If we can measure it, it must be important. So, is our job to just determine how accurately we can get that number?
Not at all. If any measurement is to mean anything, the first task is to agree on what equals success. It’s one of the unspoken secrets in all of marketing measurement. Agreement on measurement is much more important than the accuracy of the measurement itself.
A couple of weeks ago, I had this conversation with a director of marketing at a technology company. We were talking about the accuracy of digital marketing and how senior leadership directed him to be “sharper” (i.e., better) on measuring content marketing’s contribution to the overall marketing strategy.
His first planned initiative was to get into the details of the accuracy of the analytics tools. He wanted to make sure they were generating the right numbers, which were all in line with each other.
I told him getting more accurate data was the least of his challenges. What senior leadership really wanted was an agreement on what the value is.
Agreement matters more than accuracy
Look at TV ratings. They have never been accurate. In the early days, participants in the selected homes listed the shows that they watched and for how long in diaries. Do you think any of them took a wild guess at what they watched on Tuesday? And, up until a few years ago, the representative sample for television ratings was about 20,000 households in the United States. When you consider over 100 million homes in the US have a television, that’s like walking into a basketball arena of 10,000 people and figuring out what everybody wants for dinner by asking two of them.
As I explained to the marketing director: Television advertising isn’t a $60 billion industry because it’s accurately measured. It’s because everybody has agreed to the standard that determines “good” television based on ratings, regardless of their accuracy.”
The same must be true in your content marketing strategy. You first must define, align, and agree on your objectives and identify the unambiguous measurement of success.
How do you do that? Well, I like to think of measurement as a “design problem,” not an engineering problem, but here is a three-step process that has worked for us:
Step 1: Set your objective
Well-articulated objectives are clear and succinct and use plain language. They also imply or explicitly mention a time horizon to reach them. Objectives are the most important thing to get agreement on.
For example, a plainly stated objective might be: After the first year, our content marketing program will generate 30% of the new qualified leads in our demand-generation efforts.”
Setting and agreeing on strategic objectives doesn’t mean they never change, shift, or evolve. It just means you are aligned on the objective.
Step 2: Agree on key results
Now that you have an aligned strategic objective, you need to agree on the second most important thing – the definition of unambiguous success. This is what that marketing director’s senior leadership actually meant by getting “sharper” on how the measurement of content marketing was going to contribute to the business.
Define the key results and (most importantly) agreed upon measurements to determine if the objective has been reached. Again, clarity and simplicity are critical.
To be clear, these key results are not key performance indicators (KPI). Your key results are the definition of the goal. The KPIs, which I’ll get to in a moment, are the measurements to help you evaluate the progress toward those goals.
For example, the objective is to drive 30% of the new qualified leads. That’s a shared purpose, but it’s not defined. No one has agreed on what that means yet. To define what that means, the three agreed-upon key results might be:
- Increase current qualified lead velocity into sales by 15% as measured by sales-enablement form fills.
- Increase conversion rates of free trials by 25% as measured by the number of trials created.
- Decrease cost-per-thousand advertising rate by 20% as measured by average digital CPM rate.
Notice how I used the words “as measured by.” In constructing your key results, you may use hard numbers instead of percentages, or you might not have numbers at all. The key is to all agree on what the unit of measurement will be.
Now, take the time to pause and socialize your strategy. You most likely will have more than one strategic objective made up of multiple key results. Use this approach to achieve buy-in from your senior leadership.
Once you have shared objectives and agreement on how they will be measured, it’s time to care a bit about the veracity of your metrics.
Step 3: Design your measurement metrics
If you’ve gotten this far, you likely realize no single analytics tool is going to give the direct answers you need. Your sales-enablement form-fill information will most likely come from your CRM system. Your conversion of free trials might, literally, be calling up Mary and asking, “How many free trials from this landing page did we have last month?” And your CPM decrease might be a view in Google Analytics or an average across multiple ad-tech systems.
Your KPIs – the first level of your measurement metrics – are likely going to be drawn from a variety of data sources. They can help track your progress toward reaching one or multiple objectives. In the case where multiple numbers make up a KPI, break out another category of identifying all the sources of those numbers.
For example, Content Marketing Award-winning company ServiceNow publishes Workflow Quarterly with the objective of generating leads. One of their KPIs is what they call an “engagement KPI,” a custom metric that combines page views, time on page, and scroll length. The engagement KPI is used to score articles to help ServiceNow evaluate the content’s effectiveness in delivering value to the reader.
Put these things together, and you’ve designed a measurement program that people will agree with.
More than accurate numbers – you know the numbers everyone agrees on.
Just remember that accuracy is how close we are to a standard or truth. But, to determine accuracy, you first need to define what the measurement is attempting to assess. In other words, you must define the standard or truth before accuracy means anything.
Now you’re measuring what’s truly meaningful – the truth we all believe in.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute