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Matt Cronin

Can Your Content Strategy Pass the Performance Marketing Litmus Test?

Matt Cronin
Can Your Content Strategy Pass the Performance Marketing Litmus Test?

Since the beginning of the content boom, brands have been stuck on a broken treadmill — running faster every day just to stay in place, with no idea how many miles they’ve logged.

So when a CFO asks about the ROI of the content marketing program, the CMO usually panics. She will either point to metrics like website visits, reach, or social shares — none of which are directly tied to the business’s revenue — or to an increase in conversions, which often can’t be directly attributed to content.

By continuing to produce content without fixing the broken attribution chain, content marketers have no way of knowing how much content is contributing to the bottom line — if at all — and inbound marketing takes on the inefficiencies of traditional advertising.

Next-gen publishers like BuzzFeed, Gawker, and Upworthy don’t operate under these uncertainties. They split-test everything. They monitor the web for developing stories and produce up-to-the-minute content to grab eyeballs. They’re experts in the type of headlines their audience will click on and the imagery that will compel readers to scroll all the way to the end of an article.

To get off the broken treadmill, create content that resonates with your audience, and fix content’s attribution problem, you must begin viewing your content through a performance marketing lens.

4 Performance Marketing Principles to Abolish Uncertainty

Performance marketing can mean many different things, depending on the channel. But for simplicity’s sake, you can use four specific criteria as a litmus test to determine whether your content marketing program is truly performance-based:

  1. Any content creation effort must be tied to a clearly defined business requirement.
  1. That business requirement must be measured with a reliable KPI that content marketing can directly affect. For a business that requires some form of conversion — unlike a content publisher measuring content reach or engagement metrics — it needs to measure the number and value of:
  • Attributable conversions relative to the cost of producing them.
  • Attributable conversion assists relative to the cost of producing them.
  • Attributable incremental conversions or conversion assists.
  1. The content marketing program must be continually tested and adjusted to improve the KPI.
  1. If your brand is using an agency to manage its content marketing program, part of the agency’s compensation should be tied to the KPI.

The first two criteria are the missing links in the content attribution chain. To meet performance marketing standards, you must be dedicated to measuring a specific KPI and ready to adapt or abandon your strategy if it doesn’t perform within a predetermined time frame.

The third principle adds another layer to the traditional “set it and forget it” approach to content creation, and the fourth is designed to promote accountability so you don’t waste money on a program that isn’t producing results.

Once you start measuring content the way you’d measure search and display advertising, you’ll learn very quickly what’s working and what isn’t.

Here’s how you can overhaul your content program with performance marketing in mind:

  1. Perform real-time research. Historically, content marketers have done a deep dive into research to initiate strategic planning. But in today’s fast-moving online ecosystem, you should be tracking changes in real time.

Back in February, when the famous photo of the white-and-gold or black-and-blue dress captivated the world, the Salvation Army used the dress to raise awareness about domestic violence. If the Salvation Army hadn’t acted when the dress was trending, the campaign wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

To capitalize on new developments that are relevant to your brand, use tools such as Google TrendsNewsWhip, and Topsy to monitor online word of mouth as it happens.

  1. Choose dynamic content platforms. To seize content opportunities and respond to changing audience behavior, it’s important to abolish legacy systems that slow down content creation and invest in adaptable content platforms.

Last year, when Facebook decreased the organic reach of brands’ posts, many companies that had relied on the platform to distribute their content had to rethink their strategies. Keep in mind that when you own the content platform, you’re in a better position to control and leverage your content.

  1. Build content testing into your strategy. As you develop your content strategy, make sure you build in methods to test each piece of content you create. Decide in advance which variables you will experiment with to improve performance (e.g., headlines, images, distribution platforms, etc.) and how you will run those tests.

Pay careful attention to content packaging. For instance, perhaps your audience responds well to a certain subject on Facebook, but not on LinkedIn. Or maybe your target audience is interested in the subject itself, but the headline or image isn’t compelling. You can also experiment with repurposing content by breaking it up into slides or packaging it as a whitepaper.

One way to test your content for optimization is to put it in front of a small group of people who fit your target audience and A/B test one variable at a time to see which variation results in better performance.

For example, Facebook posts targeted at narrow segments of a brand’s fans can be designed with small but significant differences; done properly, they can be credited with the difference in a KPI’s performance. Our agency has done this for several clients; they then took the winning characteristic — which may be a different image or call to action or a different use of a particularly relevant phrase — and leveraged it across their full Facebook followership, as well as on other content channels and their own landing pages.

  1. Evaluate data at the correct intervals.Performance marketing is effective because it allows you to quickly understand whether your efforts are succeeding. However, keep in mind that more data will yield stronger insights and lead to better decision-making. Methodically tracking KPIs over an extended period of time allows for true optimization.

In the heyday of content marketing, when blogging and guest posting were shiny new tactics, marketers could get away with flimsy attribution and pointing to vanity metrics to prove content’s effectiveness. Those days are quickly coming to an end. For a content marketing program to survive now, marketers must be able to prove that content directly contributes to a specific business outcome.

Taking a performance marketing approach may feel restrictive at first, but you’ll soon discover that when you’re calculated, unemotional, and committed to meaningful KPIs, you’ll spend less time running in place and more time making an impact.

Does your performance marketing pass the litmus test? Let us know all about it in the comments.

Matt Cronin, a founding partner at House of Kaizen, is a pioneer in digital performance marketing and brand management, having joined the movement more than 15 years ago. Before House of Kaizen, Matt developed techniques to create online word-of-mouth and social media solutions to more effectively understand and engage clients’ constituencies. Matt is also an adviser to nonprofits and startups and a featured speaker at online marketing forums. Matt has developed innovative digital strategies for the likes of Tiffany & Co., MGM, JPMorgan Chase & Co., British Airways, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Columbia House.

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