I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “If all you have is a hammer, then every problem you encounter ends up looking like a nail.” It’s a funny thought, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We rarely think about a challenge we face with anything other than the usual solutions in our toolbox. The more familiar the solution, the more it seems to appeal to us.

We could even take this analogy further and apply it to business marketing. If a business owner has always relied on ValPak, then ValPak may be the only thing he’s willing to invest in — even if it no longer packs the same value it once did. (See what I did there?)

To another, the answer may still be Yellow pages advertising, because the answer for him has always been Yellow Pages. And when it doesn’t work as well as it used to, the answer is to double down, doing even more of the same thing, hoping for a different result.

I bet you would expect a digital marketer like me to follow those statements with something like, “You should really be using online marketing instead, because that’s the sharpest tool in the toolbox,” right? Wrong.

Surprised? Let me explain.

The most important tool in your marketing toolbox is feedback. Information. Data. It’s your measuring tape. Without it, you’ll never have a clear idea of what marketing mix your business truly needs to grow. It may be that in your part of the world, direct mail circulars really are the most cost-effective means of reaching your target market. No one would be as surprised as I if that indeed turned out to be the case… but stranger things have happened, and you’ll never know for sure unless you measure.

Are You Using the Spray & Pray Method?

As a consultant, I am amazed every time I talk to a small business owner who doesn’t know where his core business is coming from. There is usually a vague sort of sense of what may be working, but when I ask for the numbers, there aren’t any to be had.

Nothing.

No actual measurements were made, no tracking implemented, no periodic evaluations of the marketing budget. Just year after year of high-dollar spending — literally throwing money into the air and hoping the wind doesn’t come sweep it all away before any of it has a chance to take root and do any good.

I call it the “Spend and Pray” model of marketing, and any business owner who employs it is succeeding despite himself, if he is succeeding at all.

The truth is: the only way you will ever know if a marketing tactic is bringing you back more than you are putting in is to measure results. This does require patience and diligence, but you’ll be rewarded with the kind of competitive intel that others only dream about.

How Do You Measure Your Marketing?

You can get as high-tech or as old-school as you like on this part, but start with the six little words that you should say every time you talk to a customer for the first time. These words come right after the word “Hello,” and they are: “How did you hear about us?”

Of course, it’s not enough to simply ask the question. You must record the answers. Keep a pad of paper next to every phone and computer in your place of business. Make it a part of your religion to ask and record, and soon you will have a much more accurate understanding of how people are finding out about you. It’s a start.

For the record, I’m under no illusions about online marketing. It’s not a holy grail (queue the angelic choir), and it’s by no means the only strategy you should be trying. But the reason I love online marketing so much is because it is so easy to get meaningful feedback very quickly.

With web site tracking tools, I can know within minutes or hours if a new tactic on a website is going to perform well. And if not, I can make adjustments the same afternoon. By the following afternoon, I can measure again. Try that with magazine advertising. I thought so.

Still, there are ways to track the effectiveness of your offline ads and marketing, too. Much of the time the measurements will be made via those six magic words, either over the phone, or a web site contact form: “How did you hear about us?”

What Should You Measure?

When gathering up all of this glorious data, the temptation is to simply count up the number of times a particular marketing source is mentioned, and then jump to the conclusion that this is the one thing that is working out the best for you. But you’d be doing yourself a real disservice if you chose to stop there.

With a little extra work, you can track the actual customer through your system, from first call to paid invoice. This is where the real enlightenment begins.

In my experience, when a business owner pulls this information together for the first time, they are shocked to learn two things…

First, the best source of new business is rarely what the business owner has always assumed. And second, there is usually a big surprise when it is revealed which marketing source brings in the best kind of business (the kind of customers who spend more, and remain loyal).

By measuring not only how many customers are coming from a particular source, but also the quality of customers you are getting from each source, you are now equipped to make some business-altering decisions. You are finally able to stop wasting money on the ineffective kind of marketing, and to start applying your resources to only those activities that are showing you the kind of return on your marketing investment you deserve.

If you approach every marketing opportunity with a measuring tape, you’ll never be disappointed in your results. In fact, every new marketing tactic you try will yield exactly what you need it to: information. Knowledge about what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.

Never again will you be even remotely tempted to allow that pushy salesperson to talk you into a big premium package, not unless you already know it’s working for you. And that’s what Measuring Tape Marketing is really about: empowering YOU to make business decisions with confidence.