The Strongest Predictors of Marketing Success: A Massive Survey of 1,597 Marketers

What separates successful marketers from those who struggle? Have you ever wondered? Finding out is the key to effective marketing. Relying only on anecdotes isn’t effective; you need to have actual data. Today we’re going to dive deeply into the topic with Jordan Loftis, the content marketing strategist here at CoSchedule. Armed with his insights, you’ll be able to make decisions based on what really works and what doesn’t. Get ready to glean the wisdom you know to decide what to do to be most effective!

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AMP053: The Strongest Predictors Of Marketing Success: A Massive Survey Of 1,597 Marketers
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Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • What Jordan does at CoSchedule as the content marketing strategist.
  • Information about the 10x vs 10% framework and how it helps marketers prioritize what to work on next.
  • Why Jordan took on the huge project of surveying 1,600 marketers to compile a report on the state of marketing strategy, as well as some of the findings that surprised Jordan.
  • Why documentation of a marketing strategy is vital to success.
  • What Jordan found out about goal-setting when it comes to marketing, including the “trifecta” of documentation, goal-setting, and success.
  • How often the most elite marketers conduct research.
  • Jordan’s best advice for marketers: Embrace reality and learn to enjoy being proven wrong.

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Transcript:

Nathan: Ever wonder what separates successful marketers from those who struggle? Is it their marketing strategy, is it the content that they’re rocking, or is it something entirely different? Finding the answers to those questions is a cheat to effective marketing, but where should you even look for them? How do you go beyond simple anecdotes to get into data driven actions? To find out, we’re diving deep into epic original research from CoSchedule’s very own Jordan Loftis. Jordan is the content marketing strategist here at CoSchedule who focuses 100% of his time on tech growth projects.

Armed with the insights from J’s episode on The Actionable Marketing Podcast, you’re going to transform the way you make decisions based on what really works  and what doesn’t. You’ll benchmark your activities against the most successful marketers and you’re going to glean some really powerful insight to help you plan what you should start doing and stop doing immediately. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule, and now let’s jump into this conversation with Jordan.

Hey Jordan, thanks for letting me flip the mic and having you on this episode.

Jordan: Absolutely, happy to do it.

Nathan: Awesome. Jordan, tell us a little bit about what you do here at CoSchedule.

Jordan: Sure. I’m the Content Marketing Strategist here and work on the demand generation team. Our team’s main job is to create the best content on the internet, to help marketers solve problems, and just do awesome work all the time. My role looks a little different every week, but I spent most of my time working on 10X projects that really are meant to help as many people in our audience as possible, while also helping us meet our goals as fast as we can. That’s the crux of my job.

You’ll find me doing just a ton of writing, research, podcast hosting, creating video content, and of course drinking as much coffee as I can to fuel it all.

Nathan: Nice, and thanks for that. Speaking of 10X projects, can you tell me a little bit about that framework, just for anybody who’s new who might not be in the know of what that 10% versus 10X is, fill me in.

Jordan: Absolutely. It’s a framework where you look at prioritizing what you’re going to work on next, which is always a big question. There’s so many things we can work on as marketers, but what should we work on? The 10X versus 10% idea is taking on those projects that can 10X your results, or give you the most return for your effort. We like to look at them, if you imagine an XY chart, it would be high into the right. It would help a ton of people in your audience and it would also go a long way in accomplishing your marketing goals. A 10% project would be something that does a little bit for a few people but it’s not like a real game changer. That’s what I spend almost all of my time and effort focusing on, how can we be 10X with everything we do?

Nathan: Awesome. Speaking of 10X, you recently did a pretty big research project. Tell us about that.

Jordan: For sure. We just published The State Of Marketing Strategy Report which presents this original research that we did. We surveyed 1,597 pro marketers from 83 countries to find out which factors are most and least correlated with marketing success.

Nathan: That’s a huge sample. Tell me why would you do a project like that? Why is that a 10X project?

Jordan: That’s a great question, and it’s not just because I love stats so much, although I do. In my experience, a lot of marketers get a little too cozy with industry anecdotes and truisms. I’m guilty of this at times too. I think by operating by this conventional wisdom that’s not actually backed by real world data is a poor way to approach your marketing strategy. I wanted to challenge some of my hypotheses about what makes for successful marketing.

Here’s an example. How many times have you heard people say things like you need a documented marketing strategy to be successful? Then, you’ll read another article or watch another talk by some other marketing influencer and they’ll say crumple up your marketing strategy, toss it out the window, it’s a myth. You don’t need one to be successful. You’re kind of left wondering like do I actually need a strategy then? Should I bother setting goals? Do I spend time processing things out? Is there an ideal publishing frequency? All these questions start to get a little bit overwhelming and disorienting because there’s so much noise, there’s so much conflicting opinions. The varied advice we get may have been true in that particular marketer’s experience.

The person who says you don’t need a strategy to be successful because I was successful without one, that might have been true but does that mean that their experience actually scales across an entire industry? I wanted to move beyond these marketing anecdotes and find out for myself what the data is saying about success across the board.

Nathan: Yeah, and that’s an awesome point. I’ve definitely heard some of those mixed signals, the conflicting opinions. Here’s the million dollar question, what are some of the most interesting findings that you did when you conducted this research?

Jordan: There were so many surprises. A bunch of my hypotheses and guesses were actually really off base. I could yammer on all day about the entire survey but there are a few findings, there are three big ones that I think are really interesting and our listeners might find the most interesting too. The first one that blew me away is that top marketers absolutely document their marketing strategy.

Here’s the first big stat, marketers who document strategy are 538% more likely to report success than people who don’t.

Nathan: That is an insane number, 538%. Was that a surprise for you?

Jordan: Yeah, it was. I thought documentation would play some sort of role, but I didn’t think it would be so pronounced. To run through some numbers, it turned out that less than half of our marketers actually had a documented marketing strategy. I dug into those numbers a little bit. What I uncovered was a really strong and positive correlation between being successful as a marketer and documenting ur process. What this means is it’s like a signal that this is a stat that you should pay attention to. It’s statistically relevant.

We’re looking at being 5.4 times more likely to report success. Who wouldn’t want that kind of advantage? The question becomes why, why does documenting your strategy help so much? That’s where I started doing a lot more leg work, just trying to contextualize it. You can’t just have a number and then say go document strategy, you have to figure out why does this matter.

I learned about an interesting study from the Godfather of Content Marketing himself, Joe Pulizzi, he shed some light on this by talking about this study. It’s about documenting your goals, actually. There was this Dominican University study by Gail Matthews and it found—and I’m quoting this here—“People who write down their goals, review them consistently and share their goals with friends and colleagues, are 33% more likely to be successful in achieving those goals than those people who just had goals.”

In our survey, over 80% of the people work on marketing teams. We have 80% of our people who are on a team of some size. Why does this matter then? Because I think documented strategy is an engine for clear communication. When you consider that 60% of marketers who set goals also document their strategy, what you have is this recipe for a team who’s rowing in the same direction.

Now, there’s another study that was done by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory which is an awesome sounding place. I would really like to go there sometimes. This MIT Lab, they documented—it was called The Behavior of Teams that Click. They used these things that they called socio metric badges and collected data on communication behavior within teams. They literally had these badges on people and were tracking their behavior. How much they talked, how much they worked, all of these things in the real world. One of their key findings was that patterns of communication are the most important predictor of a team’s success.

When you think about marketing teams and documentation, it really helps people know where you’re going, how are you going to get there, and what part are they supposed to play in it.

Nathan: You talked a little bit about goals, I want to know a little bit more about marketing goals. Did you find anything interesting about goal setting too?

Jordan: I’m glad you asked. Yes, I did. What I found is that top marketers absolutely set goals. The ones who set goals are 429% more likely to report success than marketers who don’t set goals. About 2/3 of our marketers reported that they had some degree of success. But goal setting is where the crowds divided sharply. 7/10 of our participants said yup, we set goals. But what’s cool is that 81% of that crowd who sets goals, they also report being successful. 81% of the goal setters are also successful marketers. Like I said, successful marketers are 4.3 times more likely to set goals.

Here’s some more interesting stuff. The research shows marketers who both set goals and report marketing success actually accomplish 82% of those goals. They’re accomplishing 8/10 goals that they set. There’s a really strong correlation between these data as well.

Here’s my favorite one, though, on goal setting. It’s the trifecta, I call it. 59% of marketers who report success both set goals and have a documented strategy. There’s this really strong link between documented strategy, goal setting, and success. It’s deep and it’s too important to glance over.

Nathan: Awesome. We know goals are no joke. What’s the takeaway here?

Jordan: The key takeaway here is to set your team up for success, set goals. It’s not sexy, it’s not exciting and new, but it’s important. When you set goals, do so understanding that maintaining the status quo is risky too. If you don’t change any of your behaviors, you’re not going to change your results. You are being pretty risky if you’re not setting goals that really push your team.

Here’s another MIT study from back in the day. The whole idea of SMART goals, it came about in the 80s. There’s a reason that they get so much press. You probably heard about them before, but they’re specific, measurable, aspirational, realistic, and timely or time bound. The idea is that achieving new goals will really require new actions and new skills from your team. Old habits are going to be hard to break and new ones are going to be hard to form, especially if you have a team that’s worked together for a long time or you have an older company and you’re a little bit entrenched in the way you’re thinking.

Understanding psychology behind habit formation is going to be really helpful. Reading some books like Charles Duhigg Bad Habit Formation and I think it’s called The Power Of Habit. And then setting big goals like consider how your work needs to depart from the status quo. That’s the thing I could just say over and over, how does your activity need to depart from what you’ve been doing?

The last thing I’ll say is set the right goals by asking this simple question. If we perfected achieving this metric, could our company still go out of business? If you absolutely blew out the competition by achieving a certain metric, would it matter so much that it would be the difference maker between your company staying afloat and going under? The best KPIs are going to be married closely to your bottom line. Set those goals that are 10X multipliers of success.

Nathan: I love it. That book by Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit, we’ve all read that around CoSchedule, we absolutely, 100% love that.

You mentioned that you had three really surprising things. Give us one more, what’s one other surprising thing that you found out through your State Of Marketing Strategy Report?

Jordan: You bet. This one was close to home because it was about the correlation between success and audience research. Obviously, I was chest deep in research. I was like does this matter, or am I just assuming that it matters? I wanted to know. It turns out that top marketers absolutely conduct audience research. Successful marketers are 242% more likely to report conducting research at least once per quarter than marketers who are unsuccessful.

And then 56% of our studies, most elite marketers conduct research once or more per month. An elite marketer in our study was someone who reports that they strongly agree that their marketing is successful, they set goals, and they achieve those goals 90% to 100%+ of the time or of the KPI they were targeting. The majority of marketers, though, rarely conducted research. 65% of people said that they conduct research seldom to never, they never do it. The impact that research had on the people who did was like I said, successful marketers are 2.4 times more likely to conduct audience research at least once per quarter.

Now, stay with me, I’m going to crunch a couple more numbers. I’m going to talk to a couple more stats here.

Marketers who conduct research at least once per year or more are 303% more likely to achieve their marketing goals 80% of the time or more. And then 56% of marketers who strongly agree that their marketing is successful conduct audience research once or more per month. Pretty big indicators that audience research is a real driver of being successful.

Nathan: I love that, super interesting. Jordan, I need to know though, how should we be applying some of these insights?

Jordan: That’s a great question. For content marketers, I think the strong angle to consider is that using audience research is awesome to create user personas. Another study I came across was from Cision. They did a study on how well audience personas work, and here I’m reading this from them, I’m quoting them, they said, “Companies who meet or exceed revenue goals are 2.4 times as likely to be effective or very effective at using personas than those who miss their revenue goals.”

This closely pairs with our findings. To create the right kind of content, I think you need to deeply understand your audience. Research is a prime way to do that. Ultimately, you can’t just create awesome content that you think is better than your competition’s content, you got to create the right kind of awesome content. For a content marketer, audience research should absolutely be the rocket fuel to your marketing ship.

Nathan: Yeah, I really like the idea there that our findings basically say the exact same thing with a different study with the 2.4 times more likely to be successful from [00:18:52]. That’s super interesting.

Jordan: Isn’t that crazy? The numbers were almost right on the head. I thought that was another indicator that this is really important stuff and it’s true. It’s not just true because we say it is, it’s true because our numbers show it, and their numbers show it.

Nathan: Awesome, Jordan. Let’s wrap this up, what do I need to do now to implement this advice?

Jordan: The biggest recommendation I can make is embrace reality and learn to enjoy being proven wrong. That might sound really weird, and I have found though that it was actually pretty exciting to find out that something I had held as true was actually false. You’re seeing how things really work. I think embracing reality and then getting excited when you learn that you were wrong about something is the best mindset to have for a modern marketer.  

Also, I’m going to take some heat for publishing some of these findings and sticking to the data too. I’ve already gotten some pushback from people about there being virtually no correlation between perceived content quality and success, or publishing frequency and success. This is all in this report. You can read about it, but the data is just not there. We’re questioning these entrenched views. When you do that, you’re going to ruffle feathers. But in the long run, I think the most effective marketers are going to be the ones who are willing to make decisions and strategies based on evidence rather than what is comfortable.

Nathan: Yeah Jordan, I love that and I think it goes into a framework that we say all the time at CoSchedule when you’re proven wrong which is fail fast, fail fast and move forward, use that knowledge to improve what you’re doing.

Jordan, with that, I want to say thanks a lot for letting me turn the tables on you and for being on this episode.

Jordan: My pleasure. I am nothing if not a fast failer. Thanks for having me on.