Too often, that statement ends the conversation about proving the value of content marketing. But the difficulty in tying content directly to the bottom line doesn’t mean content marketing isn’t a contributor to a business’ success.
The failure to understand that too often leads to the demise or weakening of content marketing support.
Why is the ROI of content marketing so problematic? Because the premise too often is that content marketing should feed directly to the bottom line. Many see the “return” in ROI as synonymous with “sales revenue.”
Sound familiar? If that’s the challenge you face at your brand, let’s explore a few options to overcome it.
A couple of years ago, Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo shared a tweet thread listing the benefits the company knows it gets from its content marketing. Yet Ahrefs never intertwines return on investment and content marketing. Here’s how he explained why they don’t:
“We won’t track how many leads we get from our articles organically, let alone what is the CPA of running paid traffic to our articles. Measuring those things would be just the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote.
“And let’s say we measured those numbers and they turned out terrible …? We wouldn’t halt our content marketing operations anyway! We KNOW that it works for us, no matter what those ‘isolated’ numbers say.”
It’s a great lesson in measurement. Think about what will change based on the numbers. If the answer is nothing, consider measuring something else.
Even people who work in marketing get confused about the difference between content marketing and other content used in marketing. No wonder executives operating outside marketing wouldn’t know the distinction.
Before you try one of the options below, consider hosting a conversation to explain the difference between content used in marketing and content marketing to key stakeholders.
What’s content used in marketing?
Content used in marketing usually focuses on the sale. Think product pages, sales promotions, customer service instructions, ads, and other content designed to lead to a transaction – a sale.
What’s content marketing?
As CMI defines it, 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.
Think blogs, newsletters, guides, video and audio shows, and other content designed to inform, educate, or entertain. Sales aren’t the immediate goal (though, of course, they can and should be part of the “profitable customer action” that’s the ultimate goal.)
Content marketing aims to build an audience. Some of the people this content attracts will convert to customers. But those conversions represent only part of the value content marketing offers.
The audience represents an asset with quantifiable value, says Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategy advisor. (Robert explains how to model the value of the audience asset in this article.)
Start with (what else?) specific goals
Though you can prepare your execs to think beyond traditional ROI assessment, you need to show how you’ll measure your content marketing’s impact.
Start by setting appropriate goals for your content marketing program. It’s not enough to say, “increase brand awareness” or “educate audiences.” Be specific: identify the goal, the target audience, the metric used to measure progress, the number you strive to achieve, and the timeframe in which you plan to complete it.
Here’s an example of a goal that covers each of those elements:
Our content marketing goal is to increase brand awareness online among women between the ages of 25 and 45. We intend to achieve a 10% increase in unique visits to our blog from this group in each quarter of 2023.
TIP: Make sure your content marketing goals align with your brand’s business goals. The example above only makes sense if the brand’s business goal is to increase sales within that target audience.
The more you speak the language of business, measurement, and success, the more likely business leaders will understand these essential points: Content marketing isn’t easily evaluated by traditional ROI. But it’s not far from a fuzzy nice-to-have – it’s vital to the business.
CMI’s annual research shows the same top three goals for content marketing year after year: brand awareness, building credibility/trust, and educating audiences.
In our most recent study, at least 72% of marketers cited those goals.
In the same survey, sales-related goals ranked further down the list. Here’s how they factored for B2B marketers:
5 – generating demands/leads (67%)
6 – nurture subscribers/audiences/leads (54%)
8 – generate sales/revenue (42%)
If you must operate under the premise that a return on investment means how your content marketing affects your bottom line, adjust the goals of your content marketing strategy. Focus on leads and sales.
If you make this switch, remember that your editorial approach will need to change, too. Don’t forget to adjust your metrics to align with your new goals. Website traffic and social media analytics shouldn’t be at the top of your list (they might not even be on your list.)
Invest in an attribution model
Of course, content marketing should have an impact on revenue. After all, why do it if it isn’t helping the business? But it’s not a direct line.
If your executives expect you to connect the dots to the bottom line, you must invest resources – experts, tools, and time – to develop a multi-touch attribution model.
By taking this route, you can keep using your current content marketing strategy until the data tells you it isn’t working for your brand’s business goals.
The first component to invest in is someone who loves data. Interest in content marketing is a secondary requirement. (Traditionally, too many content marketing teams make metrics an afterthought or last step in strategy and hiring.)
Look for someone who appreciates solving analytics puzzles and knows how to translate numbers into useful data for the content marketing team and the company’s executives.
Prescriptive (what’s happening in real-time/near future)
Predictive (what’s going to happen and how you should react).
Once you have analytics talent in place, your team is ready to develop an attribution model for your content marketing. An attribution model follows a person’s content touchpoints and what actions they take.
This illustration shows a multi-point attribution model that reveals a person downloaded an e-book, read an email newsletter, had a badge scanned at a trade show, and attended a webinar before becoming a customer. (You can read more about this model in Pawan Deshpande’s article Marketing Attribution Models: A Primer for Content Marketers.)
Some companies use a single-touch attribution model that gives all credit for the sale to a single interaction (even if the customer has interacted with the content in multiple ways.) For example, say the person in the example above becomes a customer, buying $280 in products. In attributing the sale, a single-touch model would designate the webinar attendance as the only touch that matters. Thus, the webinar attendance value for that person would be $280.
TIP: In a single-touch model, the first or last touchpoint usually gets credit for the value.
A single-touch attribution model is better than nothing, but it doesn’t work for a comprehensive content marketing program. A multi-touch attribution model better reflects the value of interactions over time, which are the hallmark of a content marketing approach.
With multi-touch attribution, a $280 sale gets attributed to four content marketing tactics. Using a linear multi-touch model, each tactic has the same value – $70.
In a weighted multi-touch model, the values vary based on the perceived importance of each touchpoint. For example, you might set up your model to assign 30% of the value to the first touch (in this case, the e-book) and 15% to reading the newsletter. The tradeshow interaction gets 20%, and the last step before the sale – webinar attendance – gets 35%.
In this model, each content marketing tactic has a dollar value – an indicator of its contribution to the sale.
This multi-touch attribution model I’ve used here focuses on a single sale. But you can create more complex variations of the models that look at lifetime value, repeat customer value, and so on.
Pivot from content marketing
If a strategy overhaul or a better approach to analytics and attribution modeling won’t work for your brand, stop doing content marketing. You’ll never have the long-term support necessary for success. Content marketing – building and growing an audience – takes time. (CMI founder Joe Pulizzi has estimated it takes at least 12 to 18 months to show results.)
Shift your content marketing resources to focus on content created for general marketing purposes. By focusing your resources on that type of content, you can better connect your work to the bottom line – and get the necessary, ongoing support from leadership.
And if you want to bring content marketing back into the fold (or keep your existing audience), figure out how to create a minimum viable content initiative that can happen alongside the team’s marketing content work.
If you can show that marketing significantly impacts the bottom line, the executive team is more likely to support your content marketing MVP – and possibly more down the road.
Need more guidance to hone your content marketing skills? Enroll in CMI University and get 12-month on-demand access to an extensive curriculum designed to help you do your job more effectively.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
This afternoon, HubSpot announced it would be making cuts in its workforce during Q1 2023. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing it put the scale of the cuts at 7%. This would mean losing around 500 employees from its workforce of over 7,000.
The reasons cited were a downward trend in business and a “faster deceleration” than expected following positive growth during the pandemic.
Layoffs follow swift growth. Indeed, the layoffs need to be seen against the background of very rapid growth at the company. The size of the workforce at HubSpot grew over 40% between the end of 2020 and today.
In 2022 it announced a major expansion of its international presence with new operations in Spain and the Netherlands and a plan to expand its Canadian presence in 2023.
Why we care. The current cool down in the martech space, and in tech generally, does need to be seen in the context of startling leaps forward made under pandemic conditions. As the importance of digital marketing and the digital environment in general grew at an unprecedented rate, vendors saw opportunities for growth.
The world is re-adjusting. We may not be seeing a bubble burst, but we are seeing a bubble undergoing some slight but predictable deflation.
Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.
He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.
Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.
Happy customers love to share their experience, but sometimes they need some encouragement to do so. The cool thing is, once they do, they become even more loyal to your brand.
So, at this stage of the Customer Value Journey, ask people to share their positive experience with your brand by writing a review or sharing a social media post.
Once you get to stage seven, the Customer Value Journey is going to get a whole lot easier for you. This stage is all about learning your customer’s experience, and building up your testimonial database.
The most important part of this step is asking these four questions.
What Was Your Life Like Before Finding Our Solutions? What Challenges Were You Facing That Caused You to Consider Us?
These questions are great not only because it gives you some really good stories, but because it gives you some insight on how you can provide similar prospects with that AHA moment. Understanding the average day of your clients is important in reflecting on your Customer Value Journey, and helps you understand what really set you apart from your competitors.
What Key Features Had the Biggest and/or Fastest Impact?
Not only is this going to get you to really specific stories, you will understand the specific things you provided that gave the biggest impact. The answers to these questions will not only give you great insight and testimonials, it will provide you with ideas for new lead magnets. This part is a new Entry Point Offer goldmine!
What Has Been the Impact or Results in Your Life or Business Since Using Our Product or Service?
This is a fairly broad question, and that’s why we put it after the others. You will have already gotten all of the specifics out of the way with #1 & #2. But when you ask this question, this is where you get the most valuable stories. You can use this part as testimonials, as an order form, as a sales page, this part is testimonial gold.
If You Were Asked to Justify this Purchase to Your Boss or a Friend, What Would You Say?
This is our favorite question by far. If you had to go back in time and justify this purchase, what would you say? I promise you what we’re going to find is a lot of great ideas for the jobs that your product or service has done. You’ll get a lot of great ideas for your core message canvas. This question is about backfilling all of the assets that you may not have. Here you’re going directly to the customer who are already happy, and using their justifications to help you sell to new customers.
Hopefully you now understand just how valuable the Advocate stage could be, as well as the key questions you need to ask to get your customers talking. Here’s how it works for our example companies.
When it comes to fashion we all love to show off our outfits. So a good example for Hazel & Hems would be to have customers write reviews for a discount code or points towards their next purchase.
Better yet, follow up with the customers to ask them to share and tag themselves wearing the items in a social media post and providing them with something valuable as a reward.
For Cyrus & Clark Media, hopping on zoom meetings or a streaming service for live talks about them and their business could generate valuable awareness for them, and a live case study for the agency. They can use the questions Ryan provided during this lesson to conduct the interview.