Often times a company will decide it’s time to give marketing a chance, then be disappointed with the outcome. They will sometimes say something like “Marketing doesn’t work. I tried it and lost money on it. I’m just going to stick with word-of-mouth referrals.” And while the marketing may not have generated the sales they were expecting, it may be that they didn’t quite have realistic marketing expectations weren’t set when getting started. This is understandable, particularly for newer businesses, or businesses who haven’t done much marketing in the past.

The question that should be asked is “what are realistic marketing expectations?” This blog post provides insight on that, and pointers on the factors that sometimes cause unmet expectations. First, let’s look at time and budget.

Give it the Right Amount of Time and Budget

There are many forms of marketing. Examples include search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (PPC), email marketing, social media marketing and more. But, each form of marketing has a best practice in terms of how long it takes to really start seeing good results. Here are some general rules of thumb:

SEO Factors and ConceptSearch Engine Optimization (SEO)

This form of marketing typically takes about 3-6 months to start seeing good results. And that’s assuming your industry is average in terms of competitiveness. Also, for local companies (not regional or national) the budget is around $750 to $1,500 per month. This doesn’t mean you can’t see quicker results for less of a monthly budget. But, these figures are based on averages. If you decide to do $250 per month for three months, and think you’ll start seeing an amazing boost in sales, then the expectations will likely not be met.

But again, it can happen. We’ve seen clients generate great results in a just a month.

Pay Per Clicks Advertising (PPC)

This form of marketing typically takes about nine months to really start seeing an optimal return on investment. However, results can be seen much more quickly, and even within the first month. However, the cost per lead will almost always cost more, in the long-run, with PPC than it does with SEO. But, if you’re looking for quick leads, and don’t care as much about the cost per lead, then this can be a great option. And, as time goes by, the return on investment should improve significantly, if it’s being properly managed each month. But, keep in mind that if you don’t invest enough, on a monthly basis, you will likely not experience optimal results.

The cost for management will likely be around $300 to $1,000 per month. The cost for the actual ads (paid directly to Google or the social media platform) will probably be no less than $500. More than likely, it will be closer to $1,000-2,000 per month. If you’re only investing a few hundred dollars per month on PPC, and think you’ll get great sales, then your expectations will likely not be met.

Email Marketing

This form of marketing typically has a fantastic return on investment. But, the catch is that you need to have a really solid email list of people who are actually subscribed or expecting to receive emails from you on a regular basis. A great list could include current and relatively recent clients or customers. These are people who have already used your services and are likely to use them again. Even a list of prospective clients or customers, who reached out to you in the past, could be good. The turnaround time for email marketing can be immediate. But, the challenge is building an email list. This is especially true if you haven’t already been working on it, or if you’re a new business.

This can take some time. Make sure you’re disciplined when it comes to growing your email list. And put some careful consideration into your email marketing strategy, and other ways to grow your email list. If you’re planning to buy a cold list of email addresses and to get great results from it, those expectations are probably not realistic.

Related Blog Post: Tips for Keeping Your Marketing Emails From Getting Flagged as Spam

Social media concept overlaying people with devicesSocial Media Marketing

This form of marketing has virtually no barrier to entry. Anyone can create a Facebook or Twitter page and it doesn’t cost anything for these accounts. However, the typical business takes about 12 months of on-going social media activity before it actually starts to see any real impact to their sales. And a social media management budget of $1,000 per month is very normal.

If you’re planning to do social media marketing, make sure you follow best practices, and consider hiring a graphic designer to make your social media accounts look stunning. Also, you’ll want to hire a social media professional to give you advice on how to create a social media strategy that’s engaging and following best practices.

If you’re expecting to create and manage the social media account yourself, and to only do minimal posting without a fully fleshed out strategy, then you’ll likely experience unmet expectations. And if you do follow best practices, expect it to take maybe a year and some advertising dollars to really get traction on it. Seeing great increases in sales because of social media, in just a few months, is not realistic for most industries. There are exceptions though.

Other Marketing Channels

There are other forms of digital marketing. This blog post isn’t designed to share expectations for every type of marketing. But, what’s shared above should give you a good general idea regarding expectations and why they may not be met. For any marketing channel you’re interested in using, first take the time to research it. See what normal expectations are. And if possible, find out what what kind of results are normal to see, per marketing channel, in your specific industry.

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Follow Best Practices

It can definitely help with expectations being met when a reasonable amount of time, and a reasonable budget, are invested in the marketing. But, there are other factors that can result in expectations not being met. One of these is understanding an implementing best practices.

Every type of marketing has best practices to follow. You’ll want to make sure to study up on the best practices for the types of marketing you’re including in your strategy. And something else to consider is who you’ve hired to help with your marketing.

Here are some best practice examples that can impact results:

  • Blog posts should be a specific length, if you’re trying to get more website traffic and leads because of them.
  • Most marketing emails should be sent on Tuesdays or Thursdays around 7 AM or 7 PM and shouldn’t include more than three links.
  • Facebook posts should be limited to 80 characters, if possible, in most cases.

Of course, every industry is different and there are exceptions. But, following best practices like the three above, will help with meeting expectations.

Hire The Right Marketing Professionals

Not every marketing hire is a perfect fit. Think of a new company just getting started. It will likely generate around $40,000 in sales during the first year. That’s a very normal income. But that isn’t enough of an income to hire a full-time marketing employee. Than again, a company making $400,000 in sales will probably want to invest about $40,000+ into marketing every year. But to have realistic expectations, you should understand some of the pros and cons to the different types of professionals you can hire. Here is a very brief overview of some of the differences you might expect:

Marketing ConversationIn-House Marketing

Hiring an in-house marketing person, or even a marketing department, can be very valuable. One of the greatest benefits is that they are there to work for you, and only you, whenever you need them to do something. But, you will need to make sure they have the right priorities in the right order. The challenge is there’s no such thing as a single person who is truly experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of marketing. For example, while they overlap, paid ads on Google, web development, graphic design, and social media marketing all require very different skill sets. Hiring one person to do everything often results in a lot of mediocre results.

If your expectations are that a single in-house person can provide extremely quality results in all aspects of marketing, then you’ll probably be in for a surprise. One good solution is to supplement your in-house person or team with a freelancer.

Freelance Marketing Professionals

Many businesses will opt to outsource their marketing to freelancers. One of the greatest benefits to this is you can piecemeal your marketing team together, by finding people who love what they do and can take care of you, as needed. In this case, you’re trading the value of having a single in-house person who’s always available, for a number of individual freelancers who are very good at what they do, and all experienced.

There are a couple downsides though. First, it may take several tries before you actually find a freelancer that’s a good fit and provides the communication and quality of service you want. Second, if you get multiple freelancers, you’ll need someone to handle the management of them. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending your time coordinating, strategizing, and giving directions to different freelancers who aren’t connected to each other. Third, the freelancer works on their own schedule. This means they aren’t as available to you as an employee.

To keep expectations in check, be aware that you may need to spend some time and money before you actually find a good freelancer, for the task you need help with. And it will take time to truly grow a great marketing team, comprised of just freelancers.

Digital Marketing Agency

A digital marketing is another common marketing option. They typically have a variety of highly skilled individuals. So, having to find a lot of different freelancers may be avoided, simply by going straight to an agency. And this is also a benefit over just having an in-house person with a more limited skill set. But, as with the other two types of marketing hires, there are some downsides to using an agency.

Two teams coming togetherMost agencies will charge a bit more for their services than you would expect to pay an in-house person or a freelancer. But the trade-off is that if you hired freelancers and in-house people with the same level of experience and skill, it would likely be far more costly. Also, a digital marketing agency often works on monthly retainers. So, your work will be completed at some-point during the month. They probably have dozens of other clients, and they are busy prioritizing everything on their plate. So, if you suddenly need them to put all their focus into a timely project that wasn’t planned, they may or may not be available. But they aren’t your employee. So, that may be an unrealistic expectation.

If you’re expecting an agency to be able to help at the drop of a dime, with anything you need, despite the scope of the project, that would likely result in unmet expectations. The same would apply to a freelancer.

Check out our blog post that’s dedicated to these hiring options, to learn more.

Be Strategic and Consistent With Your Marketing Activity

Don’t Overlook A Sound Marketing Strategy

Strategy and consistency is extremely important. Many businesses come up with great ideas for marketing. But, when they’re implemented, they miss out on results because of a lack of strategy. Be sure to take the time to put together a solid marketing plan, before you get too far into your marketing. This will help you approach your activities wisely, and ultimately with greater profitability.

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Consistent Marketing Activity Leads to Realistic Marketing Expectations

Consistency is another component to being effective. Sometimes businesses change the focus of the marketing activities too frequently. As already pointed out, different marketing channels require different amounts of time to yield positive results. If not given enough time, they will most likely not generate ideal results. When a company constantly changes the direction of their marketing, they are more likely to have unmet expectations.

These are the same types of companies who have a tendency to think that marketing doesn’t work. Or they may think marketing agencies simply can’t handle the work as well as they can. In these cases, the company will often try do do the marketing in-house, and as a result, have limited success due to a lack of time and skill set. But, if the company is large enough to hire a full marketing department, they can see tremendous and high quality in-house results.

To make sure your marketing expectations are realistic, take the time to let your marketing person, or company, do what they need. Make modifications and refine activity. This should be done regularly. But don’t focus on one marketing channel, such as blogging; then jump to social media for a month; then try out something else. Being consistent leads to greater results and expectations being met.

Key Performance Indicators demonstrated on a tabletHave Clear Defined and Realistic Key Performance Indicators

To the last point made, you do want to make modifications to your marketing activity. And to do that, you should set proper expectations as soon as possible. This way, everyone is on the same page as to what needs to be accomplished and what success looks like. To help with this, write down the key performance indicators (KPIs) that should be used.

Each type of marketing channel has its own set of KPIs. You can read about this in our blog post titled Popular KPI’s for Digital Marketing Channels. It’s a good idea to see how past marketing activity performed. Then, use that as a baseline to determine what realistic expectations should look like. If there is no past data, then your initial marketing should be centered around discovering what normal should look like for you.

For example, if you open a donut shop, how many people can you expect to make a pre-order for pickup each morning because of email marketing blasts? There is no frame of reference. But, after you do it a few times, you’ll get a good gauge. Then, going forward, see how you can improve that performance. Review performance and see how you can tweak it to improve results.

Final Thoughts on Having Realistic Marketing Expectations

Marketing helps businesses grow. And having realistic marketing expectations is a critical component in seeing great results. This makes it a more positive outcome for both the company and for those who are doing the marketing. As a recap, consider these key takeaways to help ensure proper expectations are established and met:

  1. Give a proper amount of time and budget to the marketing channels you’ll include in your marketing mix.
  2. Follow best practices for each aspect of marketing.
  3. Hire the right people, and understand how they differ from each other.
  4. Be strategic with your marketing.
  5. Stay consistent with what you’re doing. But still, refine and adapt as appropriate.
  6. Use clearly defined and realistic key performance indicators, to make sure proper expectations are set.

I hope you find this blog post helpful, as you focus on setting realistic marketing expectations for your company. And, if you need any assistance with your marketing on any level, let us know! You can connect with us via our contact page, or through the contact form below!


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As the founder of Joshua Lyons Marketing, Josh Lyons primarily focuses on business development. He has studied and practiced marketing since 2008 and launched his first company (a marketing agency in Pensacola, Florida) in 2015. When he's not writing blog posts, recording podcasts or consulting, he enjoys spending time with family and friends. He loves listening to audiobooks and checking out different coffee shops. He also enjoys fire juggling, amigurumi, travel and swing dancing; which is how he met his wife.



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