Marketing ROI: What Works in 2017?

marketing ROI is shown as a tablet with bar graphs pointing up, up, up!

Marketing ROI. The web is full of (somewhat dated) articles on how to CALCULATE it. Everyone and their dog has thoughts on what tools to use to make sure you’re looking at the right data and what line-items to include when creating your marketing budget.

But what good is understanding the data and crafting a sound budget if the inputs don’t really create any marketing ROI? What tactics and strategies are actually working (right now) to generate leads and sales? What are smart businesses doing to create multiples of their spend? That’s what we want to talk about here.


We handle the digital marketing for more than 30 companies across a variety of B2B and B2C channels. We work with long sales cycles on high dollar business services, instant sales on inexpensive e-commerce products, lead generation for service companies and everything in-between. They all have a few things in common. The most important being that they are generating real marketing ROI from their activities. Here’s a few of their common traits:

a man lets go of birds to signify "letting go" of his outsourced marketing team.
Embracing “Letting Go”: This might sound like generic advice, or even come off as a bit off-topic…but this is the #1 thing that CMO’s, Marketing VP’s and business owners are doing to start realizing results. Things in the digital sphere move and change too fast for any one person to stay on top of them all. Even the brightest executives won’t “know” everything that’s working currently. And if they did, they can’t be expected to “do” all those things in a given day, week or month. How this shakes out is either hiring key positions internally and filling in their gaps with freelance talent, or outsourcing their marketing department to one (or several) groups that specialize in online, social, digital, paid, etc. The concept isn’t a new one, but it’s application to digital marketing teams is.

Some people need that comfort level of having a team sitting across from them every day. They thrive on having a group of marketing coordinators, graphic designers, content writers and web maintenance personnel at their disposal. Usually, their days are filled with meetings and status sessions and constant updates on what’s happening. Unfortunately, this is the very reason that they aren’t realizing ROI from their marketing. Too many salaries that are cost centers versus revenue centers. Too much time on administrative tasks and daily machinations. What works in 2017 is a lean model, where key positions are filled and then supported with the best and brightest talent possible – even when that means those support positions aren’t “on staff”.

Moving Away From Traditional Media: It’s no secret that traditional media like radio, print and T.V. are hard to track, even when layering in custom phone numbers, vanity URL’s or asking people where they heard about the business. With many B2B clients, we see this manifest in print publications, often which also have “digital components”.  They spend heavily on print publications, and also buy-up into website banner ads, email ads and other online offerings. More times than not, the return just isn’t there. But what is there is often relationships – years or even decades of working with these publications to get coverage and reach their audience. It can be tough to move away from. But compared to how that money COULD be used, it’s a sinkhole for ROI.

Service companies and local businesses often fall into the radio and newspaper trap. Same story as above…they’ve done it for years and now it’s just a “line item” that stays in place without regard to any financial return. Many companies forget to even count Yellow Pages or phone book advertising in their budget, it’s just something they do.

Television is the most expensive offender.  Even with “free” production for local television, ROI is hard. Netflix, Hulu, DVR’s and even social outlets have all cut into this medium. Even our larger clients with advertising budgets in the millions annually are scaling back on TV. There’s just too many other profitable (and measurable) outlets to use that money on. What’s working right now is mostly digital and content, with a sprinkle of traditional for support.


Emphasizing Paid Social Platforms: Marketing ROI requires metrics, no doubt. And social platforms offer great metrics for how they generate awareness, interest and visits. This isn’t about spending time posting on Facebook every day or live-tweeting from every trade show your team attends. It’s about using experts to get DEEP into Facebook ads, influencer marketing on Instagram, content marketing with LinkedIn and lifestyle marketing on Pinterest.

For B2B companies, social can feel like a waste of time. And largely – although many social media companies will argue – it is. But paid social is different. Using Facebook to target your best prospects isn’t about getting them to like your page – it’s about getting them to your site, putting killer content in front of them that persuades them to sign up for your e-newsletter, and retargeting them with additional info for months at a time.

If you have a “social media” hire that is focused on getting likes and shares from what you put on your page, chances are you’re wasting money and not getting any real ROI. But, if you have professionals that are taking your customer list and creating lookalike audiences to target specific offers to on Facebook, or using Facebook’s pixel to better understand how people use your website, or creating native video to generate a custom audience from, then you understand just how valuable these channels can be. Again, don’t get caught with having “a body” on staff tasked with doing something. Get a professional – or a team of professionals – to scale your business with paid social outlets.

Using ALL of Google’s PPC Tools: AdWords has been around for a long time. It can still be a profitable channel even when just bidding on important keywords to capture top of funnel interest. There’s so much more than that though. And companies that maximize all that Google has to offer are creating incredible ROI.

Remarketing is a big piece of this. Using the display network to retarget visitors with additional ads is key for any company, B2B, B2C or e-comm. There is marketing ROI here in many forms. View through conversions. Abandoned cart sales. Even just moving prospects further towards a purchase with additional content.

Other display options are incredible powerful as well. Many businesses are fascinated with Programmatic Advertising. Real time bidding and machine learning are great, but the up-front costs can be prohibitive (and it does take awhile for this tactic to “learn” on the fly before becoming really valuable). Google’s custom affinity audiences can generate similar results without the expensive costs. They can marry website visit history with search interest. At that intersection lies really valuable potential customers. Imagine us targeting users that visit or (Wall Street Journal) and also have searched for “advertising agencies” or “digital marketing companies”. *Hint* That’s actually one of our tactics, and although the universe of targets is not great, they are a source of very highly qualified leads for us.

Even targeting gmail users with specific ads based on the content of their emails has been profitable for our clients. This particular tactic isn’t a fit for everybody, and it isn’t terrible scalable…but it’s worth the time to implement and test, and is a key part of a “Google strategy” to generate ROI.

Let’s not pretend that all AdWords campaigns are the same either. If you don’t have highly trained professionals managing your landing page strategy, bid optimization and negative keyword list, you are leaving money on the table. This is another task that shouldn’t be “given” to someone because they handle marketing. Trained professionals will make a difference, and that’s a fact.

Marketing ROI: A strategic approach

There’s plenty of other “things” that are impacting positive ROI for any given business. Smart use of marketing automation platforms and CRM’s. Utilizing chat bots as a customer service extension for your website or social platform. Even using programmatic online behavior to target direct mail campaigns. The list goes on.

But the most successful, most profitable companies have a strategic approach to implementing their marketing, conducting their campaigns and closing the loop with prospects. That’s where we come in. Tactics without a plan is just a collection of activity. Pulling it all together into a cohesive, campaign driven digital strategy turns the whole into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

If you’re interested in getting ROI from your marketing, please contact us today.

Author Jason Keeler

Jason is a Digital Strategist and Digital Marketing Consultant. He's spent more than a decade working in Ad Agencies on businesses ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies like General Electric and U.S. Bancorp.

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