Past results do not guarantee future performance: 4 questions to ask before you double down on a high-performing marketing tactic

Last year, one of our clients sponsored a conference…and the stars aligned. Pre-conference email outreach worked like a charm. Meetings popped up on the calendar. Demos hit the sweet spot. Deals closed. 

They were so thrilled that they signed up on the spot to sponsor the same conference the following year. Except the next time around, they didn’t see the same results. The sales conversations just didn’t materialize. 

One of their best-performing marketing tactics became a low-ROI budget suck. 

Unfortunately, this phenomenon plays out often in B2B marketing. A marketing tactic that worked like magic turns out to be impossible to replicate and scale. 

This is a bummer because it’s rational to invest in what works. And we marketers are like miners during a gold rush. Once we strike gold (or think we have!), the temptation is to double down until every last speck of gold has been stripped from the ground. 

But sometimes, what looks exactly like the real thing turns out to be fool’s gold.

With that in mind, here are four questions to ask before you double down on that marketing tactic – so you can avoid wasting budget and time. 

Question #1: Can I expect the same audience mix moving forward?

A campaign’s success is basically a function of how efficiently we reach the right folks with a relevant message. 

We have a lot of control over our message. But the audience mix in a given channel can shift over time, and can be driven by factors that might not be immediately obvious. The result? The success we see in a given channel might not be representative of what we would see if we scaled the channel further. 

Here are some factors that might contribute to a changing audience mix for a given tactic:

  1. Channel maturity: in the early days of Clubhouse, the audio app drew a crowd of tech influencers and thought leaders. But as the app became more mainstream, the audience diversified – creating a less efficient channel for reaching key decision-makers
  2. External event/timing: sometimes we’re in the right place at the right time. A market change, regulatory update, or mainstream news item can cook up a perfect storm – like for this client, who put together a webinar just in time for a new financial debt collection regulation that was set to be enforced). We should seize the moment when this happens – but not count on it repeating itself. 
  3. Unusual draw/incentive: maybe the latest conference you attended had great representation from IT leadership – your target persona. But…it was in the Bahamas (and next year it’s in Kansas City). A CIO was the keynote speaker (and usually it’s a CMO). You get the idea.  

Tip: Before doubling down on a marketing tactic, give some thought to whether the people who showed up to your party this time are likely to show up next time.

Question #2: How scalable is the tactic?

You’re confident that the audience mix will be right moving forward. Next question: how many times can you replicate the tactic to build on your success?

The answer depends on the “total addressable market” for the tactic. For example: your team might have cleaned up at a recent trade show. But if you’re targeting a niche audience that really only attends that conference every year, it probably doesn’t make sense to triple your conference budget. 

Here are some of the representative metrics that a marketing team might use to start mapping out the reach of different channels:

ChannelWays to evaluate channel reach
Conferences, podcasts, content syndicationNumber of relevant opportunities/Total attendance/listenership/readership/Persona mix (functional, title)
SEO, paid searchSearch volume
Prospecting, email marketingTotal potential database size (our guide to evaluating sales intelligence tools)

Tip: Make sure there’s a “there, there” – in terms of audience reach and relevance – as you’re planning where to lay your bets. 

Question #3: Do you have the resources to scale the tactic?

Marketing tactics vary widely in how many resources they require – in terms of both money and headcount. (Check out our quick guide here for some benchmarks on the level of resources required across demand generation channels.)

For example, doing conferences the right way is a huge undertaking. In addition to the upfront financial investment, there are all of the logistics: outreach in advance to set up meetings, marketing collateral and materials, travel and lodging, follow-up. It takes months of planning – the precision coordination of an ER surgery team – to pull off successfully. 

But even lower-lift channels can impose a hefty “tax” on your marketing team. For example, if you’re working with a paid search agency and thinking about scaling your efforts, it’s not just the additional dollars you’ll be paying. The internal team will need to spend more time coordinating with the agency, reviewing reporting, approving ad copy, etc. 

Tip: Don’t forget to factor in both the financial and headcount resources required for success before you “heavy up” on a promising tactic.

Question #4: When should you re-evaluate?

It’s pretty much a law of the universe: your marketing performance in a given channel or campaign will decline as you invest more in that tactic.

Wait, but why?

  • Diminishing quality: Chances are that you’re starting in a given channel by focusing on…the good stuff. The amazing conferences. The most important keywords. As you scale, you’ll quickly tap out those A-tier opportunities – and have to start evaluating more marginal or questionable B-tier opportunities. (Think less New York Times, more Skokie PTA Bulletin.)
  • Audience fatigue: There are only so many times that a prospect can see your message in a given channel before starting to tune out. This is why retargeting relies on frequency caps and performance marketers frequently change out ad creative: every incremental exposure of the same message to the same audience just delivers that much less of a punch. 

So how do you know when it’s time to call it quits when scaling a marketing tactic? 

The obvious inflection point might seem like when the tactic is no longer ROI-positive. But don’t forget: the dollars and time you’re spending on a marketing effort could be spent elsewhere. So make sure you’re factoring in the opportunity cost of not doubling down on another tactic when deciding how much to scale. 

Tip: Expect declining performance as you scale a given marketing tactic – and know when to switch course and invest elsewhere. 

The bottom line

Hitting on a successful marketing tactic is like striking gold. But before you double down, make sure you know it’s the real thing – and that you can continue to scale effectively with the resources you have.

Tim is a Marketing Director at Blue Seedling, avid surfer, and proud cat dad.

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