There is no doubt about the explosive growth and increasing maturity in the use of content as a strategic asset. Content marketing, however you define it, is becoming rapidly recognized and adopted as a core marketing and business strategy to reach and engage with consumers and customers. But as with all fast-moving marketing trends, the focus can often be on keeping up with the pack rather than understanding how effective what you’re doing actually is.
It reminds me a little bit of the early days of digital marketing. All of a sudden there was a mad scramble by companies to build websites, the original content marketing strategy perhaps. However, often little thought was given to why they should build a website, what they were trying to achieve with it, and consequently, there was also little or no thought given as to whether it was any good or not.
It seems a little bit of the same today with content marketing; the buzz is all about the production rather than the performance. There’s a reason for that as well and that’s because it can be quite hard to measure performance. But measurement is always hard if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to measure and why. So it comes back down to the basic disciplines of:
- Clearly defining the objectives
- Linking objectives to metrics
Clearly Defining the Objectives
Defining the objectives means answering the big, hard-to-answer questions such as: Why are you doing content marketing? What do you hope to achieve? There has to be a reason, surely? Generally it will come down to a few simple things like increasing revenue (directly or indirectly), reducing costs (directly or indirectly), or improving customer satisfaction.
A recent report on content marketing performance identified six potential sources of business value from a content strategy, including innovation, improvement in brand health, and marketing efficiencies. Building clarity over the desired objectives then makes it easier to determine the best approach to measuring effectiveness.
Linking Objectives to Metrics
Content comes in many forms – articles, videos, posts – and, so, too, does the data around the consumption of a reaction to that content. It’s an area where there is a vast array of metrics. This highlights the need to build a solid measurement framework that helps to answer the question, “What does good look like?”
Often there is not a simple answer to this question and when it comes to content performance analysis it is more than likely that multiple measurement systems will be involved. These could range from traditional digital analytics, social listening, and sentiment analysis to voice of the customer programs and brand health trackers. This lack of a silver bullet raises challenges for organizations that will need to develop a holistic measurement strategy that will cut across existing skill sets and probably departmental functions as well.
Outputs vs. Outcomes
Since a lot of the impact of content marketing strategy can be influential rather than evoking a direct response, it’s also important in the measurement framework to recognize the difference between “outputs” and “outcomes.” If, for example, you have a strategy to develop extensive content to provide customer support for your product in order to reduce costs in the contact center, then “outputs” might be the number of times that an article was viewed or a video was played. The “outcome,” on the other hand, is whether there is a drop off in the number of calls about that particular issue being handled by the call center or other support staff.
Typically, “outputs” are relatively easy to measure, whereas measuring “outcomes” can be harder, but the outcomes are where the business value lies. In the example above, measuring the outcome will probably involve collating data from call center logs, digital analytics systems, chat and social media systems, as well as customer satisfaction data. It’s a complex measurement challenge.
Another aspect to take into consideration is the time dimension. The effects of a content marketing strategy can take place over a period of time, particularly for products and services that have a long research and consideration cycle. Again, this requires the measurement approach to be able to track customer touch points over a period of time.
For example, a project I was involved in for a luxury travel company was trying to understand the impact of different types of content, particularly video, of people’s propensity to ultimately book a holiday. Video production is not cheap content to produce and so it was important to them to understand how well the investment was paying off. To put the framework in place required pulling together the various website visits over an extended period of time and looking at what videos they have watch, how often and for how long, and whether that appeared to have a significant beneficial outcome or not. For them it did and so the business value could be determined and recognized.
The adoption of performance analysis of marketing instruments often lags behind the adoption of the instrument itself. I think it’s just the nature of the beast. However, the smart companies are the ones that adopt the analytical disciplines early, as they’re the ones who are already optimizing their strategy when the others are still just in production mode.
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