RevelOne’s Spotlight Series regularly features insights from top experts in our Interim Expert Network. We cover a broad range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent. If you’re interested in exploring these topics further and engaging with one of our 200+ executive or mid-level experts, please contact our team at experts@revel-one.com.


Written by Libby Weissman
This article was originally published on Libby’s Substack.   


When growth isn’t meeting expectations, where do you focus time and energy to fix the problem?

If you’re working in a marketing-led business, you might be asking yourself questions like:

1. Is my content resonating with the audience?
2. Am I marketing in the right channels?
3. Do I have the right tech stack?
4. Is the product positioned wrong?
5. Is the product itself good enough?

Marketing can so often feel like a black box, and as a former General Manager turned Marketing leader who’s worked with 15+ startups, I see three reasons why.

1. Marketing is a delicate system. Product, content, brand, and growth marketing elements must work together. If one part of the system is working well, but another isn’t, the whole system falls apart.

2. Most marketers aren’t system thinkers. Most marketing leaders come up through one marketing discipline—SEO, content marketing, paid social media, product marketing, brand strategy, etc.—and struggle to shake the bias of that discipline as they advance in their careers.

3. Marketers and stakeholders speak different languages. Sales, finance, and often CEOs all speak the language of the P&L—revenue, sales, acquisition, and profits. Many marketers speak the language of campaigns, creative briefs, impressions, and clicks. Successful marketing leaders translate between these two languages, but when that’s missing, it leads to a lot of misunderstanding on both sides.

Investigating the Black Box

I’ve seen marketing leaders and founders struggle to properly allocate marketing budgets and resources to drive repeatable, profitable growth. It often feels like a game of Whac-A-Mole — as soon as one thing is fixed, you realize something else is broken.

It’s tempting to start fixing the most urgent or obvious problem, but when it comes to the black box of marketing, the only thing I’ve seen work is applying a systems-thinking approach to diagnosing the root cause (or causes).

This article introduces the 11 components of a healthy marketing system. I’ll dive deep into each component, outlining how it impacts the overall marketing system and sharing specific questions to help you properly diagnose its performance in your organization.

Before we get into it:

1. Do all of these steps apply to every marketing team? This framework is relevant for scaling, post-product market fit companies using marketing as their primary growth motion and spending at least ~$2M annually on marketing (including headcount and budget).

2. Where should I start if I’m early in setting up my marketing-led growth engine? You need a much lighter-weight version of this system that still includes elements from all three pillars. I’ll publish a post that goes into more detail about applying systems thinking to early-stage startup marketing soon!

Checking Marketing’s Vitals

The 11 components are divided into strategy and execution across the four major marketing disciplines: brand, product, content, and growth. Let’s start with the basics:

Here’s how the 11 components shake out:

11 Components

  1. 💖 Brand strategy: Do you have a clearly defined purpose (why your brand exists) and values (principles to guide your brand’s behavior/decision-making) that help your audience understand what you stand for?
  2. 🎯 Positioning: Is your product creating differentiated value for a clearly defined target audience?
  3. 💬 Messaging: What are the reasons (and the evidence) customers should try your product? 
  4. 🏛 Pillars: Does all of your content connect back to a few core themes?
  5. 📆 Calendar: Do you have a regular cadence of content tied to moments in your customer’s life and your product’s roadmap?
  6. 📣 Distribution Advantages: Are you activated in channels that fit your customer, product, and business model? 
  7. 📊 Growth Model: Do you have clear goals for channel tactics that connect to your broader business goals?
  8. 📄 Briefs: Do you have a process for converting content ideas into creative deliverables (copy, visual)? 
  9. 🎥 Production: Is your content varied & high-quality?
  10. 🩺 Channel health: Are your channels following best practices (optimization, creative, measurement)?
  11. 🏃‍♀️ Operating cadence: Do you have robust rituals to track performance to goals, collect learnings, and adapt?

Diagnosing Common Syndromes

So, what do startups get wrong? Across the organizations I’ve worked with, I see a few typical profiles:

Silver Bullet Syndrome: These startups have seen short bursts of success from various tactics and are relentlessly pursuing “the next big idea” but have no repeatable and predictable growth engine. They tend to be underdeveloped across all the fundamentals, with the most significant weaknesses in execution (📄, 🎥, 🩺, 🏃‍♀️). Their founders tend to be unstructured thinkers who love to host a brainstorm.

Silver Bullet Syndrome

Measurement Syndrome: These startups have a rigorous approach to measuring growth and are constantly experimenting but aren’t consistently converting prospects. They have strengths in growth marketing strategy and execution (📣, 📊, 🩺, 🏃‍♀️) but come up short in content marketing strategy (🏛, 📆) and brand marketing (💖). Their founders tend to be left-brained operators who are skeptical of the creative parts of marketing and do their best thinking in SQL.

Measurement Syndrome

Perfectionist Syndrome: These startups deeply understand their customer and have flawless strategy docs to prove it—but struggle to convert that strategy into a growth engine. They have strengths in strategy across many dimensions (🎯, 🏛, 📣, 💬, 📆, 📊) but need to improve in executing content and growth (8, 9, 10, 11). Their founders tend to be ex-consultants (Matt Lerner calls these founders “overthinkers” in his new book) who thrive during an annual planning meeting.

Perfectionist Syndrome

Beautiful Things Syndrome: These startups churn out high-quality, entertaining, and beautiful content. They have strengths in content marketing strategy (🏛, 📆) and execution (📄, 🎥) as well as brand strategy (💖) but weaknesses in growth marketing (📣, 📊, 🩺, 🏃‍♀️). Their founders tend to come from large brands with > 90% brand awareness (where the focus was on catchy campaigns rather than building distribution) and light up most in a creative review.

Beautiful Things Syndrome

Closing Thoughts

Like any complicated system, if a diagnosis is rushed, it’s easy to focus on fixing the wrong thing.

I know the exhausting feeling of sprinting at a problem, only to fix it and find the system no better off. This is why so many marketing leaders end up burned out or fired, and their counterparts are left feeling even more confused about what marketing is and how to get it to work.

Subscribe if you want to dive deeper with me into each component:

 


About the Author
Libby Weissman is a growth advisor who helps startups implement & improve their marketing-led growth engines. Libby brings together lessons from her early-stage experience as VP of Marketing at Realm, scaling experience as Head of Marketing at Caviar (acquired by DoorDash), and advising experience across dozens of startups. To dive deeper into the elements of a high-performing marketing system, follow her Substack.

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.

RevelOne’s Spotlight Series regularly features insights from top experts in our Interim Expert Network. We cover a broad range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent. If you’re interested in exploring these topics further and engaging with one of our 200+ executive or mid-level experts, please contact our team at experts@revel-one.com.


Written by Daniel Pietrucha


Trends toward increased automation and machine-learning technology in digital marketing have decreased focus on audience strategies within paid search. With the ascendancy of Google’s Performance Max ad format, handing more control over to the algorithm – whether for bids, creative, audiences, etc. – is increasingly de rigueur. Indeed, PMax doesn’t even allow traditional audience targeting within paid search context (or even in display and video contexts), relying instead on ‘audience signals’, which are superficially similar, but functionally quite different.

But audience targeting can play a meaningful role in driving better paid search performance, specifically in the current climate where profitability has come to the fore. For teams with the right data sets and ability to execute, more sophisticated audience strategies are worthy of exploration. Before proceeding to a high-level overview of some of these more advanced audience targeting strategies, we’ll provide some brief background on audience targeting in Google.

Audience Types: Narrowing the Focus

Google offers several different options for audience targeting within its platform, from demographic targeting to in-market audiences. Not all of these apply to paid search; a few aren’t available to search and shopping campaigns, while others are better leveraged in display and video formats.

From Google:

Our focus below will be on ‘your data segments’; or data gathered through analytics and CRM platforms. These seem to be the most impactful audiences within a paid search context and those most intimately related to important concerns like profitability and efficient customer acquisition.

Observation vs. Targeting

When applying audiences to search or shopping campaigns, observation and targeting are two options. “Observation” allows for audience-specific data to be collected for a given campaign or ad group without narrowing its scope. In observation, ads remain eligible to serve to users outside of explicitly observed audience segments – so long as the user searches a suitably relevant query.

In contrast, “Targeting” an audience segment restricts ad service to that particular segment. Both audience membership and a relevant search query are necessary conditions for an ad to be triggered.

Each option has its utility, but I tend to see “Observation” as a precursor to “Targeting”. While data from observed segments can influence campaign performance, it’s the shift from passive observation to active targeting that generates more interesting results. The latter approach, however, is a more advanced tactic that’s possibly inappropriate for accounts with limited conversion data or smaller audience segments. We’ll get into some of these challenges in a later section.

Why use audiences in search campaigns?

Audience data for search campaigns would be of little interest if it weren’t actionable. In addition to providing valuable insights that can inform broader marketing strategy, there are direct benefits to paid search performance to utilizing audience lists in search campaigns.

For advertisers leveraging automated bidding, Google notes that first-party audience segments applied in “Observation” provide a signal that informs Smart Bidding (automated) strategies such as Target CPA and Target ROAS. Within this context, curating audience lists that provide meaningful information to the bid engine becomes critical. If users who read multiple pieces of your blog content are more likely to convert, create that audience segment, and get that data in front of the algorithm so it can bid accordingly. For those advertisers still utilizing manual bidding, bid adjustments (e.g. increase bid by 50%) can be applied to particularly high-performing audience segments to increase ad service to those audiences.

While the data captured through “Observation” can positively influence the performance of algorithmic bid strategies, there are additional benefits for advertisers who shift from this passive approach to actively targeting audience lists via search campaigns (including in Google Shopping).

Ad service can be materially different for audience segments when actively targeted via unique search campaigns versus aggregated with other users in generalized search or shopping campaigns. The main reason for this is that Smart Bidding strategies optimize at the campaign and ad group levels, while within those campaigns and ad groups, there can be substantial variation in performance across product sets, keywords, audiences, etc.

In other words, Google will balance performance between various ad group or campaign subcomponents to deliver on high-level return goals, but under the surface, large disparities can persist. By targeting an audience directly, advertisers can effectively tell Google their desired return goal for a specific audience segment, rather than have its performance balanced against a portfolio of other (very different) segments.

What this ultimately means is more control for advertisers. Active “Targeting” of audiences makes possible advanced strategies that provide advertisers with more control over how they engage with prospective and existing customers within a paid search context. Audience “Observation” remains an important phase one in this process, as the data collected in observation provides a benchmark for measuring the shift from passive to active audience targeting within search.

Below we’ll explore some of these advanced strategies at a high level, with a particular focus on audience lists related to user engagement and customer data.

Advanced Audience Strategies in Paid Search: Select Applications

1. Control customer acquisition costs

a. Acquiring new customers efficiently requires setting the right targets and effectively managing to those targets. Even if you have the math right on CAC, executing with precision will be a challenge when prospective and existing customers are targeted within the same campaign – and with the same efficiency target. Smart Bidding strategies optimize toward specific CPA or ROAS goals at the campaign or ad group level. While the overall bid strategy may be meeting its efficiency target, it could be overspending on new customers and bolstering the campaign average with high-performing buyer segments. The overarching principle of treating like cases alike and different cases differently favors breaking these very different user groups into distinct campaigns where they can be managed to their preferred efficiency. The benefits are transparency, control, and greater profitability.

2. Leverage customer lists to re-engage buyer segments

a. Retain customers by showing up in the right auctions. Customers aren’t always loyal. If they’re searching for a product you sell, but not your specific brand, they’re not necessarily committed to purchasing from you, even if their overall purchase intent is high. Targeting existing customers in non-brand search and shopping campaigns can help advertisers show up at critical moments when a sale might otherwise be lost to a competitor.

b. Manage efficiency to re-engage buyers profitably. Non-brand search and shopping campaigns can generate incremental sales from existing customers. Still, it may not be profitable to drive sales from these users at the same CPA or ROAS targets used in customer acquisition campaigns. Actively targeting buyers in separate campaigns allows for algorithmic bidding strategies to optimize for CPA or ROAS targets unique to buyers that are consistent with bottom-line goals.

c. Turn good customers into great ones. Leverage audience targeting to encourage more first-time purchasers to move into high lifetime value (LTV) customer segments by getting back in front of them during high-purchase intent moments. Maybe you have data that suggests that customers purchasing 2x in the first six months have materially higher LTV than the average customer, or that three purchases in the first year turn an average customer into a brand evangelist. There are many ways to approach this strategy, with the limitations primarily defined by the size of customer data sets and your ability to harvest unique insights that can be capitalized on in marketing contexts; companies like Wilde can help with the latter.

3. Retarget prospective customers near the bottom of the funnel

a. The customer journey is complex. Users often require multiple touches before conversion, especially for high-consideration products that are not only expensive but research-intensive. Musical instruments are a great example. While price points vary, high-end instruments can cost several thousands of dollars. Prospective customers spend hours watching comparison and review videos, reading blog content, and perusing technical details before ultimately making a purchase decision. Keeping a close eye on engagement signals – and bidding aggressively for users in search and shopping auctions when they are near the bottom of the funnel – ensures that investment in video and blog content isn’t going to waste. This approach can be particularly important for service industries where the sales cycle is much longer and the average deal value is much higher.

Brief Notes on PMax

Many advertisers and agencies are going all in on PMax, with Tinuiti reporting that 91% of their advertisers featured PMax campaigns as part of their marketing mix in Q4 2023. Interestingly, some other large agencies have been publicly signaling a shift away from this highly-automated format.

But regardless of one’s position on the importance of Performance Max campaigns within paid search accounts, the reality is that most of the strategies above cannot be executed – at least not with the same precision – when utilizing PMax versus traditional shopping or search campaigns.

As noted above, PMax does not allow for traditional audience targeting. Instead, PMax enables advertisers to provide audience signals, which are analogous to layering in audiences via ‘observation’ mode in search and shopping campaigns. But while analogous, there is – consistent with the general orientation of PMax – far less transparency: advertisers cannot observe key performance metrics (KPIs) for the specific audience applied as a signal.

PMax does have a new customer acquisition capability, so it is possible to segment prospective and existing customers and target them via unique campaigns. However, there are important differences in control over ad placements. The strategies above focus on delivering ads to users at critical junctures within search and shopping campaigns, but PMax doesn’t as yet allow advertisers to determine which ad format incremental ad spend is allocated toward. While your intention may be to be more aggressive within shopping auctions for certain audience segments, the ultimate effect may be a higher frequency of retargeting ads for this group of users.

This isn’t to say that PMax isn’t the right ad format for certain advertisers. Especially for those with lower budgets and limited conversion data, it may be a good first foray into the world of paid search, allowing for multi-ad format exposure focused on driving higher overall conversion volume. But for advertisers with more robust data sets and refined KPIs, there is a material reduction in control that comes with PMax. In some cases the improvement in performance is worth the reduced control and transparency; in many cases, it is not.

Complexities and Challenges

While the strategies above can yield interesting results, they’re also more difficult to execute, both in terms of creating the proper account structure and maintaining that structure. Limitations within particular platforms create additional challenges. Below are a few things to consider before implementing the strategies outlined above.

1. Google’s ability to matchback users isn’t perfect. One of the ways an advertiser might identify existing customers is through CRM data, which can be uploaded to Google to create audience lists composed of those particular customers. However Google cannot correctly identify every user based on this data, so the split between new and existing customers will be imperfect. It’s worth pairing Customer Match lists with GA4 audiences to increase the effectiveness of new versus existing customer segmentation (though this too is imperfect). For those with the right systems in place, new-to-file data should be monitored to gauge the efficacy of this approach to segmentation and calibrate efficiency targets accordingly. Note also that these CRM lists must be periodically updated to ensure data accuracy.

2. Close attention must be paid to account structure. Because of platform limitations on Google, effecting a split between prospective and existing customers requires utilizing campaign priority rules that funnel users to the desired campaign. Priority rules determine which campaign will take priority in the event multiple campaigns are eligible in the same auction. For example, a high-priority campaign might target existing customers; if a user is in the targeted audience segment, they will be served an ad from that campaign; if the user is not in that segment, they will receive an ad from a lower priority campaign. By funneling out existing customers via high-priority campaigns, lower-priority campaigns effectively focus on new customer acquisition. But things can quickly get complicated if there are multiple criteria for segmentation (e.g. product types, profit margin, additional audiences, etc.) Advertisers must evaluate the logic of the campaign structure to ensure it’s set up to flow users as intended.

3. Complex account structures have increased maintenance costs. Once you’ve confirmed the logic of a new account structure, new campaign launches need to be evaluated for how they fit in with the existing ecosystem. Any advertiser doing hands-on-keyboard work must develop a solid understanding of the structure in place so that new campaigns don’t disrupt the existing logic. Complex structures tend to be more fragile; they’re easier to break and harder to fix when they do. Adopting appropriate SOPs for new campaign launches and developing the right monitoring mechanisms can help mitigate some of the risks that complexity creates.

4. Conversion volume is critical. Conversion volume is the lifeblood of algorithmic bidding. An advertiser could develop the perfect campaign logic for their particular goals and adopt procedures that ensure effective execution, but if the conversions aren’t there, then better performance might be achieved through a simpler campaign structure. The targeting strategies above are largely the purview of advertisers with larger budgets and longer account history; for everyone else, leveraging audiences in “Observation” might be the best that can be done for now, though it can lay the groundwork for more complex applications as additional scale is achieved.

Conclusion

Gaining a better understanding of how audience targeting functions within paid search enables advertisers to vet advanced strategies that provide increased control and transparency. While not appropriate to every advertiser, these strategies can offer significant benefits – especially concerning efficiency and profitability – for those with the necessary resources for successful execution.


About the Author
Daniel Pietrucha is the owner of 174 bpm, a performance marketing consultancy focused on paid search advertising. He has over a decade of experience in digital marketing on both the agency and client sides, working for companies like Orvis, The Pro’s Closet, and Pure Hockey, as well as early-stage DTC companies in the e-commerce space.

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.

RevelOne’s Spotlight Series regularly features insights from top experts in our Interim Expert Network. We cover a broad range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent. If you’re interested in exploring these topics further and engaging with one of our 200+ executive or mid-level experts, please contact our team at experts@revel-one.com.


Written by Nataly Huff


Is your marketing team finding itself in the background, relegated to executing last-minute requests rather than shaping strategic growth? Your organization has a solid product offering and is tapping into the right market. Now is the time to scale; but somehow the crucial discussions around strategic growth happen without marketing.

So, how do we fix this? Let’s dive into the journey of transforming marketing teams from mere executers to driving forces of unprecedented insights and step-change initiatives.

Overcoming the Afterthought Syndrome

The Plight of the Overlooked Marketing Team

The path to becoming an overlooked marketing team seems to be pretty consistent across organizations.

Step 1: The company is growing, budgets are tight, and everyone seems to be “building the plane as we’re flying.” Everyone’s handling the next thing right in front of them, and no one has had a chance to think about what is foundationally needed for scale. Thinking long-term feels like a luxury.

Step 2: The founders define your products and your ideal customer’s needs, and marketing polishes the message. So the work that marketing delivers looks to be just the execution of direction and ideas that came from the leadership team.

Step 3: Marketing seems to be supporting everyone. We’re updating pitch decks, designing new case studies, and posting on social and blogs about the latest product updates. Marketing resources are spread thin and don’t seem capable of contributing at the strategy level.

Step 4: Early success with the current setup raises the fallacy of “we’ve gotten this far without having to worry about marketing strategy.”

Just four steps and the marketing team gets relegated to being a request-taker. “Can you just quickly update the design for trade show collateral? The event is this weekend, but it shouldn’t be that hard, right?” Inevitably, no one takes the time to ask who will be at the event, what the goals are, and how attendees will receive this collateral.

Bridging the Gap From Afterthought to Growth Driver

There’s a persistent myth that marketing is just about crafting ads or collateral and posting on social media. Amidst reactive, execution tasks, marketing teams face the constant struggle of proving their strategic value. Transitioning from an afterthought to a growth driver will need a substantial shift in both perception and action.
As marketers, we know that insights into market trends and customer behaviors enable better decision-making. We can see how automation will save time and improve retention and repurchase rates. We understand that managing brand reputation will make lead generation and conversion more efficient. But to sell these ideas within an organization means going beyond traditional advertising and aligning with the company’s broader objectives.

Strategic Marketing: What It Is & What It’s Not

Strategic marketing is not just a series of tactics. It’s a proactive, comprehensive approach that defines the marketing efforts based on the company’s long-term goals. It requires a thorough understanding of your market segment to inform the effective positioning of your brand. It brings a long-term view of the customer journey to build a connection with customers that goes beyond transactions. Through research and careful planning, strategic marketing interweaves the business’s objectives and the customer’s needs.

Being proactive vs reactive means intentionally selecting to put resources into the most impactful initiatives, aligning on the objectives, and defining success metrics ahead of time. And requiring intention and data-driven reasons to veer away from the plan.

Being integrated vs isolated means communicating early and often, welcoming probing questions, and focusing on the results that are meaningful for the whole organization.
Strategic marketing isn’t just about being creative; it’s about being deliberate, data-driven, and results-oriented.

Aligning Strategic Marketing with Business Goals

Strategic marketing is the backbone of any thriving business. It is the bridge between aspirations and market realities. By deeply understanding the customer and focusing on the entire customer journey, strategic marketing will increase market share, enhance customer loyalty, and drive entry into new markets.

Herein lies the first step for the transformation: we are not here to make marketing successful. We are here to make the business successful. Our goal is to make sure that every marketing message and initiative not only communicates the brand’s narrative but also drives toward specific business KPIs (key performance indicators).

Shifting Mindsets: Adopting a CEO Mindset

Moving a marketing team from the periphery to the core of business strategy has little to do with recognition. This kind of transformation comes from within the marketing team. It begins with cultivating a deep understanding of the business model, the industry landscape, and the customer base. The entire marketing team must evolve to think like business strategists. We need to do more than just use data and analytics to inform marketing decisions and measure the impact. The focus of the entire team needs to shift from making marketing successful to making the business successful. “How will this drive the business forward?” is the new marketing mantra.

Integrating Business Objectives with Marketing Initiatives

Encourage your team to, quite literally, draw the connection from their efforts to the business goal, and define every team, variable, and risk along the way.

If the line to the business goal is not clear it could mean that the priorities need to be revisited, or it could mean that the team needs a better understanding of how the business works. Both are crucial findings that help define the next step to level up strategic marketing.

If the line is drawn and dependencies defined, we now have a list of teams and processes required to ensure the success of the initiative.

The CEO mindset demands we erase “not my problem” from our vocabulary. We don’t have the luxury of saying that marketing delivered on their part, and the other teams dropped the ball. Our initiatives aren’t successful if they aren’t impacting the business goal. Bringing other functions on board, equipping them for success, and mitigating risks are squarely within the scope for which we’re accountable.

Likely, this means taking on fewer initiatives. By taking ownership of the holistic perspective of the initiative, we can now ensure that every campaign, content piece, and marketing effort is delivering tangible business outcomes. And now, every marketing dollar spent is an investment towards the company’s growth.

Truly Understanding the Business Landscape

As marketers, we need to make a habit of being very familiar with the company’s financial goals, market positioning, and product margins. Staying on top of industry trends, regulatory changes, and technological advancements that can impact the business is a requirement for any sort of forward-thinking planning. Deep knowledge of the customer journey, from awareness to purchase and beyond, is essential to identifying opportunities and ensuring connecting tactics to business results.

This comprehensive view is a base-level requirement for crafting strategies that deliver results. In building a habit of having full context, we bring strategic thinking into our efforts.

This evolution is not easy, especially when the team has been embedded in the execution tasks for so long. Your teams might not know how to break out of the status quo. Sometimes, a transformation requires some external support with a fresh perspective. Bringing in a team coach, or a fractional leader to help facilitate the transition can make a big difference and accelerate the process.

Why Before How: Focus on Driving Results

When it comes to humans, perception is formed quickly and will influence actions immediately. This means that unless we quickly, clearly, consistently, and repeatedly communicate why something matters – most people will not care.

We cannot assume that everyone has the same context, or even has time to think about the context. We cannot assume that people understand what we’re trying to accomplish and how our initiative impacts the business. Unless we spell out how our work benefits the company, many might assume that we have not thought it through.

We need to take every opportunity to talk about the “why” in quantifiable, tangible results that matter all.

Obsessive Outcome-Oriented Approach

Part of the transition is pivoting from being activity-focused to outcome-driven. Before diving into the ‘how’ of tactics and campaigns, we must first clarify the ‘why’ – the goal outcomes and objectives. How will we know we succeeded? How will that success impact the strategic goals of the company? Every marketer should be able to easily answer these questions.

Knowing the “why” will help prioritize work, evaluate effort vs impact, and make internal communications easier. This results-obsessed approach will give credibility to both our initiatives and our accomplishments. Communicating the targets will bring people in on the process and show intentionality behind our efforts. We are no longer viewed as throwing spaghetti at the wall or “just doing some last-minute updates.” We are setting out to drive the company forward and explain how. And we are promising to hold ourselves accountable to the results we targeted.

And now that we’ve set this standard for ourselves, we have a basis to ask probing questions (with positive intent) of other teams. The goal here is not to show off or make our peers look bad. We are here to help stimulate the conversation and demonstrate strategic capability to bring value into any conversation.

Identifying Which Results Matter

We are no longer looking to make marketing succeed, we are working for the business to succeed. Now, we have to find the KPIs that align with business objectives. So that anyone from any team can understand how that KPI connects to the business results, without a need for us to explain.

The metrics that matter are those that are much closer to the actual desired outcome. Impression-share and clicks are not going to cut it. MQLs (marketing qualified leads) and costs per lead get closer. But in the end, it’s the actual conversions that matter. These KPIs will be the guiding light toward high-impact activities. When we take ownership of the full-funnel performance of our initiatives (even when they include activities not owned by marketing), we are forcing ourselves to care and get involved with all elements that impact company growth.

Results that the entire organization can get behind make it easier to talk about the targets and the outcomes. When we can start demonstrating how marketing strategies contribute to the bigger picture, it will help validate the role of marketing. It will also encourage a more result-driven culture.

This Transformation is Hard

Without Marketing at the executive table, scale is likely to become a challenge. Strategic marketing leadership ensures that the path to scale becomes clearer, the efforts more concerted, and the outcomes more impactful. Embracing marketing as a central driver of growth is not just smart – it’s essential for any company looking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

What’s Needed to Make It Happen

You will need marketing leaders who can step up to spearhead discussions, integrate into business strategy, build relationships, and pioneer a results-driven culture. This calls for senior marketers who are not just creative thinkers but also savvy business strategists. Someone who possesses a blend of marketing acumen and a deep understanding of business operations. The current teams are likely to have carved a deep path within the status quo, and breaking free from those legacy processes will take time, effort, and initiative.

Change like this needs a catalyst and a champion. It is a job for a seasoned professional that is hard to find and is likely expensive. For this transformation, the concept of fractional marketing leadership can be a game-changer.

By hiring a seasoned marketing executive on a part-time or contract basis, companies can access top-tier marketing expertise without the full-time financial commitment. These experienced professionals bring a wealth of experience, strategic insight, and leadership. All the skills businesses need but may not be able to afford full-time. A fractional CMO can bring credibility and external perspective to help shape and implement a marketing strategy that drives growth. They can mentor existing teams, introduce best practices, and establish a results-driven marketing culture. For companies looking to scale, a fractional marketing executive can be the best way to get the strategic direction needed to navigate the complexities of market expansion and customer acquisition.


About the Author
Nataly Huff is an experienced leader known for challenging the status quo and creating measurable, sustainable change. With more than 15 years in leadership focusing on growth and retention marketing, Nataly has a proven track record of driving growth for startups and mature global organizations alike.

The foundation of her career stems from agency-side work for clients in Health, Science, and Technology. As her career evolved, Nataly took on transformational and ground-up development of world-class teams in EdTech, Retail, and Prosumer SaaS. Today, Nataly is the Founder & CEO of Innovate Forward Marketing (https://www.innovate-fwd.com/) offering strategic guidance and practical marketing expertise to businesses worldwide.

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.

RevelOne’s Spotlight Series regularly features insights from top experts in our Interim Expert Network. We cover a broad range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent. If you’re interested in exploring these topics further and engaging with one of our 200+ executive or mid-level experts, please contact our team at experts@revel-one.com.


Written by Amanda Berg
This article was originally published in Amanda’s email newsletter, Growth Therapy.  


If you asked any paid media buyer how to run Facebook ads in 2017, they’d give you a completely different answer than if you asked that same question today (and if they don’t, run!).

Facebook used to be THE channel for ultra-precise, narrowed-in targeting, which, of course, made it an incredibly valuable tool for advertisers looking to reach highly relevant audiences.

But a lot has changed in the last ~7 years. Aside from the fact that we call Facebook “Meta” now, precise, advertiser-controlled audience targeting is no longer a key feature of the platform. Like most of the big paid digital channels, Meta has removed more and more advertiser control over time, relying more on its modeling and algorithms to serve ads to the right people at the right time.

AI and ML advancements aside, there were a few key turning points that led to sweeping changes in how advertising on Facebook works.

Let’s dive into how it used to work, what these turning points were, and how it works now, so you can leverage Meta properly — and not like it’s 2017.

How Facebook Targeting Used to Work

Back in the day, you could target your Facebook ads to virtually any granular subset of people you could dream up, based on demographic info, interests, and behaviors. This included:

See this (massive) graphic from 2018 that details all the possible targeting options on Facebook. Keep in mind that each of these interest categories contains thousands of individual interests.

This level of targeting was incredibly useful to all advertisers and made it easier than ever to reach new and high-intent users at a massive scale.

For example, think about how a nascent clean beauty brand, political campaign team, or consumer fintech company could all use the same tools on Facebook to achieve massive reach to their precise audience.

But if you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, it must have been easy for Facebook and its advertisers to abuse all this information,” you’re already ahead of where Facebook was (publicly, at least) at the time.

The Audience Insights Tool

If you remember the old audience insights tool, you might not even know there’s still a version of it currently available because it’s so watered down.

The old version of Facebook’s audience insights tool was an absolute goldmine. Facebook used to let you pop in ANY targeting inputs you’d like, and would spit out the demographics and interests of those folks so that you could:

Luckily, I was able to find a screenshot of what this tool used to look like (apologies for the blurry image). You entered your inputs into the gray menu on the left, and could then learn all about this audience on the right:

Facebook Audience Insights Tool

The real golden nuggets came from the “Page Likes” tab, where you could see a list of pages liked by your audience. You could then target these as interests.

There’s still a version of this tool that exists, but it’s so watered down that I don’t see how it’s useful. The inputs are much more limited, to age, gender, location, and a limited set of interests.

When I tested it, the outputs were virtually the same across the various demographics I tried, and were incredibly generic, as you can see in the list below.

Facebook Top Pages Example

This is the “top pages” list for my demographic, Women 26 – 34 in Colorado. Aside from the Denver Broncos (and the total wildcard that is Eminem 🍝), the same “interests” showed up in virtually every demographic breakout I tried.

Custom Audiences and Lookalikes

Custom and lookalike audience lists have also gone through a lot of change, though not nearly as visibly.

They certainly still exist and are widely used, but they’re not as powerful as they used to be, particularly for smaller brands with less reach. To understand why that is, it’s important to note the two most common ways of building a custom audience:

Once you build a custom audience this way, you can then tell Facebook to make you a net new audience of people that “look like” the folks in your seed list. Facebook’s ability to do this accurately relies on being able to take your seed list and match it up with folks on Facebook.

Match rates used to sit in the 60% – 80% range. The missing 20% – 40% wasn’t a deficiency in Facebook’s ability to understand your data — more often than not, you just had folks in your list that either didn’t use Facebook or used Facebook with different contact info.

You can see why having a large audience is necessary to inform Facebook’s ability to model, even when match rates used to be this high. Today, match rates are much lower. I’ll explain why.

The Two Major Turning Points

Two key events over the last 10 years meaningfully changed the way Facebook functions as an ad platform. The first takes us back to 2014…

1. The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

This story made global news in 2018, so you may remember pieces of it. Here’s the TL;DR:

Back in 2014, a developer and academic named Aleksandr Kogan released a Facebook app called “thisisyourdigitalife” and billed it as a personality test. Around 270,000 Facebook users downloaded the app and consented to share their data with the app itself.  Behind the scenes, the developer was sharing all this data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica — without users’ consent — a violation of Facebook’s policy.  Further, Facebook’s API at the time allowed developers to access information about people’s Facebook friends, so the data of around 50 million people, unbeknownst to them, was ultimately shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica then used this data to build psychographic profiles of users that could be used to target political ads with extreme precision. A whistleblower finally leaked the story, and Facebook had to pay the price by significantly tightening up its rules around:

We started seeing many granular interest and behavior-targeting segments disappear from Facebook as a direct result. To this day Facebook still occasionally removes targeting options, often blaming the fact that they’re “duplicative” or “rarely used.” You certainly can’t find anything related to race, religion, or political affiliation anymore, and tons of interest segments have been removed over time.

2. Apple’s iOS 14.5 Rollout

The second key turning point made big headlines in the digital marketing and tech circles but may have flown under the radar for Gen Pop. This was Apple’s rollout of iOS 14.5 in the spring of 2021.

The key change in this OS update was that all apps would be required to show a one-time popup to all users, asking them to opt into being tracked by that app. If a user opted out, they could not be asked again to opt in.

This was annoying for app developers, but not the end of the world for most apps. And it was such a non-event for typical consumers that you probably don’t even remember this happening. Meta, however, was uniquely positioned to lose out big time — Facebook and Instagram are both mobile apps AND massive advertising platforms that rely heavily on tracking user behavior to properly inform their ad-serving algorithms.

It’s estimated that as many as 90% of people opted out of being tracked — a massive loss for Meta.

In other words, up to 90% of the portion of your audience that uses an Apple device is no longer trackable or able to be used in custom or lookalike audiences. If your audience happens to skew heavily Android or desktop, this has less of an impact on you.

Let’s bring this back to custom audience match rates. As a result of users being given the power to opt out of being tracked by Facebook and Instagram, match rates have sharply declined, and typically come in around 25% – 40% these days. This means Facebook has far fewer data points to power its models, and means it’s especially challenging for smaller or newer orgs with less data to leverage these tools.

This opt-out behavior also impacts the interest and behavior targeting options that remain, accurate conversion tracking, and anything else on Meta that relies on engagement and conversion signal — think budget optimization and creative optimization.

The Key Changes

Of course, it’s good for consumers not to have their data shared or tracked without their consent. Ultimately, the two major impacts on advertisers from these events were:

How Meta Targeting Works Now

For better or worse, Meta is heavily invested in AI and machine learning, which are more crucial than ever in both measuring performance and powering its ad-serving algorithm. Since many granular targeting options have been done away with, Meta now encourages advertisers to use what they call “Advantage+ targeting”, a silly name that means you’re letting Meta decide for you who to show ads to, and when and where to place them.

One huge misconception here is that by going “broad” this way, your targeting is fully open. Unless you’re optimizing purely for reach, it’s virtually impossible to have “open targeting” on Meta, because their algorithms have gotten so good at honing in on who to serve ads to. Advertisers just don’t have as much visibility into who their ads are being served to as they used to, back when they could make more of these decisions themselves.

It’s also more difficult now to achieve ultra-precise geographical targeting. According to Meta’s documentation:

“Meta technologies use a variety of signals to show ads to the people who are a part of your location targeting selections. Because these signals vary, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed. You may occasionally see a small number of ad impressions, or even receive a message or lead, from outside of your location settings.”

Finally, when using custom or lookalike audiences, know that bigger is better. Consensus on exact numbers varies, but I like to use 10,000 matched profiles as an absolute minimum — meaning you probably need somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 profiles in your list, depending on what your match rate looks like.

When you bear in mind that a 1% lookalike audience in the U.S. contains somewhere between 2 and 3 million people, basing that list off of just 10,000 profiles means Meta still has to fill in a lot of blanks.

These numbers probably sound like small potatoes for medium and large brands, but this can be difficult to achieve for newer, smaller, or budget-constrained brands.

Does This Mean Meta Ads Don’t Work As Well Anymore?

I would say different, not worse. Meta is still a critical channel for B2C brands that are focused on acquisition, and it’s an incredibly powerful platform, in part because of how it’s needed to adapt over time and leverage machine learning.

It’s certainly gotten harder for very small or very local brands, because of all of the changes we discussed. CPMs have also gotten a lot more expensive over time as competition has increased and advertiser controls have lessened.

How to Use the “New” Meta Ads to Your Advantage

For starters, you don’t have to worry about as many campaign settings anymore. Unless your targeting needs to be restrictive, you should minimize your targeting parameters and let Meta figure most of it out for you. Its machine-learning algorithm is just going to be better than a human’s assumptions at determining what audience you should reach, especially with so many interests and other targeting options removed.

This isn’t to say you don’t need to understand who your audience is because Meta will understand it for you — quite the opposite.

Secondly, and I’ve talked about this before, your creative is now your targeting. It’s now the job of your creative assets to grab the attention of the people you want to reach with the right visuals and messaging to do so. A deep understanding of your customers and what makes them tick is essential to doing this well.

Invest in getting to know your customers — get on the phone with them, read the reviews they’re leaving, put thought into your post-purchase surveys, etc.


About the Author
Amanda Berg is a fractional head of growth and writer of the Growth Therapy Newsletter. She works with early-stage B2C startups to strategically launch, hone, and scale their marketing functions to effectively drive key outcomes. Previously, she led growth teams in-house at companies like SmartAsset and Zola. She’s based in Denver, CO.

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.

RevelOne’s Spotlight Series regularly features insights from top experts in our Interim Expert Network. We cover a broad range of topics at the intersection of marketing, growth, and talent. If you’re interested in exploring these topics further and engaging with one of our 200+ executive or mid-level experts, please contact our team at experts@revel-one.com.


Written by Loretta Doria


Gone are the days when CMOs spent their time solely buried in strategy decks and spreadsheets. Today’s CMOs are tasked with driving tangible and measurable progress toward business objectives, and they need to do it quickly. This demands not only strategic vision but also a keen understanding of how each marketing channel operates and how to assemble teams to effectively manage these channels.

Enter email – the unsung hero of marketing. Despite being declared dead and back to life more times than Elvis, email marketing continues to survive and thrive. Here are five reasons why it remains an indispensable tool:

1. Email is the Perfect Canvas for Your Brand’s Story
Email provides a unique opportunity to tell your brand’s story in a personalized and engaging way. It’s not exactly long-form, it’s not quite short-form either – which perfectly positions it to engage creatively, entertain, educate (or both!) with content, while also driving to a clear call to action or point of conversion. Whether showcasing new products, sharing customer success stories, or delivering exclusive content, email allows you to create a narrative that reinforces your brand identity and drives toward those KPIs.

2. Email is a Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) Neutralizing Channel
Unlike other marketing channels that may require significant investment to acquire new customers, email marketing can be a cost-effective way to engage with your existing audience and nurture relationships over time. In fact, according to Litmus, email generates $42 for every $1 spent – that’s a 4,200% ROI. By leveraging your email list, you can reach out to potential customers who have already shown interest in your brand, making it a highly targeted and efficient channel for driving conversions. It’s also a low-cost channel for testing messaging to understand what resonates the most.

3. Email is Your Gateway to Retention
While acquiring new customers is essential for growth, retaining existing customers is what makes ‘forever brands’. Email marketing plays a crucial role in nurturing customer relationships and fostering loyalty. From engaging newsletters and personalized promotions and loyalty rewards to post-purchase follow-ups and customer feedback surveys, email allows you to stay top of mind with your audience throughout their journey, increasing the likelihood of repeat business and referrals.

4. Email Can Be Automated
One of the most significant advantages of email marketing is its ability to be automated. And what’s even better is there are many marketer-friendly email service providers (like Klaviyo, Iterable, and Sendlane to name a few) that put automation within reach even without a team of full-stack engineers. All stages of businesses can benefit from automated campaigns based on specific actions or behaviors, such as welcome emails for new subscribers, abandoned cart reminders, or re-engagement campaigns for inactive subscribers. And once your list is growing at a fast clip, testing in your triggered program can squeeze significant gains out of your list. Automation saves time and resources and ensures timely and relevant communication with your audience.

5. Email is Highly Visible!
Your boss sees it, your boss’s boss sees it, and beyond. If you don’t agree, try sending your CEO an email with a typo in the subject line or a broken link and see how quickly you get feedback! Email is a highly visible channel that frequently catches the eye of senior leadership and can even contribute to building culture within your organization. An email sent to customers often represents the collective effort of many team members, so make your team proud by sending only exceptional emails.

How to Assess the State of Your Current Email Program
Before diving into any changes or improvements, it’s essential to evaluate the effectiveness of your current email program as a whole. It’s easy to get caught up in reacting to one-off ideas and feedback, but this approach generally won’t move the needle in a way that satisfies all stakeholders.

Annual comprehensive audits of your email content, design, segmentation strategies, and automation workflows are crucial. This involves analyzing key metrics such as audience growth, click-through rates, conversion rates, revenue, and subscriber engagement compared to industry benchmarks, as well as your historical performance and the relative performance of other channels.

Additionally, consider seeking the expertise of fractional experts. They are a valuable resource for fresh perspectives that cut through clutter and internal bias to prioritize impact more efficiently.

Building Your Organization Around Retention
Building or restructuring your organization around retention requires a holistic approach that involves cross-functional collaboration and alignment. Start by identifying key stakeholders from various departments, including marketing, customer service, product development, and data analytics.

Collaborate on developing a unified retention strategy that prioritizes customer experience, personalization, continuous improvement, and most importantly, aligns on goals and success measures. Then, invest in the necessary resources, technology, and talent to execute your retention initiatives effectively, and regularly monitor and measure the impact of your efforts to ensure ongoing success. Communication is key – retention metrics don’t change overnight, so keeping teams apprised of learnings and progress is critical to maintaining momentum.

By recognizing the power and potential of email marketing, CMOs can strengthen their connection to the customer and drive measurable growth!


About the Author
Loretta Doria is a fractional head of marketing with extensive CRM expertise, focusing on early-stage high-growth businesses in e-commerce, fashion, beauty, health, and wellness, among other sectors. With a track record of working with category-defining brands like Birchbox, Pura Vida Bracelets, Function of Beauty, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Doubleday, she has been called “startup whisperer” and “chief cat herder.”

About RevelOne
RevelOne is a leading go-to-market advisory and recruiting firm. We help hundreds of VC/PE-backed companies each year leverage the right resources to achieve more profitable growth. We do 250+ retained searches a year in Marketing and Sales roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. In addition to our Search Practice, our Interim Expert Network includes 200+ vetted expert contractors – executive-level leaders and head-of/director-level functional experts – available for interim or fractional engagements. For help in any of these areas, contact us.