We’ve all witnessed the transformation of marketing in the past decade. With digital technologies have come a variety of new options for targeting and reaching out to both potential and current customers.

Where we once had direct marketing, mass media advertising and similar tactics, we now have search marketing, social media, pay-per-click advertising, mobile marketing and more.

The going assumption among many marketing folks is that we need to find some way to be omnipresent — as in, we have to learn about every channel and drive value through each of them.

The reality is that we simply cannot be all things at once. We need to pick our battles carefully, measure results and commit ongoing support only where we can derive value.

Forrester: Business Value By Marketing Channel

Forrester Research recently published a report on perceived business value for the 13 most popular marketing vehicles currently available. You can view the list of marketing tactics in rank order in the image below:

business value chart.gif

Source: Mr. Elliot’s blog post

All of the metrics were tallied on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest. Responses were averaged to come up with the above scores for comparison purposes. The data spells out clearly which tactics are winning, and which vehicles are failing to meet expectations. Let’s look through some logical groupings of these items.

The Winners: Search and Email Marketing

As you can see above, the top three media vehicles cited as providing value are on-site ratings and reviews (3.84), search marketing (3.83) and email marketing (3.79). Search marketing and on-site reviews are interrelated, so it makes sense to see both of them coming in atop the list.

Email marketing has taken all the “email marketing is dying” speculation and crushed the notion that it is going away any time soon. With advanced lead nurturing capabilities available via marketing automation and similar solutions, email still matters. It will remain important for the foreseeable future, especially for B2B marketers.

It makes logical sense that these three specific tactics would shine within a survey of perceived value. That is a key benefit from being the most measurable marketing methods available today. We know what does and does not work with a great deal of accuracy. This allows business owners and marketers to test quickly and move on if certain strategies fail to drive quantifiable results. In the end, they understand the value more.

The Runners-Up: Content and Rich Media Marketing

In analyzing the data to build my own category buckets, there were two areas that landed right in the middle by average score. Both of these are still in the early days of adoption, having become accepted disciplines while still early in their respective evolutions.

Content Marketing

The next most popular items cited can be classified as content marketing. Specifically, these are a branded community (3.74), word-of-mouth marketing (3.74) and a branded blog (3.73).

Content marketing was and continues to be one of the hottest topics among marketers in 2013 — some analysts and pundits have even gone ahead and dubbed 2013 as the Year of Content Marketing.

As someone who leans heavily on content marketing for marketing purposes, I can attest to the value it provides. Unfortunately, the survey did not include enough breadth of content marketing topics to rate for survey respondents (e.g., guest blogging). Assuming that Forrester Research repeats the project in a year, I’d expect that content will rival search and email marketing in potential. After all, no good search or email marketing effort can be executed without compelling content to grab and keep reader interest.

Still, the data provided placed content marketing in the upper middle range, relative to the other items cited. I’ll be looking forward to how this plays out in the future.

Rich Media Marketing

Next in perceived value are some marketing tactics that I have grouped and labeled as “rich media.” These items came in behind the content marketing items: online display ads (3.72), mobile marketing (3.69) and YouTube marketing (3.65).

Mobile and YouTube are also hot topics this year, however, the data suggests that businesses have yet to figure out how to use these tactics effectively.

In the case of mobile, we are in the middle of a massive shift to new form factors and pervasive computing. Measurement remains a challenge, as search behavior varies across platform on a case-by-case basis. Once we figure out how to measure all activities from all Internet access methods, mobile should not only be seen as valuable but also a standard course of business targeting and measurement.

As for YouTube marketing, perceived value likely depends heavily on how one defines the term. What are the objectives?

  • To grab some of YouTube’s search traffic and put a video in front of them?
  • To generate traffic and/or leads for your website?
  • To earn clicks by overlaid pay per click ads embedded in videos?
  • To drive awareness with 30 second interstitials that delay/interrupt YouTube views of one or more videos?
  • To provide a hosting solution for embedding videos on the client site, in order to drive SEO benefits and increased traffic?

As this list of questions makes clear — it’s tough to understand value without a clear idea of what success is in the first place.

My hunch is that YouTube would score higher, if only marketers had a better idea of what they want to accomplish. All too often we hear clients gush about how a YouTube campaign is going out, only to learn that they are doing it because “Shouldn’t everyone be marketing on YouTube?” Not necessarily, unless they know why everyone should do so.

I would like to see other rich media marketing options included next time. A couple of good areas that come to mind would be SlideShare/Presentation marketing and Infographics marketing. Those are growing niches that are providing great value to many businesses.

The Losers: Social Media Marketing

Closing out with the clear losers, we have the social media marketer’s worst nightmare, as social is seen as a subpar driver of business value. The specific channels cited in this group were LinkedIn marketing (3.70), Google Plus marketing (3.62), Twitter marketing (3.57) and Facebook marketing (3.54).

Curiously enough, LinkedIn and Google Plus came in significantly higher than both Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps the sample of respondents was bent toward a B2B angle, as LinkedIn is well known to be useful for B2B marketing.

Google Plus, on the other hand, is known to heavily impact SEO. If you want a new piece of content indexed immediately, there are few angles that will move the needle faster than a post of the link to a Google Plus page or profile.

Should we be concerned to see social media darlings Twitter and Facebook floundering at the bottom of this list? If you see those as critical components of a lead generation program, the answer is “yes.”

Realistically, though, neither of these tools is inherently built as a lead gen tool. I always draw a line between demand generation and lead generation. Twitter and Facebook fall more in the demand generation category, where you are focused on brand awareness, familiarity and overall credibility. This stands in stark contrast to ideal lead gen vehicles like pay per click advertising and similar tactics, which are focused on conversion over brand equity.

Bottom Line: If you plan to invest time, effort and money in social media marketing, rethink your key performance indicators. Lead generation is not the only way to drive business value.


With so many new marketing tactics available today, we are just starting to get a real understanding of which vehicles drive business value. It will be fascinating to watch where this goes over the next couple of years. Are you seeing similar results? What marketing vehicles are driving the most value for your own business.