Why You Struggle To Prove Content ROI
Measuring content ROI is a near impossible task.
Too often, that statement ends the conversation about proving the value of content marketing. But the difficulty in tying content directly to the bottom line doesn’t mean content marketing isn’t a contributor to a business’ success.
The failure to understand that too often leads to the demise or weakening of content marketing support.
Why is the ROI of content marketing so problematic? Because the premise too often is that content marketing should feed directly to the bottom line. Many see the “return” in ROI as synonymous with “sales revenue.”
Sound familiar? If that’s the challenge you face at your brand, let’s explore a few options to overcome it.
Traditional #ROI may be difficult to prove– but it’s still worth it to explain #ContentMarketing value in business terms, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Think about why you’re measuring content’s value
A couple of years ago, Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo shared a tweet thread listing the benefits the company knows it gets from its content marketing. Yet Ahrefs never intertwines return on investment and content marketing. Here’s how he explained why they don’t:
“We won’t track how many leads we get from our articles organically, let alone what is the CPA of running paid traffic to our articles. Measuring those things would be just the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote.
“And let’s say we measured those numbers and they turned out terrible …? We wouldn’t halt our content marketing operations anyway! We KNOW that it works for us, no matter what those ‘isolated’ numbers say.”
It’s a great lesson in measurement. Think about what will change based on the numbers. If the answer is nothing, consider measuring something else.
But most executives expect numbers. And content marketing leaders need to provide them.
Explain content marketing (and marketing content)
Even people who work in marketing get confused about the difference between content marketing and other content used in marketing. No wonder executives operating outside marketing wouldn’t know the distinction.
Before you try one of the options below, consider hosting a conversation to explain the difference between content used in marketing and content marketing to key stakeholders.
What’s content used in marketing?
Content used in marketing usually focuses on the sale. Think product pages, sales promotions, customer service instructions, ads, and other content designed to lead to a transaction – a sale.
What’s content marketing?
As CMI defines it, content marketing is:
A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Think blogs, newsletters, guides, video and audio shows, and other content designed to inform, educate, or entertain. Sales aren’t the immediate goal (though, of course, they can and should be part of the “profitable customer action” that’s the ultimate goal.)
Content marketing aims to build an audience. Some of the people this content attracts will convert to customers. But those conversions represent only part of the value content marketing offers.
The audience represents an asset with quantifiable value, says Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategy advisor. (Robert explains how to model the value of the audience asset in this article.)
Start with (what else?) specific goals
Though you can prepare your execs to think beyond traditional ROI assessment, you need to show how you’ll measure your content marketing’s impact.
Start by setting appropriate goals for your content marketing program. It’s not enough to say, “increase brand awareness” or “educate audiences.” Be specific: identify the goal, the target audience, the metric used to measure progress, the number you strive to achieve, and the timeframe in which you plan to complete it.
Here’s an example of a goal that covers each of those elements:
Our content marketing goal is to increase brand awareness online among women between the ages of 25 and 45. We intend to achieve a 10% increase in unique visits to our blog from this group in each quarter of 2023.
TIP: Make sure your content marketing goals align with your brand’s business goals. The example above only makes sense if the brand’s business goal is to increase sales within that target audience.
The more you speak the language of business, measurement, and success, the more likely business leaders will understand these essential points: Content marketing isn’t easily evaluated by traditional ROI. But it’s not far from a fuzzy nice-to-have – it’s vital to the business.
Make sure you use business terms to describe the value of #ContentMarketing, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Redefine your content marketing strategy
CMI’s annual research shows the same top three goals for content marketing year after year: brand awareness, building credibility/trust, and educating audiences.
In our most recent study, at least 72% of marketers cited those goals.
In the same survey, sales-related goals ranked further down the list. Here’s how they factored for B2B marketers:
- 5 – generating demands/leads (67%)
- 6 – nurture subscribers/audiences/leads (54%)
- 8 – generate sales/revenue (42%)
If you must operate under the premise that a return on investment means how your content marketing affects your bottom line, adjust the goals of your content marketing strategy. Focus on leads and sales.
If you make this switch, remember that your editorial approach will need to change, too. Don’t forget to adjust your metrics to align with your new goals. Website traffic and social media analytics shouldn’t be at the top of your list (they might not even be on your list.)
Invest in an attribution model
Of course, content marketing should have an impact on revenue. After all, why do it if it isn’t helping the business? But it’s not a direct line.
If your executives expect you to connect the dots to the bottom line, you must invest resources – experts, tools, and time – to develop a multi-touch attribution model.
By taking this route, you can keep using your current content marketing strategy until the data tells you it isn’t working for your brand’s business goals.
The first component to invest in is someone who loves data. Interest in content marketing is a secondary requirement. (Traditionally, too many content marketing teams make metrics an afterthought or last step in strategy and hiring.)
Look for someone who appreciates solving analytics puzzles and knows how to translate numbers into useful data for the content marketing team and the company’s executives.
A few years ago, Content Marketing World speaker Katrina Neal shared the three analytics categories where data scientists can be helpful:
- Descriptive (what’s happened)
- Prescriptive (what’s happening in real-time/near future)
- Predictive (what’s going to happen and how you should react).
Once you have analytics talent in place, your team is ready to develop an attribution model for your content marketing. An attribution model follows a person’s content touchpoints and what actions they take.
This illustration shows a multi-point attribution model that reveals a person downloaded an e-book, read an email newsletter, had a badge scanned at a trade show, and attended a webinar before becoming a customer. (You can read more about this model in Pawan Deshpande’s article Marketing Attribution Models: A Primer for Content Marketers.)
Some companies use a single-touch attribution model that gives all credit for the sale to a single interaction (even if the customer has interacted with the content in multiple ways.) For example, say the person in the example above becomes a customer, buying $280 in products. In attributing the sale, a single-touch model would designate the webinar attendance as the only touch that matters. Thus, the webinar attendance value for that person would be $280.
TIP: In a single-touch model, the first or last touchpoint usually gets credit for the value.
A single-touch attribution model is better than nothing, but it doesn’t work for a comprehensive content marketing program. A multi-touch attribution model better reflects the value of interactions over time, which are the hallmark of a content marketing approach.
A multi-touch attribution model better reflects the value of interactions over time, which are the hallmark of a #ContentMarketing approach, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
With multi-touch attribution, a $280 sale gets attributed to four content marketing tactics. Using a linear multi-touch model, each tactic has the same value – $70.
In a weighted multi-touch model, the values vary based on the perceived importance of each touchpoint. For example, you might set up your model to assign 30% of the value to the first touch (in this case, the e-book) and 15% to reading the newsletter. The tradeshow interaction gets 20%, and the last step before the sale – webinar attendance – gets 35%.
In this model, each content marketing tactic has a dollar value – an indicator of its contribution to the sale.
This multi-touch attribution model I’ve used here focuses on a single sale. But you can create more complex variations of the models that look at lifetime value, repeat customer value, and so on.
Pivot from content marketing
If a strategy overhaul or a better approach to analytics and attribution modeling won’t work for your brand, stop doing content marketing. You’ll never have the long-term support necessary for success. Content marketing – building and growing an audience – takes time. (CMI founder Joe Pulizzi has estimated it takes at least 12 to 18 months to show results.)
It takes 12 to 18 months to build an audience with #ContentMarketing, according to @JoePulizzi via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Shift your content marketing resources to focus on content created for general marketing purposes. By focusing your resources on that type of content, you can better connect your work to the bottom line – and get the necessary, ongoing support from leadership.
And if you want to bring content marketing back into the fold (or keep your existing audience), figure out how to create a minimum viable content initiative that can happen alongside the team’s marketing content work.
If you can show that marketing significantly impacts the bottom line, the executive team is more likely to support your content marketing MVP – and possibly more down the road.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute