Math Before Marketing

Written by Marcia Barnes / August 24, 2017 / 5 Minute Read
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Marketing strategy isn’t about a particular tactic or promotional effort, but a simple mathematical equation. It’s crucial to understand your spend before investing in marketing. Identifying your marketing cost per acquisition (CPA) can help determine whether your marketing is working. Remember, marketing is a math problem, not a strategy problem.


Measure What Matters from the Beginning

Start your marketing strategy with math. Marketing strategy isn’t about a particular tactic or promotional effort, but rather it is a simple mathematical equation. Math in marketing is the crucial step towards having a successful marketing effort.

There are three things to consider in your marketing plan to ensure success.

Cost Per Acquisition

The first step in a solid marketing strategy is understanding your spending. Before you invest a dollar in marketing, understand what you have to get out of your marketing spend to create business value. It is not only about what you can afford to spend on marketing. I would suggest it is not about that.

Marketing is meant to fuel your organization for growth. It is a way to create profit. Creating profit requires an investment. Therefore, your marketing should be considered a profit center.

If you haven’t invested in marketing or question what you are getting for your marketing spend, consider this: in the early stages of marketing, you may sacrifice your net profit margin to create larger overall net profit dollars being channeled back into your business.

Identifying your marketing cost per acquisition (also referred to as MCPA or CPA), can help you to know whether your marketing is working or not. Your CPA creates a guiding principle on the maximum spend you will accept to acquire a single customer and remain profitable.

Often, companies start marketing their business and miss the step of understanding their spending and, therefore, either don’t believe it is working or don’t understand what they are getting for their spending. This creates the false sense that marketing doesn’t work. Marketing does work, but ineffectively measuring outcomes could be disastrous.

Let’s say, for example, you have a marketing spend of $1000 and a target CPA of $100. You choose to invest your dollars in a direct mail campaign. You have a list purchase of $50, bringing you to $950 in available dollars for your mailing. Each mailing costs you $1 for printing your postcards, letters, other pieces, and postage.

You mail 950 pieces in the market, and you get a response rate of 2% (creating 20 leads), and your conversion rate (of lead to sale) is 60%. You have acquired 12 customers for your spend of $1000, bringing you a CPA of $83.33, well within your target of $100.

In this example, this program works. Keep investing. When you begin testing marketing strategies, you may not hit the mark on your target CPA out of the gate, but it doesn’t mean with the right testing strategies that, you won’t get there. Most marketing channels can work for any business. Measuring each channel is critical to getting results.

Measuring leading indicators like response rate or open rate is important, but at the end of the day, measuring performance back to your CPA will determine whether or not it was successful.

What Gets Measured Gets Results

Having a clear way to identify the effectiveness of each campaign back to your CPA target is critical to knowing whether your marketing efforts are succeeding. Relentlessly evaluate how you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts with persistence and consistency.

Each marketing campaign (a campaign for the purpose of this article is a channel of distribution to reach your target audience) should have a clear way to measure its CPA impact. This methodology for investing can apply to all forms of marketing whether it is email marketing, pay per click, direct mail, SEO (search engine optimization) and so on. It creates a very clear picture of what is working for you and what needs additional refinement to create profit.

My philosophy on marketing is that if you can’t measure it, don’t do it. There are several platforms that will enable you to measure your effectiveness, Hubspot being one of them.  Be diligent in understanding how you will measure each spend prior to starting.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Math Before Marketing and the other concepts I’ve used throughout my marketing career — and that we use at Valve+Meter — check out my book at

Here We Grow is my story of how the math-before-marketing model grew one company’s annual revenue from $2 million to $440 million. Beyond common (and not so common) marketing metrics, I recount the role family, bullies, teachers, business partners, and mentors played in shaping my growth journey.

If you would like a free copy of the book, let’s talk!

Here We Grow Book Cover

Testing Marketing Channels

Everything you do in the early stages of a marketing effort should be considered a test. Consider employing A/B testing methodologies or the scientific method using a control to continuously refine and measure your results, only changing one variable at a time.

Oftentimes, I hear programs or initiatives don’t work. I believe that almost all things can work. It is a matter of testing the right changes to deliver results.

Say, for example, in PPC (pay per click), if your clicks are low, perhaps you aren’t targeting the right keywords, or your call to action message is off. Each of these items should be tested independently.

Next, perhaps your offer isn’t compelling. If you get clicks with limited response, perhaps your landing page isn’t strong enough, or one variable needs an adjustment to drive response. You get the idea of continuously testing your efforts against control, which means while you may not be getting the result you want, keep investing and testing until you do.

Once you have identified a channel meeting your CPA target, that has been measured effectively,  tested, and iterated multiple times, invest as deeply as you can to acquire as much of that channel as you desire. You now have a winning marketing channel. This is what I refer to as performance marketing.

Putting it all together. Begin with understanding your cost per acquisition. Identify channels that meet your personas in their likely media. Test relentlessly. Remember, marketing is a math problem, not a strategy problem.

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