In 2014, a viral video depicted a scene that would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t been so sobering. It started with bystanders attempting to save a winter sledder, who had broken through the ice of a California lake. The rescue was so badly botched, that in the end, 11 more people had to be pulled from the freezing water.
Have you ever seen this kind of thing happen to a business? I have.
If you’re like many businesses, you may feel like you are constantly treading water in a freezing lake. You’re just a few moments from going under, but there’s hope. All you have to do is get a solid online marketing campaign up and your business will be saved, right?
Online marketing certainly has the potential to save your company, but if you invest in the wrong channel, your marketing spend will be less like a life jacket and more like a cannon on your bootstraps. But unlike sledders swimming in an icy lake, many companies can’t tell whether their marketing efforts are pulling them to shore or pulling them under.
Fortunately, if you’re wondering whether or not a particular marketing channel is helping or hurting your business, I’ve got three words for you: Contribution margin ratio.
Crunch the numbers
Ok, I’ll admit those are probably not the three sexiest words I’ve ever strung together. They’re accounting words, and it’s unlikely that you were drawn to business by the glowing prospect of crunching numbers. But what if I told you a little number crunching could save your business? Trust me, it could.
Luckily, the equation for calculating contribution margin is a cinch.
In accounting terms, contribution margin ratio (CMR) equals sales divided by variable costs. In plainer language, it’s what you made from sales divided by how much you spent on marketing and fulfillment.
Calculating Contribution Margin Ratio
Essentially, variable costs are company expenses that increase as sales increase. There are certain costs that come with fulfilling a sale – things like manufacturing, packaging and shipping. These are your variable costs.
On the other hand, as you spend more on marketing, the more sales you make, at least theoretically.
Unfortunately, if your marketing stinks, then you won’t generate enough revenue from sales to make the investment worthwhile. So how do you know whether a particular marketing channel is helping or hurting your business? Well, let’s calculate a CMR for your marketing.
Marketing Contribution Margin Ratio
So, if you spend $1,000 on marketing, and make $500 in sales, your marketing CMR is 0.5. If you spend $1,000 and make $10,000, your CMR is 10.
Obviously, bigger is better, but how big is big enough?
In my experience, a CMR of three is enough to break even. Above a three, you’re making money. Below it, you’re losing money.
Related: Target Your Market… Or Die
What does this look like in real life?
In case this is all seems a little abstract, let’s see how this works for a hypothetical business. For example, pretend you started a small business a few years back giving aerial tours of the Grand Canyon.
Your plane seats one passenger, and you charge $150 per flight. You haven’t done much marketing, but you have a steady flow of about 20 ticket sales per month from talking to people yourself (direct sales), loyal repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.
You’re making $3,000 a month before you factor in your expenses.
Unfortunately, each flight costs you $75 in airplane fuel, wear and tear and other flight costs. That leaves you with $1,500 in profit.
That might be a nice little business, but your costs don’t stop there. You also spend about $2,000 a month on your airstrip mortgage, office utilities and plane maintenance. We call these fixed costs because you have to pay them whether or not you’re making sales.
The long and short of it is: You’re in the hole $500 every month. Or, in other words, your business is sinking.
Now what? You don’t have the money to buy a bigger plane, and you’ll lose the customers you have if you increase your prices. However, you discover that you’re missing out on a lot of sales because most tourists plan their trips online before they travel, and you don’t have an online presence.
In an effort to get your business moving in the right direction, you decide to try online marketing – listings on travel websites, pay-per-click ads and promotional email campaigns.
The only question is, how effective does your marketing have to be to break even?
1X Contribution Margin Ratio
What if you made one $150 sale for every $150 you spent on marketing? That’s break-even, right?
Remember all those fixed and variable costs that were eating up your profit margin in the first place? If you spend as much as you make, you’ll never make any headway against your $500 deficit. Your marketing CMR may be 1X, but you end up losing money on every sale in fulfillment costs ($75, to be precise).
Take a look:
2X Contribution Margin Ratio
What about a 2X contribution margin ratio? If you spend only $75 on marketing to make a $150 sale, you’ll offset your fulfillment costs, right? That’s true, but you still won’t be making any progress against that $500 deficit in your budget from your fixed costs.
3X Contribution Margin Ratio
But what if your marketing was even more efficient? What if you spent $50 on marketing to produce a $150 sale? At a 3X CMR, you finally start to break even as long as you can get at least 20 sales from your online marketing efforts.
Even after you hit a 3X multiple though, it’s still slow going. Your marketing is sustainable, but you can’t really grow your business on this sort of margin. After all, you can probably only make around 40 flights in a given month, which just gets you to your break even point.
4X Contribution Margin Ratio
If you really want to make a profit on your campaigns, you need to get them to produce at least a $4 in revenue for every $1 you spend on advertising.
Now you’re breaking even after 14 sales. If you make 40 flights in a month, you only have to pay for marketing and fulfillment on six flights. At $37.50 of profit per flight, you make $225 per month. All of a sudden, your online marketing is starting to make a lot more sense.
5X Contribution Margin Ratio
Once you hit a 5X contribution margin, you are finally in a good position to start using your online marketing to actually grow your business. You break even at about 11 sales, which means that your last nine sales net you $405 in profit each month.
With that kind of profitability in hand, you may be able to take out a loan, and get a bigger plane, allowing you to book two to four times as many tickets. Your expenses might go up a bit, but if you can fill between 80 and 160 seats a month, you are in a good position to really start making some money.
Here’s the moral of the story
Is this whole contribution margin ratio thing starting to make sense? Good. Let’s boil all that math down into a simple rule of thumb.
- If your marketing CMR is three or below, rethink your marketing. You’re probably losing money.
- At a 4X CMR, your marketing is turning a profit.
- If your marketing CMR is five or higher, you can use online marketing to grow your company.
This is how to up your marketing CMR.
By now you’re probably thinking, “Great, I want a big CMR, but in your story you just arbitrarily upped the CMR. How do I do that in real life?”
Good question. In fact, that’s a question I’ve devoted my career to answering.
The specific answer varies by business, but most companies struggle to reach a 4-5X contribution margin ratio for one reason: They spend their online marketing budget in the wrong places.
Take AdWords, for example. The average AdWords account wastes 76 percent of its budget on search terms that never produce conversions, let alone sales. So if your AdWords campaigns are running at a 3X multiple, the easiest way to get to a 5X or better multiple is to stop wasting money on the wrong keywords.
For example, we’ve had clients triple their sales by simply taking their wasted ad spend and redirecting it into more effective campaigns. As a result, these companies have grown by leaps and bounds and made millions in profit.
Can you imagine what going from a 2-3X CMR to a 6-9X CMR would do for your business?
Find your current CMR
Calculating your marketing CMR is actually fairly easy. You just need to know the following.
- How many sales your online marketing has produced.
- The average customer lifetime value (LTV) of your online marketing sales (for help figuring this out, click here).
- How much you’ve spent on online marketing.
Then it’s right back to the equation from the beginning of the post.
Plug the number you get into my rule of thumb, and you’ll have a good feel for how effective your marketing is.
Here’s the takeaways
Over my career, I’ve met, talked and worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners. Without fail, the success or failure of these companies revolved around their CMR.
Below 3X, companies struggle and die. At 3X, they survive, but just barely. Only the companies that reach a 4X or better CMR thrive. It’s a simple rule of thumb, but an effective one.
So, if you want your online marketing efforts to keep your business afloat, they must be driving at least $3 in revenue for every dollar you spend. Otherwise, your company probably won’t survive.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
5 Steps In Adwords Competitor Analysis: A Practical Case Study
In the second part of this article, we’ll be getting practical. What steps to take and what to do in each step.
In PART ONE of this article on the importance of competitor analysis in an Adwords campaign, we demonstrated to you the value that can be uncovered by performing a proper analysis of what your foe is up to on Adwords and how they can actually help you do better.
In the second part of this article, we’ll be getting practical. What steps to take and what to do in each step.
Pens sharpened? Batteries charged? Lets go!
As a case study of a local Adwords campaign, we’ll be taking a look at one of the main spenders on PPC in South Africa, booking.com, and see what information can be gathered about their competition in paid search results.
Step 1. Find out who your client’s true competitors in paid search are
First of all, let’s get on the same page, by stating that your organic and paid search competition is not the same thing. If you know who you share the SERPs with, it doesn’t mean that you’ll share the paid ads section with the same set of companies.
Booking.com knows what we’re talking about.
Here’s the organic part of the SERP for ‘book a hotel’. Booking.com shares it with Trivago, hotels.com and Agoda.
They could have thought: Okay, so these are my competitors, I know what they’re up to, I’ll look into their strategies and I’ll be fine in both organic and paid search. But wait, what is happening there at the top of the SERPs? Who is this dark horse?
It’s Expedia! In organic search it stands further down from booking.com than the rest of the domains from the first page, yet in paid results Booking and Expedia are the closest rivals.
But that is just one keyword. There are many other keywords for which the companies want to advertise in Google, so to know whether you’re actually competing with them, you need to evaluate your competition level.
It’s a simple process of comparing the number of keywords you have in common versus the number that are unique with that competitor.
By estimating this value, you can distinguish your true competitors from big generic brands, niche competition and temporary distractions in the paid search.
Jokes aside, Booking and Expedia share a relatively similar online presence and are, of course, familiar with each other’s PPC strategy. That said, if you’re not a huge domain and know your usual competitors, it is even more frustrating to miss an audacious market newcomer or an organic outsider trying to cut the line and get to the top of the SERPs with an aggressive PPC campaign. So, the analysis of your true competition should be performed regularly. For the agencies that we support, we usually revise the competitors list once every quarter.
Step 2. Estimate your competition PPC budgets
Now that you know who you are rubbing elbows with in paid search, try figuring out how much they spend on PPC. There’s no way to know exactly what their budgets are (except for corporate espionage, but we don’t recommend that), but you can still make use of an estimation.
For that, you need to know how many keywords they target in paid search, what their cost-per-click values are, as well as their estimated search volumes. That is practically impossible to reveal manually, but the competitor analysis tool in SEMrush for example provides you with an estimation of the company’s PPC budget based on the data from their keyword database. Similar tools should be found in whatever quality software you’ve opted for.
Here’s the info we could gather about Booking.com by solely analysing the keywords for which it was showing up in paid search and the CPC values of those keywords.
Though it is a rough estimation, this info is helpful in planning your PPC campaigns in a way that meets with market trends.
Step 3. Find out your competitor’s unique keywords
What’s even better about competitor analysis is that it will help you save time by not needing to do the tough jobs yourself by letting you (legally) steal the best ideas from your competition and dwell on them. Remember, if you’re doing it to them, they’re probably doing it to you as well! All’s fair in love, war and paid advertising!
What’s the practical value of this? Well, your competitor’s unique keywords can be your missed opportunity.
By comparing the keywords that Booking and Expedia are bidding on, we see that there are a lot of keywords related to means of travelling and travelling companies in Expedia’s portfolio, but they are missing in the Booking.com set. It is obviously just another tactic for such a big brand, but for a smaller company, this comparison list could be a golden goose of new ideas.
Step 4. Research your competitor’s ads and banners
If you have ever been online, you know that the SERPs are crowded. The served results in both organic and paid search have to constantly overcome the viewer’s lack of attention, so the message in your ads should be short, clear, and actionable.
Your competitor’s copy can be a great source of information.
Comparing your ads to your competitor’s allows you to see the context and the standards of messaging in your niche and adjust your voice to or diversify from the usual tone.
Also, sometimes you need to develop multiple ad copies with similar content. Whenever creativity abandons you, you can look into your competitor’s copy and borrow a few ideas from them.
Step 5. Check your competitor’s target URLs
Imagine running an online retail business. Summer sales are coming, and you want to promote your goods with an AdWords campaign. Apart from the keywords that you want to bid on and creating appealing ad copy, you also need to think about the page which your ads are going to take your leads to.
Is it common in your client’s niche to have a specific landing page for a promo like this? Or is it enough to have banners on the home page? Take a look at your client’s competitor’s target pages and find out.
The Value Of Competitor Analysis On A South African Adwords Campaign
If you have doubts about the efficiency of an AdWords campaign being run in South Africa, here are some stats about the South African market to convince you.
Running a successful AdWords campaign can sometimes be like trying to understand the maths that Elon Musk is using to put a human being on Mars: you’re pretty sure it will work, but trying to figure how and why burns too many brain cells.
Well, help is at hand! In this TWO PART article, we’re going to demonstrate to you the value of performing a competitor analysis on an Adwords campaign, and show you just how and what you should be looking for.
As a digital marketer of any kind, you’ve probably had a crack at running and managing an AdWords campaign. Let me guess:
- Predicting the results and outcomes was impossible;
- You outsourced to an agency this one time. It cost you a fortune and they kept asking questions you couldn’t possibly have answers to;
- Setting the budget was more complicated than understanding the nature and purpose of Snapchat;
- And speaking of budget…it’s NEVER enough and always runs out too quickly.
Nobody is arguing with the fact that AdWords is one of the most complicated digital marketing efforts that you can undertake on behalf of a client or yourself. However, if done right, it could also be one of the most rewarding, effective and business-altering activities you could do.
If you have doubts about the efficiency of an AdWords campaign being run in South Africa, here are some stats about the South African market to convince you:
South African PPC market in numbers
In 2017 the total spending on Google ads in South Africa across all industries reached $30 million. The market’s thriving!
And these websites were the most generous spenders on Google ads. If only your budgets could compete, right?
However, these were the industry’s spendaholics.
Generally, businesses are way more careful with their PPC budgets: only 3.8% of all the companies spend more than R50 000 monthly, and the majority of 34.1% is just indulging their curiosity with somewhere around 1000 bucks a month.
And if you worry about your ad copy, take a look at the most popular phrases and CTAs used in South African ads:
So, how do you enter that market AND, at the same time, save your money?
Well, that’s like eating an elephant — get help and do it in pieces.
If you thought that running and managing an AdWords campaign was complicated, try getting advice from the pros on best practices to net best results. Just like deciphering that Musk math again.
- Split test your copy
- Use different ad extensions… or all of them
- Try out different calls to action
- Manage and track your budget daily
- Get your targeting on point
But also don’t forget about the foundation of any marketing campaign, digital or not: research your competition.
As wholesalers of digital marketing services to South African digital agencies, by far one of the most important and most advised best practices we suggest to the agencies that we support when running an AdWords digital marketing campaign is to ensure that they practice comprehensive and thorough competitor analysis.
What is competitor analysis for your Adwords campaign and how do you streamline it?
Running a competitor analysis during an AdWords campaign is like having a video camera in your competitions training session. It’ll help you pull back the curtain, see what they’re up to and adjust your efforts accordingly to ensure optimum results from your AdWords campaigns.
In our experience, many companies do not perform PPC competitive research, or don’t do it as often as they should. However, not having the full picture about your PPC competition is risky and can result in running ineffective campaigns. That means wasting your or your client’s budget without netting tangible results or missing the opportunities available to your client by underinvesting.
But recognising the difference that competitor analysis can make in your AdWords campaigns is only the first step. The next step is to find the right tool to help you perform your competitor analysis on a regular basis. The stats and data provided in this article were pulled by our team using SEMrush. It’s a software that we have found invaluable in helping us to provide white label, wholesale digital marketing services to the South African and international digital agencies that we support.
That being said, there are a wealth of similarly effective and powerful digital marketing tracking tools on the market worth investigating. We encourage you to get out there and see what works best for you.
The data that you should drill out of your competitor analysis
On all the levels of digital marketing, there’s a constant rivalry between best practice and revolutionary ideas. The question of whether to follow a well-trodden path or to do things differently in an effort to distinguish the brand you’re working on is always on the table. Or desktop in the case of digital marketing.
However, to make an informed decision you need to know the niche you are playing in as well as its main players. These questions will help you gather that information:
- Who is your true competitor in paid search?
- How much do they spend on PPC?
- What are their most profitable keywords?
- What do their ads and banners look like?
- What URLs should your ads target?
Now you know WHAT to ask. But what do you do with the answers and how do you use them to improve your own Adwords performance.
In PART TWO of this blog, we’ll be diving into just that. CLICK HERE TO READ ON!
There Is No Silencing The ‘Chatter’ Bots
In a world governed by technological advances, it is no surprise that the business world has adopted technology of their own to better their processes.
There has been a strong movement in the business environment towards automated processes through the use of Chatbots, introduced in order to support business teams in their relations with customers.
Chatbots are essentially personal assistants developed to assist you. They are artificial intelligence systems that we can interact via text or even voice interface. In the business world the idea is to automate repetitive tasks in order to lighten the workload for employees, allowing them more time to concentrate on more important tasks at hand.
As futuristic as this all sounds, the reality is that this is something that businesses are already using and the benefits are definitely worth mentioning.
Chatbots in Business
The main aim of any business is to keep the customer happy – that’s where the money comes from after all. In such a fast-paced, technologically advanced world, customers are expecting so much more from businesses in terms of service delivery, so this is where Chatbots come in.
Unlike humans, Chatbots can work 24/7 without a break and without the added expense, two factors that will definitely benefit any business, never mind the improved customer satisfaction that comes with that.
Customers no longer have to wait to be put through to the next available operator; Chatbots are replacing live chat with other forms of contact such as text and emails, ensuring that customers are dealt with faster than was previously possible.
Chatbots can have conversations with thousands of people simultaneously, something that humans just can’t do.
Dealing with difficult customers is also a thing of the past. Chatbots are bound by rules and specific instructions so they will always deal with customers in a polite and professional manner, another positive for customer satisfaction.
In the travel and hospitality industry, dealing with customers that speak other languages is also a possibility with a Chatbot trained in different languages.
The Long-Term Cost Saving
There is major movement in all businesses to keep costs down, especially as the business grows. A major monthly expense for businesses is the paying of salaries. Although it isn’t possible to completely cut out this expense, Chatbots can help businesses reduce the amount of staff needed.
Chatbots can deal with simpler customer queries and only escalate more complex queries to agents. Chatbots can also lighten the workload of a sales team by engaging with customers and gathering information about what the customers want, supplying the sales team with valuable information to help in the sales process.
Chatbots are a one-time investment, and any company with a website can make use of them – simple and cost-effective in the long term.
There are so many benefits to using Chatbots, and as technology continues to advance, who knows what these bots will be capable of in the future.
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