What to do when it doesn't go according to plan
Have you ever had everything go exactly according to plan? Me neither. Does that make us awful planners?
No, of course not.
Because as it turns out, NOTHING EVER GOES ACCORDING TO PLAN. Not exactly to the plan, anyway. Some of our agency's biggest success stories have been the third or the fourth or the tenth thing that we've tried.
And that's one of the things I want to impress upon you today: The key to great planning and great strategy is to allow room for improvisation and adaptation. The rigid plans -- the ones where everything is already figured out -- those are the ones that truly fail because they do not adapt.
So, when I say "what to do when it doesn't go according to plan," the very first step of the process is to ...
1) Understand that it never goes according to plan
This is the first and most important step and sometimes the hardest. You grow too fast, too slow, you got too many applicants, not enough. You're always going to be off in some way with your first marketing campaign.
And that's OK. In fact, that's the first step of every great marketing campaign.
Now, don't read this to mean that the first version doesn't matter and that you should half-ass it. No way! You use your instincts and your experience and all the data you can get your hands on. You want to hit a home run on the first pitch.
But there will ALWAYS be room for improvement, no matter how well you do. If you did hit a home run, well, how far was the home run? Could it have traveled a few more feet?
The key to whether your marketing is going to set company sales records rests more on what you do after your initial launch. It's largely all about adapting and optimizing.
2) Look at what did the best
Looking through the analytics, something usually worked. Usually, we find many things that went well. The first step is to isolate those things. Even a negative ROI campaign often has one place where it was positive.
Find that. It could be a particular post. It could be a time of day. It could be a keyword. It could be iPhone users. Look through all your data and find that places where your campaign performed at its very best.
Note: You need to make sure you have a large enough sample to do this. You can't just base your successes on one or two clicks. You need to see enough examples of a thing before you can identify that it's a trend.
3) Establish cause and effect
Now, that you've found a few promising leads, you're not done. You need to understand whether these factors are actually causing the positive results or they're just coincidental. There's a big difference.
A great example is one I heard from a long-time AdWords expert. He was tasked with getting leads for a business and was hearing the complaint that the leads were bad. The campaigns were generating a lot of leads at a good price, but they weren't getting a hold of those leads.
Before concluding that the campaign was crap, which is what many people might do, he looked at the data and compared it against the businesses sales process. He discovered that during business hours, the leads converted pretty well, and during early morning or late at night, the leads were indeed not converting at all.
Well, let's see ... for the business hours ones, the business called people back within 15 minutes and the others were taking hours -- sometimes not until the next day. Makes total sense because they didn't have people working around the clock to call back these leads.
So, perhaps, could the problem be the length of response time? If you could ensure a shorter response time, could you close more leads?
Turns out yes, by running the campaigns only during hours the call center was working, the conversion rate went through the roof.
Now, we could have noticed a million more stats in the data -- perhaps mobile users were not converting as well as desktop users. Perhaps certain ads got more clicks than others. But by finding the core cause and effect, you have a much better chance of solving the big problems.
4) Test one variable at a time
Similar to the past example, you run into trouble if you test too many things at once. By only testing the ad schedule, they were able to test that one factor and see if it truly was the thing causing the problem.
If they also changed the keywords, the ad copy, and a bunch of other things, well, what do you do when things go well? You don't really know the thing that contributed to the change and so you don't know how to keep making it better.
Along those lines, it's possible to have similar results with many changes because some things help and some changes hurt. You will never know.
5) Keep moving, don't stay in one place
Lastly, you need to experiment if you're going to find the best results. That means you need to always have part of your budget devoted to new stuff. If you stick to a single strategy and only do that for six months, well, you missed out a whole lot of learning.
So, while I strongly recommend against having strategy ADD where you're trying new things all the time and abandoning projects left and right, I do recommend a balance. Go with your best strategy but leave at least 10 percent or 15 percent of your budget available to try new ideas.
If you notice those new ideas are doing better, give them more budget. If they eventually overtake your old way of doing things, congrats, YOU JUST EVOLVED. If they don't do well, also congrats, because you can cross something else off the list.
The goal here is to experiment regularly and make sure that you're not risking too much budget in the process.