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How can content marketing get closer to accountable results?

content marketing

Michael Marchese from Tempesta Media puts light on the importance of content marketing and how marketers can measure its performance & effectiveness

Today’s content marketing, as a marketing segment, is similar to TV advertising in the 1950s Twitter During that time, advertisers knew that TV advertising worked. The problem was that they couldn’t pinpoint exactly which components were driving most of the results. As the old marketing joke used to go: “I know 50% of my campaign is performing, I just don’t know which 50%.”

Content marketing suffers from the same growing pains:

  • You can’t predict content performance before it’s written.
  • You can’t determine how one piece of content influences another.
  • There are few standards established at the industry level.

When you put all these together, it means a lot of confusion, bad decisions predicated on inaccurate or incomplete reporting and wasted marketing dollars.

Given that the global economy has gone into a fairly deep recession, marketers are under even more pressure to determine which components of their content marketing programs are driving results and which ones need to be cut.

Does content marketing work?

This is a question that companies that are new to content marketing always ask themselves. Part of the reason is that there’s such a long buildup period required to get to initial success with a content marketing program.

As Tempesta Media advises its clients, they should expect to spend up to 6 months before they start to consistently see strong top-funnel metrics. If they want to see consistent bottom-funnel results, they should wait 12 months. When faced with such a long lead time, it is easy to see how company CEOs can begin to question the results after making upfront expenditures.

Because measurements of success are not standardized and vary so much by company and industry, it’s easy for a content marketing program to drift and become unaccountable…and subject to having its budget reduced or eliminated.

This lack of standardized and predicable measurement raises the anxiety levels of many top executives. Given the environment out there, company CMOs are asking themselves: “Do I go and put a dollar towards a traditional digital marketing campaign that’s going to drive results now, but deliver poor ROAS (return-on-ad-spend)?” or “Am I going to put those dollar towards a content marketing program that may perform incredibly, but take months to achieve positive ROAS?” That is the fundamental issue that CMOs are wrestling with right now.

For content marketing to cross the adoption chasm and get to a level of predictable and measurable results, comparable to what TV achieved when it broke through in the 1960s, content marketing program performance measurement needs to be easier to ascertain, standardize and somewhat predict.

How can CMOs accurately measure the performance of a content marketing program?

Content marketing campaigns work. Research has shown the return on investment and the effectiveness of content marketing. However, measuring its success is not as straightforward as counting leads and sales. Listed below are several key components that marketers need to implement to get visibility (and a level of accuracy) into their content marketing programs’ performance:

1st step – tracking mechanism

You need to be able to install an effective tracking mechanism. At the mostbasic level, installing something such as Google Analytics will let you view performance across your site. You will also be able to implement conversion goals.

2nd step – tracking links

Next is implementing tracking links within the URLs of your social media campaigns. These coded URLs will help in measuring social-originated conversions and indirect conversions.

For example, let’s say that you publish an excellent blog. You then share it via your LinkedIn account. Readers love the article and share it socially and through email. One of those recipients reads the social post and ends up purchasing. With tracking links, you are now able to track that behavior.

3d step – measuring the interaction between the visitor and your content

Content, by its nature, is a gateway to your brand and your solutions.

Conversions from that content are not normally linear – the visitor reads article and immediately presses “buy” button.

The reality is that each visitor can interact with your content in their own unique way. That is why behavior flow tracking is needed.

For example, a visitor reads one of your blog posts. They then leave your site, returning several days later to read other posts. They may go further and initiate a conversion event, such as signing up for your newsletter, downloading an e-guide, or outright purchasing. If you did not have behavior flow tracking in place, your reports would incorrectly indicate that the subsequent blogs were what drove the conversion. In reality, it was several blog posts that cumulatively worked together to drive the conversion.

4th step – attribution tracking

This brings us to the final component – attribution tracking. The example in step 3 showed that through behavior tracking, we were able to determine that multiple blog posts contributed to the conversion. What happens when multiple media channels are involved (e.g paid search , banner re-targeting, etc.)?

Now we enter the world of attribution tracking. This is the biggest challenge area for marketers. How do you measure the impact that content marketing had on the conversion when multiple media channels were involved?

Let’s step back and use an example to show the complexities involved here.

You are walking down the street in downtown Chicago and walk past the XYZ store. This store has an advertisement right in the window about the sale on Brondo. You ignore it and continue walking down the street. As you walk, you pass a digital billboard that talks about Brondo coming to the store. Then, you get home and open your computer to read the news. There, you see a banner advertisement that talks about Brondo, showing that it’s on sale at the XYZ store. Curious about Brondo, you go their website and read several blog posts about its expansion to Chicago and the health benefits of it. You register on their website to receive a coupon. Finally, you open your email and see the coupon to go purchase Brondo. You save the coupon on your mobile phone and ultimately go back to XYZ store to buy a bottle of Brondo.

Now, between the time that you initially walked past the XYZ store to the time that you purchased the bottle of Brondo, you were exposed to and interacted with multiple marketing campaigns.

Each of them contributed to your decision to ultimately buy the item. Determining which marketing channel (and their percentage contribution) contributed to the conversion is called attribution tracking. If your organization can get attribution tracking in place across your marketing programs, then you’re going to have much more insight into which parts of your content marketing program are contributing to and ultimately driving the final purchase or the final conversion event.

Google Analytics has rolled out attribution tracking. Their solution now gives companies the ability to get a little bit more insight into the programs that contributed to the conversion.

How do you measure the effectiveness of the content marketing program once you have a strategy in place and you’ve got the tools to be able to measure it?

Once you have followed the steps outlined above, all you will need to do is set up several custom reports within your content analytics program. You then need to check the data every week or every month. By doing that, you will very quickly be able to pinpoint what is working and where improvements are needed.

You can then use that data to fine-tune your content marketing program and more closely align it toward the components that are working. When done on a regular basis, the results of the optimizations will add up, driving content marketing program performance.

What results are considered acceptable?

That’s going to depend on the type of company that you have and what your goals are. If you are a B2B company, you will measure success based on these metrics:

  • Number of leads created.
  • Email registration forms.
  • Phone calls.
  • Other response mechanisms that ultimately lead to an offline sale.

Because you have implemented all four steps outlined above, the data associated with these metrics will be much more accurate. For example, 23 email registrations can be attributed to 45% of your paid search ads, 15% to your email marketing reminder and 40% to your blog posts. If you didn’t have the tracking infrastructure in place, your report would likely look very different. It might show that all the email registrations came from your email marketing reminder. Paid search and content marketing would never have received attribution.

Without that kind of visibility and insight as a CMO and based on the inaccurate reports, you would likely make the wrong business decision and cut paid search and content marketing and increase spending on email.

In summary

You should recognize that content marketing requires advanced analytics and attribution tracking to effectively analyze its performance against your goals. Implement all four components to get the depth of visibility that you need. Review the reports regularly and make incremental improvements to your content marketing program based on the data. Over time, your overall content marketing program and media mix will perform better.

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Michael Marchese
Michael Marchese is the Founder and CEO of Tempesta Media, a leading content and influencer marketing platform, serving small and medium businesses. He is also the founder of the SEO & Content Marketing Leaders of America, found on LinkedIn. It serves marketing and business executives throughout North America.

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