at a few ideas for testing, tracking, and ultimately evaluating your next marketing campaign.

Techniques That Help You Test

Tracking the usefulness of a marketing effort requires that you get a response from your audience. Make sure your marketing messages contain a call to action. This is different from generating "we exist" advertising, which simply raises awareness of your products or services. Instead, invite your audience to take a specific action: to use a discount coupon to buy a book, call a toll-free number to sign up for a conference, register on your website for a prize drawing. The idea is to create a compelling reason for your target audiences to contact your association after receiving your marketing message. This contact allows you to evaluate whether your message is reaching its intended audience. Once you track these responses, you can fine-tune your strategy by creating variations in your marketing message, your graphics, the media you choose, and your timing.

Although you can certainly use different methods for separate marketing campaigns, consider creating variations on the same campaign to gauge the most successful use of your message. Stating a message in a slightly different way or using different imagery can increase response rates by 15% or more. Marketing-savvy organizations often create variations on campaigns and test them regionally to fine-tune the campaign before going national.

4 Simple Tracking Methods

1. Multiple phone numbers: Toll-free reply numbers are easy and inexpensive to set up. Use a different toll-free number for each variation of a direct mail campaign to compare response results. Tracking results can be as simple as reviewing your monthly phone statement to see which number had the most activity.

2. Separate extension numbers: If you don't want to set up separate toll-free numbers, require callers to use different extension numbers, and code each extension to a specific campaign variation.

3. Promotional codes: To take advantage of a promotion, customers must provide a special code. Given the continued advances in inkjet and variable printing, this method has become a cost-effective way to track audiences.

4. Special URLs: Have potential customers reply online, and use a slightly different Web address for each marketing variation you want to track. A website is a great way to communicate and gather information from your current and potential customers without interrupting staff members as responses come in. After customers respond by supplying information online, the data are gathered into a database, which can create reports for evaluation and tracking.

A tracking method will provide real data with which to evaluate the marketing effort that best meets your goals. By knowing when your marketing has worked—and why—you can assign a value to your impact on the association's overall success. And this doesn't simply make your promotional efforts more effective; it proves your worth to the boss while bolstering your defenses against future budget slashes.

Jeff May is creative director, Automated Graphic Services, Cleveland.

 

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