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Demystify Content Marketing’s ROI With a Data-Driven Methodology

Matt Cronin

“Our engagement is good, but where’s the ROI?”

This is the question that all content marketers dread, but it’s one that’s popping up more and more.

Sixty-nine percent of B2C marketers are creating more content now than they were a year ago, but with the increase in content volume comes increased expectations of value. Sixty-five percent of marketing organizations say they’re feeling more pressure to prove the value of what they do, and only 23% say they’re successfully tracking the ROI of their content marketing efforts.

While early forays into content marketing have proven valuable, they haven’t proven invaluable just yet. At the same time, brands have realized that the investment isn’t as small as they thought due to the time and manpower required to create impactful content.

Brands want hard numbers to justify their investments, but quantifying the ROI of content marketing has proven difficult. Attribution isn’t a new challenge; PR and traditional advertising firms have struggled with this for years. Content’s digital orientation makes it frustrating because most marketers and brands believe it should be doable.

Why Are Marketers Struggling With Accountability?

Marketers’ struggle to demonstrate the ROI of content isn’t due to a lack of effort. The accountability gap is the result of three market conditions:

  1. Changing definitions: ROI means different things to different people. There’s brand health, customer acquisition, sales volume, revenue generated, and lifetime value — each with its own set of key performance indicators.
  2. The vast content ecosystem: There are countless forms of content spread across different channels, from Twitter and Facebook to blogs to forums and review sites. This enormous scattered ecosystem makes it difficult to come up with a standard approach to measurement.
  3. No structured data set: Each content channel generally comes with its own data set (e.g., Facebook Insights). Third parties can gather additional data and add their own sophisticated analysis tools, such as Synthesio or Unified Social, but this data is unruly and difficult to deliver reliably.

Right now, there’s no silver bullet to measuring the ROI of content, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Rather than just giving up on accountability for content, you need to focus on finding the data-driven method for measurement that works for your company.

Don’t Be Late to the Game

The problem with measuring content’s ROI is that many content marketers wait until it’s too late. To be truly effective, you need to establish a data-driven methodology from the start with clear metrics and benchmarks.

Use these tips to tap into a data-driven mindset and unlock that elusive ROI:

  1. Establish clear KPIs. Define what you see as key indicators of success, and develop a specific plan for testing whether you’re achieving those goals. The KPIs you choose should be measurable and apply to the entire content program — not just one segment, channel, or piece of content. Then, commit to those KPIs as the foundation for your program or campaign.

Upworthy is one publication that does this extremely well. Although it’s often criticized for writing click-bait headlines, it’s actually developing its brand and content reach through an objective testing model. Contrary to popular belief, clicks or page views aren’t the main goal; Upworthy strives to create content that informs the community about important topics. With that in mind, it focuses on attention minutes to gauge how well it’s performing.

  1. Test methodically. Don’t fall into the trap of ad hoc testing for copy or design elements. These will only yield short-term gains, and you’ll have little understanding of how to build on them. Instead, create a testing plan that incorporates a consistent methodology, and create rules such as Upworthy’s “25 headlines” mandate to hold you accountable.
  2. A/B test everything. Note what gets clicks, impressions, longer pageview times, etc. For example, The Huffington Post rigorously A/B tests headlines and uses robust data to dictate when it publishes certain stories to boost views. Context is key, so ensure you’re looking at the value of a click in a broad sense.
  1. Implement, review and evolve. This is an ongoing process. Just because something works today doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow.
  1. Attribute across channels. Content is a portable medium, so you can’t measure it in the same way as a traditional advertising channel. That being said, you need to measure it against existing marketing channels to fully understand its unique contribution to commercial ROI. For proper attribution, focus on integrating data analysis systems, and invest in infrastructure to measure marketing activities.

Content marketing has come a long way since its early days, and most companies now consider it a crucial piece of their marketing tool kit. Demonstrating clear ROI is still a sticking point for many organizations, but with the proper methodology and clear benchmarks in place, you can create a program that allows you to proudly showcase the value of what you do.

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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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