Calculating the Return on Your Marketing Investment

By: Darren Darcy

Measure, Measure, Measure.

“Half my advertising is wasted, trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

This quote was coined at the turn of the last century and still rings true in the Canadian cannabis space today, with its promotions and advertising limitations. For smaller retailers, this can be turned into a competitive advantage. Imagine knowing both halves!

For the independent retailer, it can be a struggle to determine marketing ROI without first nailing down a few things: purpose, budget, measurement, and reset.

For those who truly want to squeeze every last penny of value out of their spends, a yearly marketing plan with stated and achievable goals and a sensible marketing budget, based on a percentage of sales should be a non-starter. Yes, this is nothing new and something we’ve all heard before, but not many are embracing this mundane chore.

For monthly marketing planning, every retailer is different, every market is different, and every consumer is (mostly) different. But the process is the same, whether it’s a program or a one-off.


For tactical marketing activities, there must be a desired outcome that independent retailers should be looking to satisfy. Sell a certain volume of goods, at a certain price, over a certain period of time, to a certain group of customers. Simply wanting to see “an increase in sales”—a retailer might as well staple money to the sandwich board outside.


At the beginning of every fiscal year, a monthly marketing budget should be established, based on projected sales. This is the number a retailer can use on marketing programs, executions and opportunities. This is all that can be spent, so make it count. The rent won’t pay itself.


This is the piece that many retailers seem to forget or ignore. If measurement is not baked right into the execution, you’re wasting your marketing spend. Measurement is not difficult, if it’s not an afterthought. Ask the following questions:

How will we know this is working?

Over what time period will we know this?

What tools will we use to measure/record the response?

Can we revise the activity, or would we be committed to continue?

The beauty of retail is its immediacy. Killer merchandising, compelling bundles, discounts and promotions can all be communicated in-store and their contributions can be measured right there and then. But, how can you gauge the effectiveness of your out-of-store marketing? “Which half is working?”

This is the crux of the issue. Anyone can spend money. It’s fun and good for the ego. Measurement, however, is the dour sibling of fun. It’s not hash taggable. It’s not a cocktail party icebreaker, but it helps focus marketing dollars effectively to build a more profitable business. Wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants to find out that the sandwich board was driving 80% of traffic after blowing piles of cash on other activities?

For retail clients I have worked with, many were initially averse to asking how a customer had heard of their business. Some felt embarrassed and didn’t want to be seen as predators. Others were “too busy” (you won’t be too busy once you are forced to close). Others blamed staff for not asking.

Many POS systems now offer the ability to capture how a new customer came to be in the store. It’s right there on the screen! Just ask the question and check the box. Why do so many retailers insist on leaving money on the table?

Go Analogue

Don’t have that POS feature or don’t want to program it? Using MS Word or Excel to create small logbooks is all one really needs to get a handle on measuring marketing activities designed to drive store traffic. Create columns and rows with each line representing one transaction. A pen is all that’s needed. The customer feels valued. Add the date to the page every morning as part of the opening routine.

Yes, it sounds amateur, but in 60 days, a picture will begin to emerge of how people are finding the store and why they come back. Next step? Do more of what works and re-evaluate/remove what does not.

Followers Are Good. Buyers Are Better.

Being top of mind is important, but we’re looking for more than window shoppers on social. A photo of a vape at the beach doesn’t cut it. Don’t get sucked into “engagement” unless customers show up at the cash register. Staff can’t be paid with fire and blessed emojis.

With few exceptions, virtually EVERY post should communicate one element of the retail offering: selection, location, hours, convenience, service, bundles, promotions, staff-picks, limited time offers, new arrivals, etc.—there’s PLENTY to choose from. These types of posts are measurable for those who choose to measure. Using the magic logbook should reveal what’s working.

Pick-up Lines

For retailers offering pick-up and/or delivery options, this is a superb opportunity to measure the effectiveness of marketing activities and executions. Add the “How did you hear about us?” list of responses for new customers and “What brings you back?” responses for returning customers.


Analyze and leverage measurement results. Do it every week. Don’t wait too long to dump underwhelming marketing performers. While seasons and the weather play their roles, the economy also plays a critical role—measuring marketing activities over time can help to spot emerging upward or downward trends in both the cannabis space as well as a retailer’s competitive landscape. Continue to fine tune messages, executions, and experience to remain consistent with the expectations of your best customers—we want more of them.