Content Challenges: Proving the value of content marketing

There is a truism that you get what you measure. When looking at digital content marketing the standard industry approach is to measure clicks. This gets translated and interpreted in a number of ways and there are all sorts of meaningful insights that can be gained from this. The challenge is that while this sort of measurement does tell you that one piece of content is doing a better job of getting noticed than another it does not tell you whether that it is the right job for it to be doing. Just because it is getting clicks does not mean it is helping your business whereas the content that is not even being found and therefore not getting any clicks, could be more important in terms of supporting commercial goals.

Clicks also do not tell you about the combined performance of all your content and your content strategy from a commercial perspective. In other words, in order to consider the impact of content you need to look at the customer’s entire journey to a sale. This may be several pieces of content where each piece plays a different role in addressing the customer’s decision-making needs. In fact, Google says we consume, on average, 18 pieces of content before making a purchase. Therefore, you need to monitor how your customers get to your sale/commercial goal and not just the clicks on an individual piece of content or the total number of visitors to your site. If you are trying to do this you have probably found that you have to use a lot of proxies for some of your calculations in order to attribute a portion of a sale to the content that supported that sale.

You may find that you can calculate some uplift numbers from individual pieces of content such as within an email. The challenge with this is that this is only one small piece of the customer’s journey and only a portion of the content that contributes to their buying decision. In effect, this is just a calculation for this campaign and may mean that you are over calculating how much an individual item contributed to the sale. Much more measurement is required to understand the whole picture.

This should make it hard to justify implementing a content strategy but this does not seem to have stopped most companies from blindly creating masses of content – the average organisation spends 30% of their marketing budget on content. With so much content being created and 70% of it not being consumed (Source: IDC), it does leave you wondering how content marketing spend is being justified and measured and perhaps how long can marketing continue with these efforts without commercial accountability.

A more sophisticated approach is to create structured journeys for your audience towards commercial goals that your content supports. Then you can measure your audience engagement as a function of how far they have travelled on these journeys. With structured content journeys towards commercial goals you can then measure each piece of content in the context of the job it is doing to move your audience towards the goal. (For example, Google analytics cannot yet track backwards from a goal to see what content was consumed along the way. However, Google analytics can show you what journeys customers are taking through your content on a page by page basis which you can then compare to the journey you intended them to take.)

Now, with digital technologies and the way that people are behaving when making a purchase, it is possible to track their entire buying journey. This is not just your sales process either, it is possible to track everything that contributes to your customer’s decision to buy and equally importantly not to buy. At this point, you may argue that this only applies to digital marketing, but we now know that only 4% (Source: eConsultancy) of us do not research online before making a purchase. The trick is to have the processes, systems and organisation structure that allows for the attribution of these results.

Another challenge with proving the value of your content strategy is “double counting”. You may already be using a decision engine, a campaign management tool and a CRM system and many other tools and they are all going to count the sale as theirs. How do you separate out the contribution of each part to know if your content marketing is making a difference (or even if it was just the creative)? What you should see is that there is a “halo” effect of your content strategy over all your other capabilities. You should start with good measurement of where you are without the content strategy and as always have good control groups to test against. Then a good, well structured, content strategy will have an overarching positive impact on sales in multiple dimensions:

Volume: Marketing Universe x Engagement Uplift
Volume: Response Rate x Engagement Uplift
Value: Value per sale increases
Value: Cost per sale decreases
=
Increased Contribution

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