Short on staff, tight on cash; How do mid-market retailers know where to spend their marketing budget?

attribution tracking

Running a successful small/mid-sized retail business has always been a challenge. The information age has compounded the challenge. The consumer is just a click away from comparison pricing. A furniture retailer in my neighborhood has posted a note publicly that pictures are not permitted unless with permission of the salesperson. But the age of information has its rewards as well. Through popular digital channels any retailer can promote its wares to a vast audience. The challenge though is, when margins are tight and resources are thin, how to compete with the big boys. I am not talking Superbowl ads here. The issue narrows down to the tight resources. I work with owners of small/mid-sized businesses. These are savvy businessmen  but there’s only so much money and talent to go around. Even if they nail the strategy, it’s hard to execute. If anything, the common complaint is they wish they had extra heads and hands to keep pace with how the multichannel retail environment is evolving. Here are some common pain points I have heard and the remedy.  

Challenges with running multichannel marketing on a tight budget

To illustrate, I will use the comments from one of my clients, a Chicago based online retailer of natural wood sheds and cabins:

  • Email marketing is low-performance and sporadic: To send out email that has a chance to be opened, marketer has to either have a personalized picture of shopper behavior or produce a lot of good content to catch the interest. But the problem is that it takes a lot of time to produce content, the email list is not that long, so email campaigns are very sporadic and the open rate – low (click rate even lower).
  • SEO – hire someone or forget it. Perfecting SEO requires too much time and gets often overlooked because there are more urgent and important fires to put out. Hiring a professional is an option that the client has used in the past but keeping them on board is too expensive and it didn’t seem to give any results.
  • Paid search – can’t waste a whole day on report analysis. Setting up paid search is very expensive. As well as finding the right keywords. The big competitors are bidding high amounts on same keywords and it is exhausting the small budget. Every experiment has a cost that is relatively higher when a budget is smaller. That leads to hesitation to experiment. There is a tendency to play safe trying to avoid the risk of loses. Due to the frustration the client had stopped all paid search for nearly a year! It is gobbling up the funds and not giving obvious results.
  • Single person can handle social media marketing but that person should not be CEO. In order to be interesting and noticed on social media, business has to produce a lot of relevant content. It is very time consuming and CEO has more important business to attend. This is the most common complaint, that the mentioned client has expressed too – “I post at least one post a day but the reach is always so small and I don’t see any leads from social media that end up converting!”  A way out is hiring someone, but will they add more value than their paycheck?

A Simple Fix: Find what marketing works and boost it.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” – John Wanamaker

All the issues mentioned above lead to a problem – small players can’t afford  to constantly test all the different marketing ideas because there is never the clear answer what works.

One way for testing different strategies is to have only one campaign at a time and track its performance. But here is the problem – if you shut down say social media in order to see how paid search works, you will lose your audience, etc. To track the multi-channel performance, businesses seek tools as Google Analytics but they don’t give a complete picture, at least not for free and it takes a lot of effort to set it up and even more so to read the reports (read more about this here).

The fallback practice for small businesses is to shoot in the dark and hope to hit something (it works to some extent). Here is what the shed and cabin retailer said the first time we met:

“I want to know what generates most traffic to my website and what happens when the visitor leaves? I want to know if the shopper clicked on my Google ad and went elsewhere to compare the products but then returned some time later and bought from me. Everybody uses paid search, email and social media, but I don’t see any results. I want to know if I should stop wasting money on ineffective marketing and just trust the good ol’ word of mouth”.

But there is a way to answer all of the above questions – quickly and effectively.

Easy & Effective multichannel marketing attribution

I have already blogged about how quick it is to set up a website for attribution tracking – all of 2 minutes 41 seconds. 

Having accurate picture of customer journey is the key – which ad did the customer click on, where and when? Is there a dominating path that customer take? If so, should I allocate more spend towards those campaigns, how much? These question can be answered by setting up your retail website with attribution tracking.

The output is a turnkey marketing attribution solution which tells the marketer what’s working and at which stage of the shopping journey. 

See the screengrab below for one of my client’s shopper flow analytics. The ribbons and bars show how customers move from one channel to the next in each stage of the shopping journey. Some of the insights I have used the tool for:

  • What’s the performance of Retailmeknot and the like?
  • How effective is Display marketing?
  • How much time does it take for different types of customers (depending on their point of entry) to purchase?
  • Which campaigns are the most/least effective?

The biggest thing I can say is that it does not need me to be a technical or Google Analytics expert to get the complete picture on marketing.

Shopper journey analytics and marketing attribution

Free Trial: Complementary access to the Polytab attribution app

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Photo of Temple in Singapore courtesy of Steve Jurvetson (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

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