3 ROI Lessons B2B Marketers Can Learn from The X-Files

January 7, 2018

B2B and the X-Files

Some people kick off a new year with health-centered resolutions to exercise more or increase their daily water intake. Others pledge to squeeze in some personal enrichment like art classes or scuba lessons. Still others have their heads in the clouds. Way, way above the clouds...as in, outer space.

Season 11 of The X-Files is upon us, and followers of the science fiction mega hit couldn’t be more excited. FBI agent Fox Mulder and his partner Dana Scully have entertained audiences for a decade with their investigations into strange, unexplained, and outright bizarre phenomena occurring in cities (spaceships, too) across the nation.

Agent Scully is a realist and rule-follower, the perfect balance to the inquisitive and often impetuous Agent Mulder. The pair have investigated vampire uprisings, psychic beings, shape-shifting humans, and many other mind-bending tales, often wrapped in a veil of government conspiracy and cover-up. In each episode, science and the paranormal come together, leaving viewers to wonder “What if there’s more [to life on this world] than the facts we already know?” Scully and Mulder work together to find the answers.

Marketers operate in a similar fashion. We may know certain facts or operate on established data, but our pursuit of increasingly favorable results has us learning new information with each iteration or launch. We need to demonstrate the value of our marketing efforts so activities can be validated or shelved in favor of those delivering stronger returns.

The truth is out there. What can we learn from The X-Files that could make us more effective in our roles?

3 ROI Lessons Conspiracy Theorists and Realists Can All Agree On

Concentrate on Your Audience to Maximize Returns

The X-Files is the longest-running science fiction drama on television. The series began as a cult interest, then evolved into widely accepted pop culture. But in the early days, the show was on shaky ground.

While other network lineups were deep with situation comedies and a few law shows, Fox Network boldly premiered The X-Files in 1993 to 12 million viewers. That number is significant by today's standards, but was unremarkable twenty-five years ago. Within the first season, Nielsen data ranked The X-Files as wildly popular with the 18-49 demographic, a fact that quickly caught the attention of advertisers.

As more people opened to The X-Files’ premise and the show’s popularity took off, the show’s stable of writers stayed true to the original premise to craft creative, often far-fetched, sometimes dark, stories about humans and other living creatures. No creative parameters have ever been applied in an effort to widen the show’s appeal.

The exclusive focus on a specific audience set is common with successful B2B marketers, too. For example, The Blue Book Network achieve 86% lower cost per lead at a 17% higher clickthrough rate via LinkedIn Sponsored Content compared to another social channel, leading to nearly 40% more revenue. Brian Funicelli, social media manager for The Blue Book Network, was able to cater to the primary audience by targeting audience interests as well as specific professional attributes within the company’s vertical. Read more about that lead generation success story and nine others in our blog post, How 10 Marketers Added Teeth To Their Lead Generation Strategy.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

There’s a saying about games of chance, “Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.” The X-Files’ creator Chris Carter took some risk when he developed the show, but it was calculated risk.

The X-Files borrowed from the success of earlier speculative fiction television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, and added elements of governmental manipulation and conspiracy to create a new type of show folding in elements of horror, suspense, comedy, and drama. The approach was sound; one stake was firmly planted on established thematic ground while the other stirred a pot of growing public mistrust for large institutions for its unique story fodder.

This “safe risk” mentality can serve marketers well. We’re often asked to consider this new tool or that new program or even try what Company XYZ is doing. While we don’t advise trying every new thing to come your way, there may be a time and a place to experiment with limited risk. Consider asking for a nominal portion of your budget for use on select discretionary test programs.

Blend Short- and Long-Term Tactics for Lasting Results

Every good series includes short-term payouts along with an overarching arc, and The X-Files is a prime example of this approach. The topical mini-stories, focused on one phenomena or creature, keep viewers engaged and entertained on a single-episode basis. The more heady, complex overarching story arc plays out in periodic increments over time to keep fans tuning in to learn how the larger narrative unfolds.

Storyline arcs spanning the entire X-Files series cover meaty topics including extraterrestrial life, alien abduction, and planet colonization. Complimentary “monster of the week” plots refer to more contained, episodic content and provide weekly viewers with instant gratification for their time.

This same type of blended rewards could be beneficial to marketers in search of ROI, too. LinkedIn Elevate helped HSBC, CEB, and Visa achieve gains in each brand’s respective content marketing program by tapping into employee advocacy networks. Employee sharing is a proven method to extend brand reach, build awareness, and foster faster connections for sales professionals. Gains can be noticed right away, and deeper impact tracked over time.

To learn more about how to demonstrate marketing ROI, check out our Sophisticated Session: ROI or Bust.