At one of our very first meetings, a member of our Board gave the following advice when it came to sales and marketing: “Pick one, maybe two bets, and go all in.” For a person who lingers for as long as possible at the craps table by playing the minimum bet on the pass line, this advice terrified me. It’s not my nature to go all-in when so much is at stake, but I’m working on changing that nature, and this wonderful thing called data sure does help.
I earned my sales and marketing stripes a little over 10 years ago at a not-for-profit, professional theatre company, where we lived and breathed by the box office’s morning report of single ticket sales from the day prior. The sales report was fairly predictable. The Sunday prior to the run of a show, we could usually expect a feature story in the local newspaper.
We crossed our fingers for a big, splashy piece with lots of pictures and a great story because we knew that the very next day the box office phones would be ringing off the hook, and Tuesday morning’s report would show a Monday sales day with lots and lots of zeroes.
If only we could replicate the success
“More PR!” the team thought. So, we tried. But realistically, there were only so many magazines, so many newspapers. And, publishers and editors didn’t always have the same affinity for our work that we did. Yet still the scenario played out as certain as death and taxes. A story in the Sunday paper with a nice photo and a cute headline yielded $10,000 in ticket sales the very next day.
The data didn’t lie, and so I went all in
For the next show, instead of taking my meager newspaper advertising budget and running a series of small ads over the course of the run of the show (about three weeks), I pooled the budget and bookedthe largest ad space I could afford for the paper that came out two Sunday’s prior to opening night.
That’s right — the week before the PR placement I could anticipate. And, instead of having my graphic designer lay out a standard advertisement, I gave him a cute headline, a nice photo, and a block of copy. Our very own advertorial. And now, looking back on it, the beginnings of what would become content marketing.
Do you want to guess what happened? My advertorial produced the $10,000 sales day I had hoped for, and by the following week the sales were booming as word of mouth spread. Our organic feature story appeared the following Sunday as expected, yielding its fruitful results. I went all in, and the bet was a good one.
Today there are more ways than ever to spend our time and our money, and we constantly run the risk of spreading it all too thin and missing the mark entirely. And that’s why I temper constant opportunity, creativity and passion with the one thing that rarely lies and keeps my team focused on the right things at the right time: Data.
Of course, just having data doesn’t confirm a sure bet. So, here are three things to keep in mind as you’re inviting data to have a seat at your strategy table:
1. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Let’s go back to the craps table where there are so many great bets you can place. You can play the pass line, back your pass line bet with odds, place on the six and the eight, and play the field. All are decent bets with good odds, but you’re always one roll away from losing it all.
Your data might show you that your buyers live in a particular region, use a particular kind of software, respond to a particular message. Pay close attention to that data and look for the places they all intersect to prevent spreading yourself too thin.
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2. Don’t be afraid to bet big on consistent data.
What would have happened if I had I kept all of the smaller newspaper ads running but merely adjusted the design to appear more editorial-like? It’s the best of both worlds, right? I would have kept my ad frequency AND delivered the type of content my buyers desired.
I do not believe that this overly safe strategy would have yielded the same results. My buyers were responding to big, flashy feature stories, and to make my data truly deliver, I had to bet big on the big picture.
3. Make certain your timing is set for maximum impact.
Would a large advertorial in the Sunday paper three weeks prior to opening night been as successful? It’s the same audience, the same vehicle, the same content, but there were other factors in play that cannot be ignored.
Three weeks prior, the flyers and posters were not displayed in ticket buyers’ watering holes. Radio advertising had yet to start, and the latest photography was not yet available. All of these factors in some way or another contributed to my win because they helped to create an environment in which my bet would be as successful as possible.
Your data can both tell you a valuable story and enable you to win big, but you must pay attention to it, understand its context, and create an environment where it can be effective.