It’s time for content marketing to prove its worth, but how? Does accountability beat creativity, or is data just a four-letter word?
In 2018 content marketing faces an ROI reckoning. “Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left,” said Seth Godin and, to underline that, marketing budgets have been increasingly channelled into that particular bucket. However, the pressure on content marketers to demonstrate value for this spend has increased accordingly.
Measurement – and thus attribution – has always been a challenge for the marketing industry. In the past it didn’t seem to matter as much, which sounds flippant (and perhaps clichéd) but a smooth-talking marketer could argue the coolness of a campaign and the catchiness of a strapline; they could point to the awards cabinet and critics’ praise as validation. But even traditionally relied-upon success metrics, such as viewing figures or sentiment analysis, do not translate to commercial bottom line or growth. Maybe they do, but they can’t be accurately attributed: if someone watches a TV ad or a YouTube video, or clicks on a headline, then so what? Even if someone actually engages with the content – if they like a Facebook post or read to the end of an article, so what?
How can a CMO respond to a CFO wondering what they’re doing with that budget on this insubstantial thing called ’content marketing’?
“you need to use metrics that demonstrate down-funnel movement, which can act as proxies for growth metrics such as content and product activation and, arguably the most important growth metrics of them all, retention and advocacy. Yes, even more important than revenue.”
So is, to paraphrase Joan Baez, data just a four-letter word? In isolation, without context, without benchmarks, yes. As Bill Pardi says: “Data by itself is at best meaningless, and at its worse, misleading. In most cases it will tell you very little or nothing about what to do.”
As well as the need to be data-driven in principle, investment is required at organisational level in the necessary tools. This could be a full-stack, bells and whistles marketing analytics platform, but getting set up on Google Analytics with event tracking will be a start.
However, splashing budget on shiny new tools will not magically equal demonstrable attribution; it may only bring more pressure on marketers to show results. You’ll have a pretty dashboard of multi-coloured pie charts to present at your board meeting, but without a data-aware mindset and skillset you’ll still be lost in an unfathomable sea of meaningless numbers.
Your content marketing strategy – and the metrics you set – must be aligned to the goals and objectives of your brand, client or organisation. And all activity, even at a particular point in the funnel, must not be in isolation. It must relate to the entire customer journey.
Therefore, you need to use metrics that demonstrate down-funnel movement, which can act as proxies for growth metrics such as content and product activation and, arguably the most important growth metrics of them all, retention and advocacy. Yes, even more important than revenue. But you can argue that with your CFO.
But whatever metrics you use to measure content marketing success, from click-through rates to cost per activation, and from dwell time to customer lifetime value, your metrics must be actionable. They must demonstrate a clear cause and effect, i.e. x happened because of y. Otherwise those headline figures are just vanity metrics. If you let yourself be flattered by these then you won’t see the truth. Without truth we cannot fail but we cannot learn; we cannot progress and we cannot truly win.
As we face the content marketing ROI inflexion point, resistance is not a sustainable strategy. So lean in. It’s time to prove the value of content marketing once and for all.