Measure Marketing Campaign ROI in 2024

Calculating marketing campaign ROI in 2024 is simple.

Measuring marketing campaign ROI in 2024 is supremely difficult.

Maximizing marketing campaign ROI in 2024 is the worthiest of goals.

I riffed on this while helping out a fellow marketer who posed this question on Quora. Here I’ll go into more detail.

Defining ROI

ROI is a simple ratio of two numbers:

profit from an investment divided by the cost of that investment.

Measuring the cost, investment and profit numbers mentioned above is what makes this hard.


Measuring The Inputs to Marketing Campaign ROI

Let’s start with costs of a marketing campaign. There are the direct costs, for example media buys. But there are lots of indirect costs: labor to create the campaign, sales effort to manage the account and win the deal are examples. And what if a buyer responds to 3 different marketing campaigns before purchasing? Which campaign gets the “profit” credit (this is a complex topic of its own called marketing attribution). And then frequently marketing spend has impact, but can’t be directly traced back to a particular campaign or tactic.

Now onto investments. This one is even more fraught with nuance. How do you allocate costs like brand value, website maintenance, a global dealer network.

And finally profit. Are any marketing campaigns profitable in their own right? Not directly. It takes a company to satisfy a customer need and for profits to appear on a P&L statement.

Am I going to throw my hands up and walk away from measuring marketing impact or ROI? No way!

It is important to measure the economic impact of marketing. Measurement and calculation of each experiment can be normalized and compared. And when compared, interesting trends that can improve future campaign performance (in other words, ROI improvement) appear.

Towards Usable Marketing Campaign ROI Metrics

Each marketing tactic is measurable in many ways:

  • Cycle time (from idea to execution)
  • Direct costs
  • Number of impressions
  • Number of conversions
  • Differential outcomes (A/B test results)

There’s more, but let me move on.

If you have a set of hard numbers for each campaign you run and then run 30 variants of campaigns all targeting your desired “conversion outcome”, you can get some interesting performance metrics around Direct Costs and Outcomes (conversions or purchases).

The job of each campaign manager on the team is to maximize the results from the campaigns they run and to improve the productivity of the spend under their direction.

ROI Improvement As A Marketing Productivity Metric

Let me drill into improving productivity. Say you are an email marketer. You have campaigns targeting C-level executives, Buyers and Developers. You should report on the performance of each segment and make assertions about marginal improvements for future campaigns targeting those segments.

Say you’re an event marketer and you attended 3 trade shows that quarter. You should be able to rank the performance of each audience/region/industry targeted, and use that information to make plans for future quarters and to inform the CMO-level investments in industry penetration and brand spend.

My belief is you should calculate the direct cost ROI of every campaign: ads, trade shows, emails, telemarketing. The goal of a marketing campaign manager is to both grow the number of conversions and do whats possible to get more in-target conversions at lower marginal cost. So that’s how you use ROI in marketing. Not to solve the problem of the ages, but to make the process more productive with each turn of the crank. That’s how you maximize marketing campaign ROI.

One Last Thing: Statistical Significance

One caveat to what I’ve stated above: statistically valid sample sizes. Typically campaigns focus on reasonably small segments and short timeframes. Be careful about making strategic changes with only a few data points. Be familiar with the way conversions are trending and devise experiments and execute improvements towards gaining more conversions. Share your data with managers and executive along with your recommendations about what to try next. Give your executives the information they need to plan for the future as you march toward statistically valid and data-driven decision-making.

Demand Generation Best Practices Aren’t About Digging Deeper

It’s 2016 and the current debate about marketing tactics in Silicon Valley resembles the tactics for farming crops in the increasingly parched San Joaquin Valley. Let me rant a little and explain.

I just got out of a long meeting. A meeting that many marketers have every quarter. The topic: what campaigns and spend levels do we need to hit this quarter’s lead quota. These meetings are incredibly important, but today’s meeting turned in a less useful direction when the focus switched to which tactical “best practices”  to use in the upcoming quarter.

digging deeper wells

Photo Source: Rakshith M Gowda. Shared via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This unfortunate turn in a marketing meeting led me to draw an analogy with California’s current, and historic, drought.

“Digging Deeper Wells” Isn’t a Marketing Best Practice

With California farmers not getting enough surface water for their thirsty crops, they’ve turned to digging wells. Farming, you see, has exactly two sources of water: surface water (rain, reservoirs and snow melt) and ground water (digging wells). They can’t control rain, but they can invest in wells. So they dig. 20 years ago they might have dug a few hundred feet. Today they are digging a few thousand feet. And so goes the discussion amongst farmers: tactics, timing, ROI and viability of digging deeper wells.

The “digging deeper wells” analogy is relevant to marketing spending because fresh leads are getting tougher and tougher to find. Organic—the surface water of B2B marketing—is the preferred source of leads, but few organizations generate enough organic leads to meet their growth objectives. So they hire marketers and allocate budgets for lead generation. The ask: create the campaign equivalent of digging well water. The budget is set by how deep the hole needs to be to hit water.

Herein lies the problem. Instead of building demand generation engines based on innovation, many marketers simply recycle and reuse demand generation tactics from the recent past: purchase yet another compiled email list, send yet another nurture email to the marketing database, launch yet another Google AdWords campaign, host yet another webinar, and set up yet another gated white paper. Yes, these tactics continue to work. But they are no where near as efficient in 2016 as they were in 2009.

Demand Generation Best Practices: Build for the Future Instead of Replicating the Past

Unlike the exactly two options available to farmers seeking water for their crops, marketers have nearly unlimited options for building future-oriented demand generation success. As a professional marketer my value is from strategizing, executing and measuring demand generation programs that are relevant to today’s target buyers and that will likely out-perform tactics from five years ago.

So instead of just re-allocating larger spends across traditional SEM and content tactics, I suggest marketers build fresh new plans based on projections for the competitive climate, projected company differentiation and latest assessment of target buyers. In other words, instead of defaulting to digging deeper wells, it is very possible for B2B marketers to find fresh sources of water by looking for buyers in fresh locations. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Revisit your target personas, segments and use cases—does your recent product release have new differentiated features or appeal to new buyers? Can you re-segment your existing database? Can you find new and different target lists? Tap into the green fields with your new campaigns.
  • Partner with sales on a target account strategy—here’s an opportunity to proactively reach out to your sales team: offer to provide augmented contact info for, say, five specific job titles at a handful of target accounts. To benefit from this offer, each representative needs to provide the specific account names for research. And together you are building personalized emails and talk tracks to earn meetings and win deals.
  • Find fertile activity patterns in web visitor behavior—still using point based lead scoring? Stop. It never worked and there are better approaches like predictive lead scoring. Even if you can’t invest in fancy predictive lead scoring solutions this quarter, you can start doing the analysis toward identifying sales-ready buyers. Explore the behavior of every user with > 5 visits in the past 90 days. Explore the behavior of every user who has an email address associated with a forecasted deal. Build charts of the findings, share the details with your extended go-to-market-team … and start using those findings to define sales-readiness.
  • Look for “first time” events and partnerships—think you have to be at the largest trade show in your industry with a major presence? Don’t make this an either-or decision. The cost of participation in hyper-targeted shows will be less that for the mega-events, and you’ll have less competition for buyers’ eyes.
  • Switch it up with your pre-paid channels—you probably have an existing multi-quarter media buy in place. How about making experimental changes to your ads, landing pages and assets and perhaps even the target audience within the publishers’ site/publication portfolio.

These are just a few of the ways you can get away from drilling deeper wells and the associated diminishing returns. There are many, many, many others.

Embrace Strategic Demand Generation Best Practices

The best practices from five years ago aren’t the campaign tactics. It’s the relentless focus on relevance, measurement and data. As you move forward apply what you’ve learned from:

Predictive analytics brings data to marketing decision-making.

Predictive analytics enhances marketing decision-making.

  • Being relevant, helpful and targeted—are you still promoting that allegedly evergreen white paper from 2014? If the content is still good, make it great with a modest refresh. Update the trend data, add fresh quotes from customers and analysts, insert new use cases and correct your boilerplate. Even evergreen content needs a bit of pruning and fertilizer. If the people in your marketing database trust you, they’ll quickly jump at an updated white paper from you—which is yet another reason to reopen a dialog. And new prospects will reach out for the new and timely information you’re providing.
  • Measuring everything—if you’ve set up your infrastructure correctly, this is free. You’ll be able to compare different channels, classes of offers and campaigns against your benchmarks. Once you have a meaningful engagement sample, you can compare new programs against historical success.
  • Listening to your data … and customers—in 2016, data has earned a seat at the table for campaign success decision-making. Bring it to your meetings. Discuss what it means. And absolutely use data to challenge ingrained assumptions on the team. If you don’t have a large enough sample size for statistically significant findings, bring qualitative feedback (from prospects, buyers and customers, not employees) on the utility of the campaign asset.
  • Taking smart risks—don’t be afraid if a great campaign effort doesn’t generate lots and lots of leads. Reduce risk from any single campaign by having a portfolio of campaigns running concurrently. That way every campaign is a success if you have data for improving decisions about future campaigns. With multiple campaigns you can act like a portfolio manager and not a water-hungry farmer: cancel the clearly ineffective campaigns quickly, double-down on the clearly effective campaigns, and iterate and improve those that have unfulfilled potential.

In summary, the best practices from the digital era are a refreshed point of view on campaign strategy, more than deeper reliance on going back to the well with specific campaign tactics.

What Do You Think?

Look at your plan for next quarter. Do you stand a better chance of winning by writing your own 2016 playbook or following legacy demand generation best practice of digging deeper wells?


Affiliate Marketing for B2B Publishers

It’s time to shake it up again at “Bill Freedman’s Soon to be a Major Trend.” I’m going to start experimenting with Affiliate Marketing links. In this post we’ll take a look at the Affiliate Marketing players, the transactions and the industry dynamics. And we’ll explore my first foray into Affiliate Marketing featuring DreamHost, my web hosting provider for over a decade.

The main purpose of this web site is to share perspectives on B2B marketing. But it’s also a site where I experiment with new technologies and tactics. Experimenting with Affiliate Marketing is consistent with the blog’s charter, so let’s dig in!

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing is hardly a new topic, but it is new to this site and is easy Understanding data with machine learning. It is a form of performance marketing that rewards “affiliates” for promoting third-party products to their audience.

Let’s dig deeper, starting with the cast of characters in a web-based affiliate marketing program and then digging into the transaction details.

The Affiliate Marketing Cast of Characters

  • Brand – This is the organization that provides rewards in exchange for sourcing new customers
  • Publisher – This is “the affiliate” or organization that publishes and promotes links to the brand’s web site and purchasable products
  • Customer – The is the publisher’s audience who ultimately buy products on the Brand’s web site.
  • Affiliate Network – The Affiliate Network acts as a broker between the Brand and Publisher. It provides infrastructure and services like account portals, metrics, links, etc. that make it easier for brands to attract Publishers, and for Publishers to share affiliate offers on behalf of the Brand. Amazon Associates is an example of an Affiliate Network.

The Affiliate Marketing Transaction Flow

The actions taken by the Customer, Publisher, Brand and Affiliate Network are outlined in the diagram below.

affiliate marketing transaction flow

Affiliate marketing transaction flow.

The Publisher attracts Customers to their web site, typically through valuable content. Only when the Customer buys a product does the affiliate marketing transaction flow take effect. Affiliate marketing programs rarely compensate for impressions or even clicks. As a result, the Publisher is typically rewarded in the form of high Commissions for Buy transactions, especially compared with cost per impression or cost per click compensation schemes. In many situations, the Affiliate Network facilitates setting up the relationship between Brand and Publisher and is the clearing house for metrics and payments. Larger Brands may run programs without an Affiliate Network intermediary.

Setting up an Affiliate Marketing program makes sense for Brands that seek an incremental method to extend their distribution reach via trusted partnerships. Participating in affiliate marketing programs make sense if the Publisher is confident they can drive purchases and earn commissions.

Before You Begin with Affiliate Marketing …

It seems easy and low risk to join the affiliate economy. As with many things the model makes sense but reality can be very different. I have three pieces of advice for anyone looking to join an Affiliate Marketing program:

  1. First, build an audience. Without an audience and web traffic, it’s pretty tough to convert affiliate links into cash. So focus first on your audience by creating assets–content–that they value. Yes, you can deploy affiliate links starting on day one, but your ultimate affiliate marketing strategy may evolve as your audience evolves.
  2. Keep it relevant. Affiliate ads pay per action, which means that you get paid only when readers click on the ad and make a purchase. The more relevant the offer/link is to your site content, the higher the likelihood visitors will click on the ad and perform the desired action. If visitors don’t purchase, it is a win for the vendor (through their branded link or ad), but not for the Publisher.
  3. Assess each program’s value. There are lots of Brands offering affiliate programs, but not all affiliate programs are created equally. Read the fine print and make sure the compensation from the Brand is a fair exchange for promoting their products through your web site.
  4. Integrate offers wisely. Use site design to balance the core content with affiliate and other offers. Skew too far toward affiliate offers and your site looks like a NASCAR race car. Skew to far to content and you’re missing monetization opportunities. Use experiments wisely to find the optimal mix … but do it in a way that doesn’t ever scare away readers.
  5. Keep your “SEO Juice” to yourself. When adding affiliate links to your site, make sure to include rel=“nofollow” in the link tag. That way search engines will not automatically confer domain authority to the affiliate. You may also check out here the best website designs of 2022 according to WebCitz.

I’ve used DreamHost shared hosting since 2003. I’ve grown up with them. I’ve enjoyed extremely high service levels and I’ve even stayed with them through some ugly outages (they’re ancient history now). While you can always find a cheaper hosting provider in this highly competitive (dare I say cut-throat) business, DreamHost has earned my loyalty. DreamHost’s core shared hosting service is competitively priced, includes unlimited storage and bandwidth, includes a parade of new feature releases every month and is backed by honest and transparent customer service.

They’ve also offered an affiliate program forever. I’m just taking advantage of promoting in on my blog now.

Affiliate Marketing link: DreamHost Web Hosting

Sponsored Ad: Dreamhost (I am compensated if you register using this link. Thank you!)

My motivation is two fold. First, I want to understand how the Publisher side of affiliate marketing programs work. I’ve offered Google AdSense for some time on this blog (and made a modest return from it). Now I’d like to learn about another blog monetization channel. Second, I want the coin. Yes, I expect to profit from including DreamHost affiliate links on my site.

Click here (affiliate link) to sign up for DreamHost’s truly great shared hosting service.

Getty Images New Embedding Policy: I’m Excited!

I’m pretty good at stringing together some words to tell a story. Images? I’m not as good at creating those. I like images a lot which is why I’m excited about Getty Images announcement that it’s allowing bloggers and social media users to embed selected Getty Images at no charge.

Images improve stories. They add texture and dimension. They set a mood. And images get into the reader’s brain more quickly than words.

Getty Images Library is huge and spans a range of topics, events, people, places, emotions and situations. So when I’m looking to emphasize an idea, I now have ready access to a large set of visual messages that can be embedded without having to either consult a lawyer or open a wallet.

I sense this is good business for Getty Images, too. It’s safe to say this policy change will drive more people to their site.  Like most good marketers Getty Images is confident that they can convert visitors into customers. And if they are good modern marketers, they have a predictive model in place that helps them reliably forecast a rosier future.

Remember, the agreement allows you to embed images only. No derivative works. No customization. No mash-ups. No white label. No offline use. For those you need to license images.

Getty Images: New Tool, Not a Replacement for Custom Design

As excited as I am about Getty Images new embedding policy, I’m still improving my visual design skills, taking more photographs and keeping my licenses for Sketch and Pixelmator. There just are too many times when only a custom image will do. A few examples:

  • Fact-based charts
  • Gradient backgrounds
  • Icons
  • Specialized items like email headers
  • Presentation slides
  • Search Engine Optimization (image “alt” tags)

… and much much more.

Today, however, is a day to be joyful about the new possibilities. My keyword searches have found many spectacular images. I feel like a kid excited about the future.

Why Sales and Marketing Processes and Terminology Matter

A short and simple question on Quora captures the essence of why it’s so hard to automate sales and marketing processes:

How can the relationship between leads, accounts, contacts and opportunities be simplified in a CRM/Sales application?

My initial answer is on Quora and is worth reading. Here in the blog, however, I’m going to expand on why sales and marketing processes and terminology matter.

Sales and Marketing is a Team Sport

marketing processes and sales teamwork

Sales and marketing benefits from teamwork

This may seem obvious, but we all know there are mavericks in both marketing and sales. How many marketing campaigns were launched to prospects before sales was trained or even saw the materials?  How many rainmakers (or floundering reps who think they are rainmakers) don’t log their calls in the CRM or keep their forecasts accurate? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be room for individuality, experiments or process refinements. What I am saying is that outcomes are more predictable and jobs go more smoothly if there is agreement and coordination between marketing and sales teams.

Just like in football, business teams need game plans, play books and trust in one another. Sales and marketing teams are no exception. But unlike football, business game plans, play books and even terminology are sufficiently different across companies to cause problems.

Common Terms Have Different Meanings

What is a “lead?: An “opportunity?” Ask people in different roles and you’ll likely get different answers. And to make matters worse, throw in the automation vendor’s proprietary terms and confusion multiplies. Here’s what I mean:

Term Generic Marketing Generic Sales
Lead Any contactable person A person or database record with the following:

  • Name, title, phone number and email
  • Confirmed interested in our products
  • Has budget, authority, clear need and a decision timeline.
Leads are prospects or potential opportunities stored in the “Lead” object.
Opportunity Any person who has shown interest in buying our products. A sales transaction that ready to be forecasted and shared with management. Opportunities are the sales and pending deals that you want to track in the “Opportunities” object.

Agreement is better than diversity when it comes to terminology. Even so, I’ve never worked with an organization that would have achieved success using any of the above definitions. The marketing definitions are often too broad. the sales definitions are too precise. And the software definition is focused on how many rows are in a particular table.

Yes the definitions I’ve shared are cliches, but they confirm the key point. Consistency across sales and marketing processes and terminology is crucial. It ensures that marketing draws the right people to your web site and passes the right people on to sales. It ensures that a marketing lead is worthy of sales follow-up. It ensures that a opportunity is qualified before receiving precious corporate resources. It allows management to examine and approve putting resources on opportunities that are outside the sweet spot. And most importantly, it enables accurate reporting on revenue and identification of impending problems.

Measurement Requires Precision … and Consistency

precision improves marketing processes

Precise reports are usable reports.

We rely on automation software to produce reports. For the reports to be useful, however, sales and marketing need to agree on definitions and follow processes based on those definitions. For example, a person who enters the lead database as part of an acquired list is valuable, but isn’t a “sales-ready lead” at the moment of import. Many companies forecast how many “sales-ready leads” are needed to fill the pipeline in a period. If there isn’t agreement on the definition of “sales-ready lead,” marketing, sales and executives will have trouble planning. Thinking of merchandising is important, building eye-catching displays that attract potential buyers, and using signage to provide pricing and other product information, all of this to increase the sales.

Complicated? You bet! But as I mentioned in my Quora response, it’s complicated because it’s valuable, important and core to your business success.

In this case you can’t eliminate the complexity, but you can make it approachable and understandable to all constituents. Here are some things you can do to help your team embrace the corporate process and terminology:

  • Publish a glossary/cheat sheet of terms
  • Create a process flow diagram
  • Present, rather than distribute, reports until you have both buy-in and understanding of the sales and marketing processes and terminology 
  • Meet regularly with stakeholders and share the detail every time

Now it’s your turn. Reflect on the sales and marketing processes and terminology in your organization. Is it complicated? Is it broadly understood? Do you have any thoughts on how to improve acceptance? Please share below.

The Full List: 23 Varieties of Successful Web Conversion Offers

Your website should deliver your highest value and lowest cost business leads. People who find your site are interested in your business. People who stay on your site are engaged and developing trust. People who fill out a form on your site, sharing their contact information in exchange for something of value, are gold.

Web Conversion Offers

To mine gold, your web site needs to offer two things:

  • One or more registration forms
  • Relevant content that visitors want

Below is the full list of 23 successful web conversion offers, sorted by category:

Information Downloads

  1. White papers
  2. Tip sheets
  3. Software
  4. Apps


  1. Webinar sign-up
  2. Cloud account on your site
  3. Trial request


  1. ROI calculator
  2. Webinar attendance
  3. Meet-up attendance
  4. Hack-a-thons
  5. Software usage


  1. Newsletter signup
  2. Mailing list signup
  3. Blog or podcast RSS subscription
  4. Social media “like,” “follow” or “channel subscription”


  1. Contact us
  2. Request a demo
  3. Meeting request
  4. Free consultation
  5. Contest entry
  6. Claim a discount
  7. Inbound call to sales

Picking offers for your business is a very important decision and should flow naturally from your marketing strategy. One size doesn’t fit all. A free trial may make sense for a software developer but not for a business decision-maker. Make sure you have content for all potential buyers.

Keep one more thing in mind: conversions happen in the buyer’s mind and only gets measured on your web site. To earn a conversion, you first need to prove that your business is trustworthy, honest and helpful.

What’s Not on the Web Conversion Offers List

The following types of helpful web content are not listed as conversion offers because it should just be freely available. Somethings, even some valuable things, you just need to share freely. Make the following content freely available to inform, engage and build customer trust:

  1. Product specs and data sheets
  2. Announcements and press releases
  3. Customer success stories
  4. Endorsements
  5. Infographics
  6. Sizzle videos

Are you using other types web conversion offers to generate leads? Share below!