We’ve been told that “content is king,” and we’ve heard about the “Year of the Story.” But many brands are spending marketing dollars on content without a clear idea of what metrics show that it’s paying off.
In a recent survey of B2B and B2C marketers by Contently, a platform that connects brands with content producers, 90 percent of marketers weren’t sure that their key content metrics were effective in measuring business results. Well, no wonder. In Contently’s survey, 73 percent of marketers identified brand awareness as a goal of their content, and yet 69 percent said that they were using pageviews or unique visitors to measure the success of their content.
Even in the B2B world, where content can be more directly tied to business metrics like sales leads, the 2014 Forrester Research/Business Marketing Association/Online Marketing Institute study found that 85 percent of B2B marketers fail to connect content activity to business value.
Analytics vendors including Chartbeat, inPowered, and Upworthy have been advocating for a new content metric: attention. They provide tools that let brands – either directly or via the site where the content is being hosted – measure things like how long a visitor remains on a page or whether she scrolls. Those certainly provide a better metric than pageviews or click-throughs: at least, a consumer lingered on the content long enough to have a glance or maybe even actually read it.
Chartbeat chief executive (CEO) Tony Haile says, “Brands want to understand across different pieces of content, what is achieving the actual goals I have for my content? Which content is not just driving clicks but did I get the audience I wanted to the page and, once they’re there, did they read it?”
The question remains, though, whether brand content that doesn’t actually recommend or describe products can lead to improvement in business metrics. Figuring this out is critical for marketers.
Says David Brown, executive vice president at Meredith Xcelerated Media (MXM), “Clients should spend more time on measurement of content driving engagement than actually developing content in the first place. If it’s not measured, it will get canceled and the investment will go away. And content is not cheap.”
To really understand how well their content marketing is working, brands need to go beyond attention and/or engagement, according to Andrea Fishman, a principal with PwC’s digital services group. “Attribution models are becoming more important,” she says. If you want to see a correlation between a social media conversation about a video and sales, for example, or between positive sentiment and conversion, she says, marketers need to bring together data and solutions from multiple sources.
Another factor in making this work is collaboration between marketing and IT, as well as an enterprise-wide focus on digital. PwC’s sixth annual Digital IQ Survey found that these were two of the five characteristics of companies with strong digital performance, along with a CEO who actively champions digital, an outside-in approach to digital innovation, and investment in new IT platforms.
“There’s not a simple solution for that one,” Fishman adds. She’s seeing categories of solutions that are starting to work together, although there’s still a lot of debate about how accurate the analytics are. Nevertheless, if a marketer looks at attribution modeling plus social sentiment plus consumer behavior, three indicators are better than one. “You can start to maybe make some informed decisions on what’s working and where to invest,” Fishman says.
Brown says MXM takes a different approach that focuses on what the agency calls “catalyst actions” that it can connect to a business result. “Certain types of engagement,” he says, “are very good predictors of getting a good business benefit. We build a content strategy that’s reverse-engineered back from those actions. We build back from key performance indicators (KPIs) to how to get customers into those catalyst actions.”
Using his agency’s website as an example, Brown explains, “If I see a company going to MXM.com, and they view more than five pages, it means I’m about to get a phone call from that company. If they only come to one or two pages, not much is going to happen. If they come back repeatedly, it means I’m about to get business.”
Of course, that’s a simple B2B example, and the situation gets much more difficult for companies that have data in different repositories or need data from their partners. In general, working back from KPIs to customer actions takes a few months. “The thing that takes the most time is gathering the data and making it available so an analyst can then look for the patterns within the data,” Brown says.
But there’s value, too, in content as a long-term branding play, Fishman thinks. She says, “In many ways, content marketing is just a new form of traditional brand building,” hearkening back to the days of sponsored TV shows.
In Haile’s view, brand content should be seen as similar to other branding plays like TV spots. Brands that use TV, he says, know that overall, sales will go up after them. “There’s a false promise of digital that it’s measurable,” he says, unless you’re running a direct response campaign. With brand advertising, which is about communicating brand messages, “to think we can track everything is wrong.”