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4 Content Marketing Goals That Really Matter to the Business

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4 Content Marketing Goals That Really Matter to the Business

Updated May 16, 2022

Have you ever heard a sales leader or business exec disparage content marketing or wonder about its business value?

They believe the myth that content marketing is some nebulous, feel-good, unmeasured thing that gets told too often. Several industry experts mentioned it when we asked about the most irritating content marketing misbeliefs last year:

  • “There’s a perception that content marketing is pretty pictures and words,” said Penny Gralewski, now senior director, product and portfolio marketing, DataRobot.
  • “Too many people still talk about content marketing as something that can’t be measured. That is simply not true,” offered Inbar Yagur, vice president of marketing, GrowthSpace.
  • Jacqueline Loch, executive vice president, customer innovation, SJC Content, said, “There’s still a tendency for content marketing to be viewed as pretty pictures, snazzy videos, and storytelling.”

#ContentMarketing myth: It’s all pretty pictures and words, says @virtualpenny via @KMoutsos @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The business purpose of content marketing is written into its definition:

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.

So, why does this myth persist?

The talking heads of the content marketing industry shoulder some of the blame. Dale Bertrand, president of Fire&Spark, shared:The content marketing industry does a poor job of communicating the full value of high-quality content … As an industry, we need to do a better job communicating that high-quality content should drive SEO, sales enablement, conversion, email marketing, advertising, affiliate programs, and more.”

The #ContentMarketing industry does a poor job communicating the full value of high-quality content, says @dbertrand via @KMoutsos @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Awareness isn’t everything

We content marketers can blame ourselves if we’re not setting (and hitting) goals business leaders care about.

We asked marketers which goals they achieved using content marketing over the past year for our B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – Insights for 2022. The one goal nearly everyone claims to have achieved? Brand awareness (88%). Among B2C marketers, brand awareness was also the top response (80%).

We see similar results year after year.

Brand awareness is a worthy endeavor. But you may struggle to explain how it ties into an outcome business leaders care about. That lack of a common understanding or language often divides marketers from other business leaders.

Marketers might consider increasing awareness as a return on the content marketing investment. But most business leaders equate the term “return” with one thing – revenue.

Simply saying, “Our content marketing increases brand awareness” isn’t going to cut it when it comes to securing, keeping, or increasing the budget.

Justifying #ContentMarketing by saying it increases brand awareness won’t help you secure, keep, or increase its budget, says @KMoutsos via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet


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How to align content marketing and business goals

Instead of setting brand awareness as THE goal, think of it as one step toward a business goal.

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And what’s the business goal of content marketing? To drive profitable action.

Boom. Goal defined. My job here is done.

Except … you probably have questions. What counts as a profitable action? Let’s explore.

To be useful (and measurable), content marketing goals must be specific – and match a meaningful business goal your company is working toward. CMI founder Joe Pulizzi likes to say businesses care about three things:

  • Sales
  • Savings
  • Sunshine (i.e., customer loyalty, retention, cross-sales, and evangelism)

Choose goals that support one of those three things, and you should have no problem communicating how content marketing contributes to the business goals.

Here are several business-related possibilities to consider when setting your content marketing goals:

Subscribers

Building a subscribed audience is the basis of content marketing. These are people who provide their contact information and agree to receive communication from you. That also gives you permission to subtly market to them while providing value outside your company’s products or services. In fact, CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose says the business asset created by content marketing isn’t content; it’s the audience.

When it makes sense: Set a subscriber goal when your business wants to penetrate a new market, compete with a high-profile market leader, or begin the content marketing journey.

Profitable actions to track: Measure progress by the number of subscribers to an owned channel (email newsletter, blog alerts, magazine, podcast, etc.) or the subscriber conversion rate compared with the general audience conversion rate.

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Go deeper into the subscribed audience as a goal:

Leads

Great content can encourage consumers to become prospects by signing up for a demo, registering for an event, or requesting access to a resource center. (In some organizations, a lead could be defined as a contact.) Unlike subscribers, leads provide more than an email address. They trade more information about themselves because they see value in the content offer.

Caveat: Some leads aren’t really leads. These contacts might have wanted the piece of content, but they may not want to hear from your brand again or aren’t interested in your product or service now. Consider converting these not-really leads into opt-in subscribers who may become more valuable over time.

When it makes sense: Focus on lead-related goals if your business sees content marketing as a tool for the sales team – to help find or qualify new prospects or nurture leads through the funnel.

Profitable actions to track: Measure content’s impact with form and landing page conversion rates, downloads, and percentage of marketing- and sales-qualified leads.

To go deeper on tracking lead generation, check out:

Sales support/enablement

Supporting sales with content typically involves creating pieces that offer proof points to help customers decide to choose (or justify choosing) your product or service. Think testimonials and case studies that show how similar customers have solved their problems.

When it makes sense: Focus your content here when your company needs to grow sales or open up new revenue streams.

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Profitable actions to track: Measure your sales support through lead-to-customer conversion rates, effect on time to close new customers, and revenue generated.

Go deeper on aligning content with sales:

Customer support and loyalty

Though many treat content marketing as a top-of-the-funnel play, content can work to reinforce the customer’s decision after the sale. How-to and activation content can help make sure the customer gets value from the purchase – and is likely to buy again.

When it makes sense: Focus on customer support and loyalty content when reducing support-related costs (i.e., high volumes of support calls) is a priority, when the business struggles to secure repeat business, or when upselling product options and add-ons are a priority.

Profitable actions to track: Measure the impact by the percentage of existing customers who consume content, the reduction in the number of support calls, the number of repeat customers, revenue from upselling, customer-retention rate, and changes in churn rate.

Don’t hide your goals under a barrel (or in a PowerPoint slide)

Most of us know the SMART (specific, measurable, actionable/achievable, realistic, and time-bound) framework for goal setting. Authors of an article from MIT Sloan argue it omits important elements – frequent discussions and transparency – that can help eliminate quarter or year-end surprises.

The article suggests FAST as a better acronym and framework:

  • Frequently discussed, so the team stays focused on the right things and can change/correct course as needed
  • Ambitious, so they promote innovative ideas
  • Specific, so they include milestones and metrics
  • Transparent, so teams understand and coordinate on each other’s needs and goals

The frameworks are seemingly complementary and could easily be a blended mix (SMART-FAST, FARMS-STAT?) for your content marketing goal-achieving plan.

Whichever framework you choose, do your content marketing program a favor: Set ambitious goals tied to a business outcome. Then talk about those goals in ways that make your business leaders care.

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As usual, Joe nails what’s at stake:

Most content marketing programs don’t stop because of a lack of results. They don’t stop because they aren’t working … They stop because the people with the purse strings – the ones who control the budget – don’t understand content marketing, why you are doing it, and what impact it could and should make on the organization.

What goals are you working toward? How are you making sure the purse-string holders understand what content marketing is contributing to the business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

There’s still time to set growing your content marketing skills as a professional goal for 2022. Then join us at ContentTECH Summit in San Diego and Content Marketing World in Cleveland.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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MARKETING

Follow This Purpose-Driven Path to Greater SEO Success

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Follow This Purpose-Driven Path to Greater SEO Success

Historically, getting content to reach the top of a search engine results page usually hinged on your team’s ability to fulfill the rules of Google’s algorithm – no matter how complex, obscure, and sometimes unwritten.

However, that picture is changing now that AI has arrived behind the scenes of the top search engine, says Dale Bertrand, Fire and Spark’s content and SEO strategist. Its machine learning delivers more precise, adaptive, and contextual search results. It also gives marketers another approach to search result success – a purpose-driven strategy.

Develop a purpose-driven #SEO strategy that would please @Google’s #AI algorithm, says @joderama via @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

At the 2022 ContentTECH Summit and a recent Ask the CMWorld Community interview, Dale discussed what Google’s heavier reliance on an AI-controlled algorithm means and how a purpose-driven approach can help your brand compete with – and even beat – bigger fish in the SEO sea.

Search for greater SEO intelligence

In the early days of digital search, Google’s founders used the web’s link structure to rank the most relevant page results. “Basically, if you had the right links to your website and the right keywords on your pages, you would rank well,” Dale says.

But now, it’s more important to understand how that AI engine gets trained than to follow technical SEO rules. Dale says making this mindset change can help set your content on a path to increased visibility on search and stronger marketing performance overall.

It’s more important now to understand how that #AI engine gets trained than to follow technical #SEO rules, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

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Engineers set the technical quality guidelines

Human engineers are still involved in ranking content relevance. But instead of programming the algorithm, their role is to rate a site’s trustworthiness, content accuracy, authoritativeness, and connection to other relevant content providers on the topic at hand.

“That quality information is collected as a big dataset from websites that have been graded, which is part of what they feed into Google’s algorithm to train the AI,” says Dale. There’s a big, long document out there – the web quality raters guide. Any marketer can read it to see what the raters look for when building the training dataset for Google’s AI.”


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AI adds behavioral signals

From that point, Google’s AI engine takes over, tracking search behaviors, analyzing signals of intent, and correlating those insights with the quality rating data to determine the most relevant content to a search query.

But, Dale says, keep in mind: “Google’s AI engine doesn’t care about your content – it only cares about its own performance.” It’s looking for confirmation that the content it selects will deliver a satisfying experience for searchers. Your job is to make sure it sees your brand’s content as a likely win.

Prove your #content has what it takes for better search results. Build momentum through community and demonstrate multifactor authority, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

Shared purpose promotes multifactor authority

Dale discusses two ways brands can prove that their content has what it takes to deliver the AI’s desired results:

  • Build momentum through community. A community behind your brand frequently visits, engages with, and links to your website. They recommend your products and services and amplify your site. Dale says these actions demonstrate a high level of customer intimacy. Google’s AI uses the artifacts of success from this content – high engagement, low bounce rate, and a high click-through rate – to confirm your site and content are loved.
  • Demonstrate multifactor authority. Part of AI’s investigation of brands that resonate with online consumers is the company you keep, Dale says. Authoritative individuals, organizations, and influencers can contribute to your brand’s authority by linking to, citing, and amplifying your content across their channels and platforms.

Prove your #content has what it takes for better search results. Build momentum through community and demonstrate multifactor authority, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

How to use purpose to build SEO power

Dale describes an SEO strategy that can help build authority and momentum by focusing on a purpose your brand believes in: “Hopefully, your brand stands for something. But [for SEO], it’s even better if your brand is actively promoting a change that you want to see in your industry.”

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By using your content to build valuable conversations around that change, you give the tools to those with an established interest to spread your brand messages. This data around this reciprocal relationship demonstrates the brand traction Google’s AI sees as proof your content is a solid search bet.

Dale shares a client example:

I worked with one brand that was selling handmade children’s products. The US government was about to pass a law that would have made it so [small businesses like this] would have had to do $100,000 worth of testing before being allowed to sell a single product. We were able to lead the movement against that law and turn that into an SEO campaign that generated authority, backlinks, and website engagement – all the things that Google’s AI is looking for.

He explains the process he used to achieve those results:

Step 1: Find high-profile groups and learn about the causes they support

Find potential partners – influencers, non-profits, advocacy organizations, and others who are working towards a purpose in which your business might have a stake. It could be an organization that’s written about helping previously incarcerated people find jobs, influencers promoting veteran-run businesses, or an event that supports disadvantaged youth in your local community.

When you’ve identified viable candidates, research their positions and how they communicate about them in their online conversations. “You need to understand what issues these influencers care about, what they’re writing about, what’s going on in their social conversations. All of those things are targets for your purpose-driven SEO campaign,” Dale says.

Step 2: Choose a mission your content will support

Once you find an area with enough grassroots supporters, craft a mission statement around it for your brand’s SEO campaign. It should be something your brand can speak to authentically; otherwise, audiences will see right through it. “It has to be based on your organization’s values because you’re going to get behind it. At the end of the day, if you don’t care about feeding hungry children, that just can’t be the mission,” Dale says.

If you’re on the B2B side or operate in a crowded market, it may be worthwhile to adopt a unique or even slightly controversial mission to differentiate your brand. “[You might think] sustainability is a good [purpose to build on], but so many companies have taken this topic on that it doesn’t move the needle from a search marketing perspective,” Dale says.

Rather than just choosing a hot topic, he suggests looking for a niche, such as a critical change affecting the supply chain for your industry or a regulatory issue that impacts product costs, to rally around. Doing so can help insert your brand name into relevant conversations that your bigger, higher-profile competitors may not be associated with.

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Step 3: Create “citable” content aligned with your mission

The goal isn’t to promote your brand’s involvement with the chosen cause; it’s to create content your partner organizations can cite when making their case for the cause. “The content is fuel for their advocacy – it gives them credible, authoritative information they can use in their arguments,” Dale says.

For example, Dale says, interview someone personally affected by the mission, write an opinion piece about the change your business is advocating, or publish an original research report. “This is the type of content that [they] would organically mention and link to while trying to get their point across in their own content conversations. That’s how you’re going to get the deeper engagement and increased backlinks that Google’s AI can see,” says Dale.

Step 4: Reach out to other like-minded influencers

With a body of purpose-focused content cited and linked to, you can increase your content’s authority and reach by sharing the outcomes with other influencers who care about the topic. But rather than conducting a blast email campaign, contact them individually by email or personal message on social channels.

In this outreach, focus your messages on furthering the mission. “We’re not promoting our business, our products, and services, or our content. We’re saying, ‘Hey, I saw that you’re a big advocate for helping previously incarcerated youth find jobs. We’ve got an interview your audience would be interested in … would you help us promote it?’” Dale explains.

Not only are influencers more likely to respond to this type of outreach, but they may be more willing to promote your content without compensation because it helps them create content in an area that they’re passionate about, Dale says.

Fuel a shared purpose and find greater search success

In a crowded landscape, where reaching a top spot on SERPs is harder to achieve than ever, it’s time for marketers to stop trying to outsmart the search algorithm. By putting a shared human purpose at the center of your SEO strategy, your content will broadcast all the signals of authority, relevance, and value Google’s AI is looking for.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

 Register to attend Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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