Spy before you sign: How to evaluate a company by their marketing (2/2)

When working in a startup or a SME, it’s good to quickly be able to evaluate the work of the other teams. Any information can help to make decisions at a given time – for example when deciding to commit yourself to a company by accepting a job post or taking shares.

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Our first article helped you to spot semi-optimal marketing from the outside, before an interview for example.

In this scenario, your options stay limited. The same questions can however be asked when you already have a foot in the company, for example as freelancer, intern or during the test period for your permanent contract.

Therefore the leading question for this article is: How to evaluate the marketing of company (<50-100 employees) from the inside?

Marketing Reporting

Of course reporting is up first. It’s one of the words every self-respecting marketer loves. When reading between the lines, the analysis of the methodology used to put it place contains much valuable intel. On top of that, usually everyone in the company has access on the performance of the marketing team, so don’t worry, it’s easy to find!

How much time is allocated to reporting?

Even though it's 2018, there are still manual copy paste processes, which are not precise and often take many hours, sometimes even whole days (famous reporting Friday) to be produced. Such processes are signs of a lack of methodology for the most basic marketing activities – in other words a bad start.

Still, do not be too harsh with your judgement. The bigger the company, the more complex and longer the reporting. Additionally, extreme long reporting sessions might not come from the marketing team itself, but from above. Sometimes managers ask for many KPIs that might not even be significant… (which is also not a good sign).

How relevant are the used KPIs?

funnel-aarrr

KPIs are all about relevance. The more relevant your numbers, the better the evolution and improvements. It is therefore usually better to have a few extremely relevant KPIs than a bunch of numbers that don’t say much. So be especially critical when checking the KPIs your marketing colleagues are using. Competent teams will mostly use one indicator per step of the “funnel”, which is usually enough for reporting to the rest of the company.

In contrary, less experienced teams will use more indicators, but will usually say less in the end. They might use Twitter followers or page views but won’t talk about the retention rate. Every indicator tells you something about a certain step in the famous funnel, and its relevance thus depends on the context. The marketing team should be aware of this.
If they communicate secondary KPIs, it’s another kind of alarm signal!

Quality and mindset

Next to KPIs there is one factor that always tells the truth: the history of the available data. It is of utmost importance to be able to compare the evolution of metrics every week/month/year. If this is being done, it means that the processes are honed and have been running for some time.

In any case, competent marketing teams have a “tracking mindset”, meaning that they are obsessed to systematically measure actions and their performances so they are able to rationally take decisions based on the results. This mindset is often not found in simple marketing teams, even though its their responsibility to spread a “tracking mindset” around the whole company. An example would be the systematic tracking of new product features.

Following and producing a report is an essential activity of any marketing team, as every future decisions should be based on the results of previous efforts. The more rigorous, the more efficient the actions that will be taken. So it should be clear by now – it’s fundamental. Still there are other responsibilities which can be checked to evaluate a marketing team’s performance.

vanity-metrics

The Marketing Team’s approach

Another point making the difference between a marketing team that knows where it is going and one that gets lost on the road is the breakdown of the different actions it undertakes. There are basically two types of marketing actions: those aimed at building a lasting audience and those that make it possible to buy an ephemeral audience.

The first one consist of long term actions, aiming to build and develop a brand presence: content production, SEO, events, social media strategies, mailings, … This also concerns more product focussed actions, like improving retention, support functions or ease the product's onboarding.

The second consists of publicities in the large sense: pay to spread a message to an audience. This includes ads on search engines (GoogleAds), social media (Facebook Ads and others), classical media, or less common tactics like paying to appear in newsletters or being mentioned somewhere.

The two categories are of course permeable: an advertisement can allow a future loyal customer to discover the product or the service for example. Thus, effective marketing will skilfully blend the two categories. When the activity is unbalanced in favour of one or the other category, that’s another alarm signal. The most common observation is that acquisition strategies rely exclusively on advertising.

Organic/paid balance

Depending on the objectives of the company and its state of development, the equilibrium point changes. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: an acquisition strategy essentially based on advertising can not be sustainable. If a company has an acquisition mostly due to advertising for many months, this indicates a marketing team that has not yet found organic levers to find its audience: a team in failure.

This does not of course preclude the "attack" phases during which a lot of advertising is done, but we must not lose sight of the primary goal of marketing: develop acquisition strategies that are efficient and sustainable in the long run. Advertising is only a mean, it must be part of a larger strategy to achieve sustainable results.

How “clean” is the marketing?

Before concluding, let’s have a look on the dark side of marketing. For each digital marketing activity, there are "gray" or "blackhat" techniques to increase their impact. Essentially, this is to pay (or do it yourself) a more or less illegal but effective service: buy followers on social networks, links, opinions or comments.

We will not give you a speech based on "blackhat is immoral”, but it is important to understand the issues and risks of these techniques.

  • From a legal point of view, the risk is still almost zero: there are not / very few companies condemned for buying followers or fake notices, for example.
  • The effectiveness of practices depends on their purpose and the quality of their achievement, so it’s up to you to judge.
  • What is more interesting is their impact on the long-term. When these techniques are used without reflection, this can permanently damage the visibility of the company.

fake-social

Let's take two concrete examples to put things in perspective:

  • Buying links (backlinks) to improve SEO and being caught by Google can destroy the referencing of a given site for months or years. You can find more information on the penalties by Google here.
  • Buying followers on social networks - here the problem is that the bought followers do not interact with publications of the account, leading to a profile with big numbers, but few results. Find more information: an experiment on Instragram and a more generic article on the subject

Note: These two examples are deliberately chosen from the worst techniques. There are smarter and more effective techniques in some contexts, but the risk is always real.

"Gray" techniques are not always totally irrelevant, but the risk of dropping the mark into a black-gray hole is very real. If used, they should be used with discretion and full awareness of the issues. In other words, unless you're in the marketing team, you should not hear about it or you know what you have to do: find a company where marketing is responsible.

Conclusion

We hope this and the previous guide will help you make informed choices about the companies you will be working with. Life in startups is often made of lessons learned over the course of events. This article should help you save some surprises ...

The indicators that we present to you will help you to judge the marketing activity of your potential future company, but nothing is worth your common sense. Stay tuned and watch carefully are the most reliable sources of information for making informed decisions.

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