Smarter ways to evaluate your marketing channels
Do you have content problem, or channel problem?
Hey 👋 I’m Evan. Once in a while, I attempt to document my learnings in the intersection of growth, marketing, and career 🔥. If you are a first-time visitor, here’s what you missed:
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Q: I’ve been promoting my products on socials, trying out different types of content. Yet, there’s no conversion. What am I doing wrong?
I’ve seen this type of question being raised by many marketers over the years, fresh-grads or senior folks. Often times, people have the tendency to over-optimize content — how to make a content more engaging, how to create a 2-way interactions with the audience, how to create a content that people find useful, or what’s the optimum video format/duration. All of that are good and you should definitely do that. But that’s often misguided.
It’s very rare where social metrics is a good predictor of how well a company does its business. Your followers and engagements can improve dramatically, but that doesn’t mean it’s followed by an increase in sales.
If that’s the case, you probably don’t have a content problem. Your organization might have channel problem. Another sign where you might have a channel problem is when you’re not sure what role each channel plays in your overall acquisition / engagement strategy.
Below I’ll share a framework that I learned from Reforge to help you understand your marketing channels better. A bit of Super bowl ad: Reforge is the most life-changing course I’ve ever taken and I strongly suggest you to apply if you can afford it. They cover plenty of topics ranging from product, growth, data, and marketing.
Disclaimer: This is not an exact copy of Reforge’s frameworks, but rather a simplified version that I often use and still does the job. In each breakdown below, I also added some practical tips from my own trial-and-errors to help you put this framework to use right away.
Broadly, when I evaluate a marketing channel, there are seven components to look at:
📊 Level of intent
⬆️ Growth lever
😰 Effort level
⏳ Time to impact
1. Channel-fit 📑
(Good fit / Medium fit / Bad fit)
Assessing a channel-fit is about understanding the relationship between a marketing channel, your target audience, and your product’s use case. For example, people go to TikTok to consume short content. Promoting products with very low barrier to use and USPs that are easy to recall on TikTok is dramatically easier than a high-involvement product like house mortgages.
Three steps you can do to assess channel-fit:
Define your ideal target audience — Who are the people who might have your target use case? Are they on that channel?
Observe what this target audience does — What do they do on that channel? Why do they open that platform? Who do they follow?
Form an opinion — Given what you know from the 2 previous bullet points, is there a fit on that channel? Why?
2. Level of intent 📊
(High intent / Medium intent / Low intent)
Understanding a channel’s fit helps you gauge how likely your target audience in certain platform are to learn and accept your product (level of intent).
There are three ways to gauge the intent level of your target audience in a channel:
How your content is being discovered: Do people come across your brand through organic content? Do they come from influencer marketing? Digital ads?
Context-switching level: Your target audience use different platforms for various reasons: to get entertained, catch up with friends, learn something, or look for certain topics.
Your product’s commitment level: Buying a skincare product requires a much lower commitment than buying a learning course, even if the cost for both are roughly the same. How high or low the barrier or the commitment to use your product is will also impact the target audience’s intent level.
3. Growth lever ⬆️
(Acquisition / Retention / Monetization)
Every marketing channel impacts at least one of the 3 growth levers: acquisition, retention, and monetization. For those that are unfamiliar, identifying which growth aspects can be quite confusing. Some channels are quite obvious, where other channels are more ambiguous.
Here are some tips from me:
One channel can impact more than one growth lever — For a marketplace, website will have a huge impact on acquisition, retention, and monetization. For sports brand, TV advertising will impact acquisition and retention.
A channel can impact different growth aspects for different companies — For example: Instagram for fast fashion brand is suitable for monetization and acquisition. For luxury sport car manufacturers, Instagram might be more suitable for engagement with the community (retention).
Don’t overthink. When you try to do this exercise for the first time, it’s easy to overthink. You might think that TikTok is good for acquisition, but then you try to think of edge case where it might be useful for retention and monetization as well. My suggestion is to not overthink it and just write all 3. Usually, once I evaluate all channels, I can have a helicopter view comparing it with other channels, and then make the adjustment (either adding something or eliminating it).
Why this is important: Understanding how each channel drives your growth lever allows you to identify blind spots in your channel portfolio. You will instantly know if you’ve been investing too much in acquisition channels and haven’t given monetization channels enough love. You will notice at glance if you have too many / too few channels for a certain growth lever.
4. Scale ⚖️
(Large scale / medium scale / low scale)
Assessing a channel’s scale is pretty straight-forward. How many of your target users that you can expect to reach in that channel?
5. Potential 📈
(Huge potential / medium potential / low potential)
Is the channel growing fast? Has it hit a plateau? How fierce is the competition in that channel? If you want to deploy ads, how much bidding price you can tolerate?
When assessing a channel’s potential, most marketers just consider the sheer addressable market size. The thinking goes like this — If many of our target users are in that platform, then we should double down on that channel. It’s the reason why a lot of brands have certain bias to prioritize Instagram in their social strategy (I, too, was guilty of this).
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are other factors when assessing a channel’s potential (and the likelihood of success):
The platform growth: Is the channel still growing in terms of number of users that are our target audience?
Competition: Who are our competitors in that channel? Are they already investing big there?
6. Level of effort 😰
(High effort / medium effort / low effort)
As much as we want to manage all channels to squeeze the most value, it’s simply not feasible. Especially when we need to move fast. When assessing efforts, you can use the classical triple-constraint components: time, energy, and money.
Usually you will find that a channel might require high efforts at the beginning of its life but super easy to manage once it’s live. One example of this is website. For other channels, the reverse might be true (Instagram).
In the original Reforge’s channel evaluation framework, one thing you can do for such cases is to classify efforts into 2 different categories:
Effort to start — how much resource goes at the start of a channel’s lifecycle?
Effort to maintain — how much resource goes into maintaining a channel?
7. Time to impact ⏳
(Long-term / medium-term / short-term)
Time to impact means how long it will take for the average audience in that channel from seeing about your product for the first time until s/he converts / becomes a paid user. This aspect is highly correlated with level of intent.
Some common examples:
Instagram’s time to impact for beauty brands is generally short — 1) Brands can release their catalogues on Instagram shop, 2) The price point is relatively cheap, 3) Skincare is not a high-commitment product (low barrier)
Instagram’s time to impact for MOOC is long — 1) Nobody surfs Instagram to look for an online course, 2) Online course requires commitment, 3) Potential participants want to know more about the institution and its tutors.
Why this is important: Among numerous reasons, assessing time to impact is important to manage execs’ expectation on how a certain channel performs and how it will be assessed. When your CEO says "evaluating a channel investment”, it actually means evaluating a channel’s short-term performance.
8. Measurability 📏
(High measurability / medium measurability / low measurability)
One last component to complete your channel evaluation is to understand the measurability of a channel. Measurability simply indicates how detailed you will be able to track the result of your initiatives and efforts. It also means that measurability should be highly personalized according to your product’s needs.
For example, a brand that leverages TikTok Ads for acquisition might find its measurability as high since we can know for sure how many users that are acquired due to TikTok Ads. We also know who these users are (by connecting our app with MMP tools like Branch and Appsflyer).
The same can’t be said for those who wish to use TikTok (organic, no ads) to drive engagement / product activation, solely due to how limited the amount of trackable data that would be useful for us. Followers, likes, and ER are poor predictors of what actually happens in a product.
Knowing the measurability of every channel helps you decide your social strategy, your annual budget, and your experimentation plan. Obviously, you don’t want to experiment on a platform that doesn’t offer you a way to track incremental effect of an experiment.
How to tell if you’re doing it right ✅
Evaluating your marketing channels requires constant efforts and multiple trial-errors. But with enough hours and commitment, you should be able to:
Bring more clarity to your team and allow them to operate faster now that everyone is in complete alignment about the overall strategy
Clearly define the key metrics for each channel (putting less focus on vanity-yet-overused metrics and more on numbers that actually mean something)
Contribute more unique insights to the team, given your deepened understanding of your overall channel portfolio and its landscape
Have an easier time to decide which channel to invest on (prioritization) and convince others why those channels are worth investing
Bravely take more calculated-risks to explore new channels, given that you are well aware of the constraint of each channel
Gain trusts and buy-ins from the execs since you prove to be capable of thinking one step ahead
After reading this, I hope that you decide to do a proper evaluation on your channels. I have Reforge’s Marketing strategy course to thank for this valuable frameworks and my wish in sharing this is that you will find these useful for you as it did for me.
Once again, I strongly recommend you to apply to Reforge if you want to level up and learn from some of the world’s smartest minds in product, growth, and marketing 🔥.
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