Ep 142 | Making Marketing Decisions with Data with Mary Cate Spires

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How do you make decisions when it comes to your marketing? I hope that it stems from some sort of data. Its time to start paying attention to what the data tells you so you can keep doing things that are working well for your organization and driving revenue and let go of the things that don't.

What You'll Learn:

→ how to match your goals to the data you track.
→ why the Google Ad Grant can help!
→ tools and resources to help you with your data collection.

Want to skip ahead? Here are key takeaways:

[5:49] Tracking your data Remember to track your data to your goals. If the data doesn't relate then it's not something that you need to be using to determine what marketing activities you do.
[10:23] Google Ad Grant Nonprofits have access to the Google Ad grant. This gives you $10,000 you can spend monthly to drive traffic to your website. You can also use their tools to help with keyword research for your organic traffic.
[14:25] Identifying your goals prioritize your goals and figure out 2-3 key metrics that you need to be tracking. Remember to take a look at the data points based off of where you're going so you don't get distracted.
[19:57] Diversifying where you show up Remember that by showing up in multiple places you mitigate the risk with the things you don't have control over. Then do competitor research and see where they're showing up.
[23:40] Understanding your data Remember to track everything back to your goals. This will help you determing what to track and not get overwhelmed by the data. You'll only review what you need.


EP 88 | Google Ad Grant and How to Maximize It
Google Analytics
Google Keyword Planner

Mary Cate Spires

Mary Cate Spires

Founder, Mary Cate Spires

Mary Cate Spires is the leading expert on using data and research to improve marketing ROI. She has worked with dozens of prominent brands from all over the United States including SmartBug Media, HubSpot, and The Arbor Company to drive leads, ROI, and customers through digital marketing efforts.

With a degree from the University of South Carolina in public relations and over ten years of digital marketing experience, she is widely regarded by marketing executives to influence marketing strategy and achieve results.

Her insights have been featured on ABC News and in noteworthy publications and podcasts like Chief Marketer, HubSpot, and Maiden Voyage. Mary Cate helps leaders build a strong customer base to experience high return on investment. Her unique approach dives deep into data and research to help businesses make marketing decisions work smarter not harder.

We love creating the podcast. If you like what you learned here please give us a tip and help us offset our production costs.

When you leave a review it helps this podcast get in front of other nonprofits that could use the support. If you liked what you heard here, please leave us a review.


[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So when it comes to making marketing decisions, do you use data? Or do you use emotion? Today I'm talking with Mary Cate Spires all about some data points you might want to start tracking so that you can make decisions on what you're doing in the digital space based off of the data and the money that's coming into your organization. How great does that sound? My name is Sami Bedell-Mulhern and I am your host of the digital marketing therapy podcast and I am so excited for you to listen to this conversation that Mary Cate Spires and I have today all about data, which, as you know, is not something that I love to do in my own business, but something that I know is crazy important in order to keep things moving forward and have the right information to make the right decisions. 

Mary Cate Spires is the leading expert on using data and research to improve marketing ROI. She has worked with dozens of prominent brands from all over the United States including Smartbug Media, HubSpot, and the Arbour Company to drive leads, ROI, and customers through digital marketing efforts. With a degree from the University of South Carolina and public relations and over 10 years of digital marketing experience. She is widely regarded by marketing executives to influence marketing strategy and achieve results. Her insights have been featured on ABC News and noteworthy publications and podcasts like Chief Marketer, HubSpot, and Maiden Voyage. Mary Cate helps leaders build a strong customer base and experience high return on investment. Her unique approach dives deep into data and research to help businesses make marketing decisions, work smarter, not harder. We talk about all sorts of things, but all things that you can implement easily. So it's not a ton of calculations and crazy mapping and all of that stuff, but some simple and easy things that you can do to get started. And if you've already started, then ways to uplevel and make sure that you're making the right decisions about your business. 

But before we get into the episode, this episode is brought to you by our patrons. Head on over to the first click that net forward slash patreon to learn about all of the benefits that our patrons get to experience each month. From workbooks to Q and A's, all the fun things to help you take action on these episodes and get things done. So again, the firstclick.net/Patreon. I really hope to see you there and welcome you into our Patreon community. Let's get to the episode. 

[INTRO] You're listening to the digital marketing therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Hey, everybody, welcome Mary Cate Spires to the podcast. Mary Cate, thank you so much for joining me today. 

[Mary Cate Spires] Yes, thank you for having me. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, so we're going to talk about data today, which is something that I don't geek out on, it really hurts me to think about it. So I'm really excited about this conversation. I'm excited to learn some ways to maybe make it a little bit easier for me too, but what is it about data that you love so much? Why is it something that you geek out on? 

[Mary Cate Spires] Oh, my gosh, I am obsessed. And I’ll tell you just kind of a quick story. 2020. Right when COVID hit, everyone's freaking out. Of course, marketing gets really hard when you're in a pandemic. And I had people calling me every single day about we need more leads, we need more leads, we’re freaking out, what can you do. And I was getting really overwhelmed. And I felt super responsible for getting those leads made. But this was a senior living client and there's not a ton, there wasn't a ton of, you know, can't think of the word right now. People weren't searching for senior living because of the pandemic. And so everyone kept telling me what they thought was wrong. And I finally just sat down with the numbers. And I pulled as much data as I possibly could. And I wrote like a four page document of all the things that we needed to do based off of what the data was saying. And so I love that, because I can sometimes get really overwhelmed by what other people are saying, what other people think, you know, those gut instincts that you hear from people. And, you know, you have to know how to interpret it, but data is not going to lie to you or have an opinion. It's just there in black and white. And so that's why I love it. I feel like it's one of the only things I can trust really, when making marketing decisions. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well I think that's so true. Because, you know, you might have a board member that comes to you and says, “Oh, I've heard somebody who's having great success on Tik Tok”, then you're like, “Well, why aren't you using this platform?” And like, you know, all of these things come at you and when you're In a state of flux or chaos or uncertainty, you tend to listen to all those messages. And so the data is the thing that can kind of bring you home and help you really figure out what's what.

[Mary Cate Spires] Exactly. And we all have limited resources. So we can't just go out and do everything we want to do and everything someone thinks is a good idea. Well, exactly. You know, it'd be great if we could, but that data helps us prioritize things and figure out what's going to be a better worth of our time and effort and even spend, then something else. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So let's talk about some of the things that you track. So if I'm an organization, I'm not really tracking a lot of data, or maybe we're sort of starting to do some things like what what types of things might you want to start to take a look at to see how it's actually impacting your ROI? 

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah, so it really depends on your goals. So typically, the first thing that I do, of course, if you're not tracking any data, the first thing you need to do is just get some tracking on your website. Try to get if you have any marketing automation software, try to make sure that's connected with your contact record management system. You want to have as much talking to each other as possible and make sure Google Analytics is on, that's free. You have to have something to start with. And so that's the first step if you don't have anything, but what I really like to do, when I'm starting with a strategy, is I go and look at the existing data and see where the opportunities are. And so if we have a ton of website traffic, but it's not converting to leads, then we probably have a qualified web traffic problem. We need to be showing up for different keywords, or showing up in different areas, all of that. And so the goal there would be to drive more qualified leads, or drive more qualified traffic. And for that, I would track our visitor to lead ratio. And so it really comes down to choosing what's the priority goal at the moment, and finding the right measures around that. And I typically really like to look at percentages, just because they aren't as biased. Because you could, you could have a really great number, but it's actually not that great. Or you could have a really small number, and it's actually really good. So the conversions kind of even everything out for people. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I agree with that. And I think a lot of times we start looking at data, we go for those vanity metrics, because they make us feel good, like impressions. And so like, you know, we can get caught in that trap of, well, this number is great, this makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but to your point, they're not necessarily converting into leads. So kind of are there any metrics that you just like, always block out no matter what, that maybe people should just avoid going down that trap? 

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah, and I really think it goes back to that goal, again, because if your goal is brand awareness, reach and impressions are really one of the only ways that you can measure that. So you do need to look at those metrics, you know, with a grain of salt, because Facebook could be 100,000 impressions, but what does that actually mean? So you know, but if you are a brand new organization, you need that brand awareness, and you kind of just have to, hopefully you’re branded, so you can track your branded search rankings and all of that as well. And that helps a little bit. But, you know, if you're really focused on, I work with some vendors, and they'll say, Okay, well, we got, you know, X amount of conversions. Okay, well, conversion, just when someone fills out a form. How many of those are marketing qualified? Or how many of those are sales qualified? So I really like for, you know, the client I'm working with right now, the goal is sales qualified leads. So that is the main number that I'm looking at. And then I look at all the other data to see what's influencing my main number.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah. And so for a nonprofit, that would be your donor, same thing as a donor qualified lead. And when you break those apart, do you have like, we know we need X amount in this category that are, you know, paying this amount, we know we need this amount in this amount so that you can also track campaigns and things as far as like what their success rate is for the dollars coming in? Or do you just do a generic, anybody who is sales qualified, or donor qualified, then that's what you’re looking for?

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah, so you can do it both ways. You know, if you're really sophisticated, you can set it up for data, if you ever really are on for amount of donation, and that's going to be great. The more sophisticated and segmented you can be, the better because you're really going to, you know, narrow down on what you actually need instead of just kind of guessing. But definitely just starting with the basics and then getting more sophisticated is what is most important. And a good marketing automation tool or a good content record management system is going to help you do all of that. So That's really key there.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think the place to start, I mean, most nonprofits have some sort of donor software that's tracking all of that. So most likely, the software you're using already has some of this tracking stuff built in that maybe you're just not using. So you know what Mary Kate is talking about doesn't even have to be this big leap of work, it might just be adding on a certain module or things to track. The other thing that I want to talk about, because the unique thing nonprofits have is this Google Ad grant.

[Mary Cate Spires] I love the Google Ad grant. Oh, my gosh, everyone use the Google Ad Grant. 

 [Sami Bedell-Mulhern] $10,000 a month for free. But beyond that, what you're talking about with the data tracking, like, it gives you a tremendous amount of information almost immediately. So going back to what you talked about the beginning with the keywords, and what's working and the conversions, like you can flip a lot quicker and see quicker results, because you've got this money. Could you maybe talk a little bit about that?

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah, so I was super lucky enough to, in college, I worked at an agency that was for social good clients. And so I got to have a lot of experience with Google grants, and they're not easy, I will warn anyone listening, it gets a little tricky. It's good to have a trusted partner to kind of set that up for you, because it can get taken away very easily. But I mean, $10,000 a month is an incredible amount of money. And you do need to be skilled in it. So you need to know what keywords you want to go after. Because you only have a certain amount you can spend per click. So that's important. You can't just pick nonprofit and like go to town, you have to make sure that you're specific. And so that keyword research, but what's so great about Google ads is, how I like to explain it is, I love search engine optimization. So organic search, you're going to have people with really high intent going to Google and asking, you know, these questions. And so ads are the way you get up there right away. But that's kind of your accelerator while you're working on your search engine optimization. And so ideally, you actually spend less money over time, of course, with the $10,000, you know, great, just keep spending it. Exactly, keep going. But that way, with the Google ads, you also get the accelerated metrics. So you know what keywords are converting. So you know what blogs to write about, you know, if your branded search terms are getting more impressions, then people are searching for your brand name, you're getting that brand awareness. So yes, there is a ton that you can use. Absolutely, 1,000%, take advantage of the Google Ads grant, because it's a little bit of a passion of mine, that people don't do it enough. But even if you're just going into Google ads, and looking at the keyword planner, that can give you so much information to start with.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And it's a free tool, so you don't have to pay for some of the other SEO tools that are out there that are going to give you that robust.

 [Mary Cate Spires] Exactly, and Google is the source of I mean, Google's gonna tell you exactly what it knows, because it's the one doing it.

 [Sami Bedell-Mulhern] It is. And what I like about that, too, is you can take that across a lot of things. So whether you have a heavy Pinterest game, or you're on YouTube, or whatever, like, you know, you're searching for hashtags on Instagram like that information alone can drive your content strategy for all the platforms, and you only have to do it in one spot.

 [Mary Cate Spires] Absolutely. Because it's very important to know what users are searching for, not what you want them to search for, and how they interact with your content. And you know, their journey to becoming a donor. And so you want to use their words, you don't want to use your words as much as you absolutely can, of course. But yeah, that tool is absolutely fantastic. And for anyone with the actual physical location, it's also very helpful for choosing your Google My Business category, which actually has a lot of effect of your rankings in the map pack, and on Google in general. 

 [Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Okay, good. That's a good, good pro tip. So you mentioned earlier goals, like we want to track our database to the goals that we have. So we might have multiple goals, I guess, we could have a fundraising goal, we might have an enrollment goal. How many goals do we want to be tracking in order to not have all the data just on top of each other, and then not be able to figure out what action steps I want to take?

[Mary Cate Spires] So I like to be very specific about all of this. And I think you should be tracking anything that's important to your organization, always. But I think it's important to pick a priority goal and stay on top of that, you know. We don't have as many donors as we wish we would have and then go back from there. Okay, well, is that because we don't have as many people sign up for our newsletter that we did last year, is that because we don't have as much website traffic as we did last year? And so by looking backwards, you can kind of see where the pitfall is. And that should be your goal. And digital marketing is a lot of testing. And so maybe you got it wrong, and that's okay. We still learn something from that experience. And so Okay, well, I know it's not my newsletter sign up. So, you know, now let's see what it is here. So that's what I really like doing because then you know exactly what is making the difference. And you know, where you can move those knobs to increase even more in the future.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So then, if we've got our one or two goals that we're tracking, how much time do we want to spend tracking that before we make a decision to do something different, or to change it, or just to keep going the course? 

[Mary Cate Spires] So I like to say three months. It's my rule of thumb. Digital builds on itself. So you know, if you're running Google Facebook ads, they go through a learning period, you have to let it kind of work itself out. Obviously, if you notice something drastically damaging immediately, you can turn it off. But I definitely like to wait three months before making any solid decision. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And then do you find, you know, because we want to get out of, the goal is to get out of the reactive mode and to be proactive? So like, what messages would you say to the person who looks at data every day and, like freaks out and sees, oh, my gosh, today we lost, like, traffic went down like 30%? Like, oh, my goodness, like, what would you say to that person just to kind of like, give them deep breaths to keep going?

[Mary Cate Spires] So I am not reactionary, but I do check the data every day. And every once in a while I had that moment where I'm like, what happened. And it's totally understandable. I'm just proud that you're looking at metrics. Trends are extremely important in digital marketing. Depending on what your area is, search trends could just be down, you know, maybe it's Christmas time, and you're gonna see really high search trends. But then in January, you know, things kind of slow down a little bit, or maybe over the summer is going to be more of your, your key time. So you can't make these knee jerk reactions, just based on a little bit of data. I always try to look at a full quarter or full three months, which is the same thing, but to kind of see that trend, like you have to be able to see the trend, and not just look at we had a bad day or even a bad month. I mean, if you had a fantastic month, fantastic month, and then a normal month, you're gonna freak out because you were used to two fantastic months. But if you go back a little bit, you can see that, oh, we actually just leveled out a little bit, we're not in a terrible position.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, if you're always tracking it back to the goals, it's not so much about what your data is doing as much as what that end goal is doing. Right? Like, are you doing donations? Are you seeing a decrease in enrollment, in the things? Or maybe they're even going up higher, with less traffic, and you're like, Oh, we just found that sweet spot where you know, the audience, we need to be taught. The whole picture.  

[Mary Cate Spires] Absolutely, you know, quality over quantity, in my opinion, that is the key. If you're the more targeted you could be the cheaper everything is, you know, you're not going to be talking to people who don't want to hear from you. It's just, it's a better experience for everyone all around. And so yes, absolutely just focusing on those key metrics. And if something is changing, or something is looking weird, that's the best thing about digital. You can pivot if you need to. I wouldn't, let's just use Facebook advertising as an example. I wouldn't quit Facebook advertising before three months, but I might change the messaging a little bit. And it's really simple to do that. And it's way less effort and money than changing out a billboard. So you can make, you could run A-B tests. Oh my gosh, A-B tests are the best. That can help you make decisions even faster if you really need them. As long as you're getting enough traffic to everything. But yeah, just really focusing on like, you know, people will worry, our website traffic's down. Okay, but actually, when you look at it, your sales call phone leads are up. So do we really have a problem here or is everything fine? 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern]Yeah, well, and so this also brings up like diversifying where you are in the digital space. And I think there's that fine balance, because the hard part is we don't have any control, right? Like, we don't have control over what Google decides to do, we don't have control over what social media platforms choose to do. We don't have control over what our consumers are going to engage with and connect to and not. So what's your take on diversifying our platform so that we don't get stuck in one, like, put all our eggs in one basket, but then also making sure that we can, and I know it comes down to, depends on who you are.

[Mary Cate Spires] Absolutely. It always will. And I actually like to start with research for that. So talk to existing donors, talk to past donors. How did they first hear about you? How did they decide they actually wanted to be a donor? And where do they hang out? You know, are they on Facebook? Are they on Instagram? Talk to these actual people and understand how they're interacting. Again, it's not how we want them to act,or how we think they act. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Or where we want them to be.

[Mary Cate Spires] Exactly, we need to actually ask them. And then the other type of research I love is competitor research. So looking at similar organizations to yourself, and where are they. And of course, buyers are going to be your most important. And then you layer on that competitor on top of it. If your competitors on Pinterest, but not a single donor mentioned Pinterest, probably not where you want to be immediately. And then once you get all your bases covered, then you can start spending a little bit of time. Okay, let's try this a little bit. And see, see what happens. I love pilots, three month pilots, I love them. Today, I just talked to someone about piloting some Instagram posts for specific locations in a multi location company. And you know, we're just going to do it for three locations and see how it goes before rolling it out everywhere. But we didn't start with Instagram, because our research showed us that Facebook was typically where our current and past buyers are, but we still look to the future, we can't just stay stagnant.  

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think that also helps empower you and your team. If you have that research, when conversations come in and say, well, you should do this, or why don't you try that? You can then just say, well, yep, that's on our list for future, because this is what it is. It takes the emotion out of it. The thing about data is just pulling out all of the emotion and the will, I think, and saying but it doesn't matter what you think, it matters what your customers think, and where they are. And it’s a mindset shift, I think, because a lot of times what my experience working in nonprofits and just conversations, one person who is of influence to that organization, whether for whatever reason, will say something, and then the EDs will switch. And it's like, but that's one person, and I get they’re smart, valuable and important, but that's still one person. And it's hard to kind of separate yourself from that.

[Mary Cate Spires] Yep. And then you just end up in a rut, you're just spinning your wheels. One of the reasons I love digital so much is you can get it out there. Doesn't have to be perfect. You can get it out there, test and tweak. Same can't be said for traditional advertising as much, in all houses, place for sure. But you know, it doesn't have to be perfect, it can be really good and get out there. And you can be marketing while you're still looking at data and doing research and figuring it out. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Okay, any other, I mean, you've given people a lot of things to get started with and a lot of things to think about. Don't forget to get on Google ads. But are there any other nuggets or pieces of wisdom or things that you've learned along the way that you wish you would have known earlier in your work with analytics and data that you'd like to share?

[Mary Cate Spires] I guess just start tracking everything you possibly can, as soon as you can. A big thing that I learned that was a missed tracking opportunity was calls and understanding where your calls are coming from, you know, most of the time, you're not going to ask the person when you pick up the phone, Oh, how did you get this number? And so with great tracking software, which is usually pretty inexpensive, you can actually go into that system and say, Hey, our Google ads that we're getting for free. Just you know, we got 10 phone calls off of that and five of them specifically talked about donation and donors. And so that that was something I was missing in the beginning. My data, for sure, it was definitely a piece of the puzzle missing

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Before we kind of wrap this up, which reminds me, are there other tools that you like to use for tracking, like a good old spreadsheet or other software you love?

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah. I'm a big HubSpot junkie. I absolutely love HubSpot. It tracks everything. And all in one place. You don't have 8000 tools for email, landing pages, blog, all of that. I've been working in HubSpot for over 10 years. So I'm very, very, very biased. The Call Rail is my favorite call tracking software. And they integrate with HubSpot, they integrate with a lot of stuff, actually. And I like it because they have that AI listening where you can type in certain words that you want it to listen for. It's not perfect, because it's not a real person. But then it'll mark those as qualified, and you can go in and listen to those. And so it kind of short tracks, having to listen to hundreds of calls, you can just listen to the ones that are likely to be qualified in your reporting. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I love that. Well, I hope everybody's inspired to start tracking their data. Mary Cate, if people want to learn more about you, how do they do that? 

[Mary Cate Spires] Yeah, absolutely. So my website is marycatespires.com. Pretty much anywhere on the internet, you can find me just Mary Cate Spires, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, all of it. And I also even have a KPI and goals tracker downloadable on my website. That's a great starter for benchmarking those metrics. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And I have to get that for myself. 

[Mary Cate Spires] It's great. I love it. It's a little old school, I will tell you, I do a lot of things old school. But I just personally love pulling the data myself and watching it. I think I could do a lot more analysis while I'm physically pulling it instead of just looking at a dashboard. But that’s a personal preference.

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, we will link all of these up in the show notes as well. So you could head on over to the firstclip.net/podcast, grab all those links. Mary Cate, it was such a pleasure chatting with you today. I learned some good stuff myself. 

[Mary Cate Spires] Awesome. Yes, I loved it. Thank you so much for having me. 

[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Big big thank you again to Mary Cate Spires for joining me today. I learned some things and I can't wait to grab that download. So again, head on over to the firstclip.net/podcast so you can snag that as well as some of the other resources and tools that were mentioned in this episode. I hope you will subscribe wherever you listen, I so appreciate you allowing me to come into your ears every week. And I hope that you have a fantastic day. Watch the video of this interview at the firstclick.net/YouTube and I look forward to seeing you in the next one.

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