content marketing channels connected to users in the center

Let’s start with a confession. Yes, this will be a blog post about measurement. And yes, we know — there are 10 million blog posts about measurement. Savvy marketers and communicators already know that measurement is important. Every conference, white paper, and podcast (yes, blog posts, too) related to content marketing best practices speaks to measurement. And, yet in the B2B content marketing world, it often remains an Achilles’ heel for the discipline.

The struggle is real. According to a recent CMI/MarketingProfs survey of B2B content marketers in North America, more than half of all respondents do not measure or are unsure if they measure content marketing ROI. In our experience, content marketers often struggle to prove effectiveness because they lack a clear framework for measuring success. Too often, the conversation is about what content marketing metrics to use, not what we’re trying to accomplish. And, from an industry standpoint, there is a lot of noise on the subject.

Content marketing has gained significant momentum in the last 10 years. But, it has yet to develop industrywide consensus on measurement like the Barcelona Principles adopted by public relations practitioners. Instead, it is awash in measurement advice styled in the mold of self-help listicles — 8 metrics to turbocharge your content effectiveness! 7 KPIs to prove content marketing success! etc. These have their place, to be sure, but they’re rarely organized into a meaningful structure.

We’re missing the forest for the trees. What’s often needed is not a laundry list of metrics and KPIs, but the larger framework driving their usage. Why is this important? In short, as communicators, we often need a way to organize the (often contradictory) measurement clutter in a simple, understandable way. These are not “Barcelona Principles” nor are they an attempt to create an industry standard for content marketing measurement. But we’ve found the following considerations helpful in facilitating the conversation about what specific metrics actually tell us.

Awareness and initial response

At a very basic level, we want to understand if our content has reached the end-user and begun to capture the initial response. Metrics used to evaluate this are a favorite punching bag of the industry. Often called vanity metrics, likes, comments, shares, clicks, CTRs, and opens (etc.) have earned a bad rap. A better way to view them may be as KPIs that have a certain value, but a limited one. The problem is that they are, all too often, the only measurement employed to demonstrate value. This is frequently the case when content objectives have been written around data that’s easy to capture. This often means we’re reporting channel metrics, rather than the deeper behavior-based measurements. But, before you throw them out completely, consider a few things they help us to understand.

  • Reach-based comparisons. Some channels are inherently better at reaching the audience and getting them to click through to your content. After all, if we can’t get the most basic reach and response, it’s hard to provide any deeper measurement.
  • In-channel engagement. Our content is not always long-form, and it doesn’t always have a call to action. While this might seem like marketing sacrilege, our brands need to be human, too. It’s OK to sometimes give your audience content that doesn’t ask them to do anything. It’s OK if, at times, it’s simply meant to entertain them in a meaningful way. Often for this content, in-channel engagement and metrics are appropriate.
  • Creative execution. Content in the news feed or inbox competes for attention. The graphics, copy/messaging have to possess stopping power. It’s more fleeting in nature, but again, if you can’t get the audience’s attention to start, it’s hard to measure much of anything else.

Content engagement

While the “vanity metrics” above can help us in a limited capacity, our content marketing measurement can’t stop there. We need to understand if we’re delivering on the core tenets of content marketing — deeply engaging our audience with relevant and useful information. Whether we’re employing an inbound or outbound approach, we’re inviting the audience to a destination — often, a website, blog, or microsite — to engage at a deeper level.

The analytics these sites provide can be invaluable, but they often require the marketing organization to adopt a different perspective. Many marketers are accustomed to evaluating marketing efforts through site analytics, but content has been slower to catch on. Metrics like pageviews, pages per session, time on-site, bounce rates, scroll depth, basic website conversions, form submissions, etc., convey a wealth of information. They help us to understand content engagement, audience investment, and more. Heat maps and other tools can further optimize content efforts by helping you understand where a user abandons a form or the best location to place an opt-in prompt.

Purchase intent

Often, however, what marketers really want is to understand how users are progressing down the path to purchase. Ultimately, the end goal of our content efforts is to drive profitable customer actions. So, measurement that helps us understand progression through the buyer’s journey is extremely valuable. Here we need to know whether we were successful in driving specific behaviors that indicate an increased investment in the brand or its products/services.

This is accomplished primarily through metrics like contacts, conversions, form submissions, conversion rates, Google Tag Manager events, leads (including marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads), etc. Here are a few prerequisites to effectively measuring content this way:

  • Leveraging your CRM system. Even the best CRM systems fall prey to the “garbage in, garbage out” logic. They depend on the organization fully integrating them into the business and managing them in an ongoing fashion to drive marketing value.
  • Getting your “data house in order.” Rather than a seamless, fully integrated CRM platform, many marketers are dealing with data silos that don’t talk to one another. Ensuring the proper connectivity between these systems is critical to understanding how users have engaged with your company.
  • Defining conversions. Selecting clearly defined website actions as conversions and building in the appropriate functionality is important to demonstrating progress. This could be signing up for a newsletter, interacting with a cost calculator, searching for locations/dealers near me, downloading materials/resources, etc.
  • Platform integrations. Platform integrations are often strategy-based but can be critical to accommodate specific measurements or ensure that appropriate actions are triggered.
  • Lead-scoring model. It’s important to determine the relative value of specific interactions. Once a value has been assigned to interactions, measuring progress is a function of understanding and evaluating a user’s score.

Implementing content marketing and effectively measuring is a journey. One that takes collaborative discussion to get from “here” to “there.” Hopefully, this is a framework that guides you down the path and facilitates the productive discussion needed.

Have questions? Give me a shout.