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Um, the ROI of Marketing?

I once interviewed at Joe’s startup. He asked me to “write a half page on the ROI of hiring someone like you to do marketing.” (Specifically, the aspects of marketing they’d want me to focus on were PR, social media (including community), web, content, and communications.) Joe, who recognizes the need for a full-time person dedicated to marketing activities, wanted something to bring to his CEO to justify the need for another body in the office and suckler on the company payroll. I thought this was a fair request as start-up resources can be tight and bootstrapping necessitates squeezing soup from stones.

When I started looking into it, I discovered it wasn’t so easy to crack the ROI nut. Apparently it’s a hot topic. Folks are debating which algorithms to use, what formulas are antiquated, the best tools for tracking and analyzing, which platforms to leverage for which audiences, the best indicators to track…. They are swapping stories and sharing case studies. It’s a lot to dig through and piece together some sort of coherent generalized idea.

How far do your Marketing dollars go?

Ultimately, lacking more info about Joe’s company and any concrete methodologies or figures from my online searches about ROI, I sent him the following.

I’ve been doing some research on the “marketing ROI” topic. Without knowing more about your company’s KPIs, it’s hard for me to really determine ROI of hiring a person like me. That said, here are some things to consider:


In many ways PR can be high-touch. It requires a lot of time-consuming outreach and relationship building with media outlets. On the plus side, PR can result in broad and quick recognition and may be easier to track and analyze than other marketing activities. However, it requires someone to be dedicated to this discipline and regularly plan, execute, and analyze campaigns.

Marketing Content & Communications

I can assure you that your company needs quality content. Be it blog posts, email copy, social media responses and updates, marketing collateral—you can’t run a business without it in this era. Furthermore, the content needs to convey consistent messaging and be audience oriented (i.e., different topics and voice for partners vs consumers). It also needs to be well written in terms of grammar/language mechanics and semantics/word choice. Again, it requires someone with the right skill set to focus on this.

Web / Social Media

Web and social media are platforms for conveying PR campaigns and content. For the most part, ROI for social media is hard to define and track. However, it’s one of those need-to-have facets of any comprehensive, integrated marketing program. At minimum, it boosts brand and yields higher quality leads/customers and usually lowers costs associated with product launches, customer service and support, etc.

So, to sum it up, you need to think of marketing spend in two ways: partly as an investment and partly as a cost of doing business.

  1. On the investment side, you’re fortifying your brand, building an engaged and mobilized community, expanding your reach, amplifying traffic, and so on. Your dollars are going toward building for longevity.

  2. From the cost of doing business perspective, the minimum bar has been raised. Without social, PR, content, etc. (aka a comprehensive and integrated marketing stack), you are losing existing and prospective customers and partners.

Once marketing goals are set, benchmarks can be determined and progress/productivity of the marketing budget (e.g., ROI) can be measured. And, you need someone to be doing all these tasks on a regular basis for it to be meaningful and worthwhile.

For whatever reason, I didn't end up getting that job. But, this is such a critical business concept for folks at all levels and in all roles to consider. Everyone needs to understand how they add value and why their function is important. I think more successful people lift their faces from the page (ok, screen) to see the broader picture of how all the disparate pieces fit together, and how every one of us can make the business (or project, organization, process, etc.) run better.

What are your thoughts on the subject of marketing ROI? Or the ROI of any sub-component, like social media? Do you have any other info I could have included? How do you determine your marketing ROI? Is there a difference to establishing marketing ROI for B2B vs B2C?


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