Content marketing is a powerful and effective way to generate leads and nurture prospects towards a sale. It’s about issuing content that is interesting, engaging and that both your existing and target customers will find valuable and want to read. To get it right takes a strong commitment and significant investment, in terms of time and resources.
Being able to measure the return you are getting on that investment is a vital part of the process and you can read more about its importance here: ‘Measuring online marketing ROI (and how it can make you indispensable)’.
So how do you know if it’s working? Debate continues to rage about how best and most accurately to measure content marketing ROI. But why is it so difficult? What are the main issues that are causing marketing teams such headaches? And what can you do to tackle or minimise them?
Playing the long game
Making the decision to start using content marketing as a way to attract new business and keep existing customers happy can be a difficult one. One of the main reasons being that it’s about playing the long game. Getting results takes time.
It can take a couple of months to set up and get it off the ground. It then takes a lot of trial and error to keep refining the process and improving on the results. Trying to force it and prove ROI too soon is just pointless.
From a measurement point of view you should aim to kick off the process with all the tools in place that you’re going to need further down the line. So you need to know what you’re going to want to measure and why. That means deciding what the most appropriate KPIs are going to be, and making sure you put the right analytics in place from the start to be able to measurement them.
Whether you’ve already started using content marketing, or want to plan your first campaign, here are the key ingredients you’ll need to successfully prove content marketing ROI:
What is your goal?
It may seem obvious but far too often companies take the plunge into using content marketing without having a clear goal. Yet without setting goals you won’t have a clear direction. And how can you know if you are successful if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, and what success will look like?
Start by looking at the company’s overall goals and think how content marketing activity may help you achieve them. This may typically be things like: ‘increase yearly revenue by 20%’, ‘find 20 new customers within the next 12 months, ‘increase profit margin by …%’, ‘generate 1000 good quality warm leads per month by the end of the year’. You may also have more general ones around increasing brand awareness that aren’t just fixed on new business.
Whatever your goal is, make sure everyone understands it and what you’re aiming to achieve. You then need to break it down into smaller, achievable steps. Out of these, the necessary KPIs should then be easy to pull together.
What is your strategy?
How is content marketing going to fit within the mix? What other steps will you be taking to achieve your company goals? You need to have a clear overview and to know how it’s all going to fit together. Then develop your strategy around the goal that needs to be achieved.
Depending on how much content marketing you have already been doing, the results you are likely to get will vary. If you are completely new to it and have to first rebuild your website, then you won’t see many tangible results for a while to come.
If you have dabbled a bit, such as by offering a download or two, and generally get how it works, then now is the time to develop a proper strategy that keeps the overall goal in mind.
And if you are well into the game and already have lots of leads coming in, then take a step back and evaluate if your strategy is still in line with the overall goal, or whether it needs adjusting or could be improved.
What will success look like?
This is one of the most overlooked questions by many marketing teams – but one of the most important. You need to be able to tie your efforts, and the content you’re producing, back to your achievements and the goals you are aiming for. Without the right tools in place you’ll struggle to do this.
If your goal is new customers and you have no way of knowing how many new customers your marketing has brought in then you can never prove your ROI – either positive or negative!
Intelligent marketing software, such as that available from Lead Forensics, can now make this far easier to do, and can link directly to your CRM. It allows you to see where a lead came from in the first place, the journey that person followed and the content/web pages they visited, and finally whether they converted.
As a marketer without this information all you may be able to report on is the number of leads generated. But what the CEO will want to know is how many of those leads turned into customers and what revenue they generated. That is how you assess what the return on the investment was worth.
Keep a log
Another part that’s often missed in the process is the need to keep a log and document what’s happened and when. The way marketing teams work is rapidly developing and can change very quickly. What worked yesterday might not work today and adjustments need to be made at speed. Just reporting on the figures isn’t enough, it is also important to understand them and know why they are the way they are.
A log that keeps track of any strategic and tactical changes along the way is just as useful as a general log of all your marketing activities. Somebody needs to have ownership of the process and documenting what happened. Only then can the figures be interpreted accurately.
As a simple example – if a B2B company has a goal to ‘increase yearly revenue by 20% within 12 months’ then they may decide that content marketing must play a big role in achieving this. Let’s imagine we’re talking about new business to the value of £500,000 and each new client’s value is £20,000.
The KPIs to look at would be:
- Running total
- Average client value
- Number of new clients
- Number of quotes sent, SQLs (sales qualified leads)
- Number of MQLs (marketing qualified leads) produced
- Number of total leads
- Number of website visits
- And the corresponding conversion ratesMonth by month the data is tracked, recorded and analysed. It is important that each KPI is owned by someone who feels responsible for improving the specific number. First the goal needs to be clear, then the correct numbers need to be tracked and then the way the numbers develop needs to be analysed.
What might this look like in practice? And what might it look like over the course of a year? Each number tells a story and different people will have a different interpretation and interest in those numbers.
The CEO will look at the green areas and will want to know why the average revenue per client was lower in the beginning of the year and once again at the end. In terms of ROI for the content marketing campaign he will also want to know how many of those new customers came from these efforts – which is why closed loop reporting, that ties activity to individual results, is a must.
The sales director will want to look closely at the conversion rates of his team and analyse those. Why are there such fluctuations? What has caused this? Together with the marketing director he will look at the lead generation and conversion rates and find out what story they tell and how they can be improved.
The marketing director will also look at the website visitors that are going on to lead conversion and fine tune the strategy accordingly.
Each of these numbers have many more numbers behind them that can be analysed to give a complete picture. Together with the log information that notes what happened and when, conclusions can start to be drawn and used for future planning.
With KPIs like these, marketing and sales teams can come together to agree targets. They can, for example, agree that marketing will aim to provide a minimum of 3 marketing qualified leads per month. In turn, sales will agree to aim to close these at a certain rate.
Together the two teams can find ways to improve on their figures, to the benefit of the whole company. If they do not achieve the figures they want/need to achieve their overall goal, they need to figure out what is going wrong and what they can do to improve on it.
At the end of the reporting period if the goal hasn’t been achieved it is vital to understand why, so realistic targets can be set for the next year – you need to think whether it’s the strategy that needs to change, or the goal? Don’t forget to stay focused and to analyse the facts only. Never resort to finger pointing or blame – that doesn’t help anyone. Instead, look at the story and what the numbers are telling you, and find ways to improve the end result.
Getting it right
What this example shows is just how important the facts and figures can be for team members across all levels of an organisation. So if you’re considering content marketing, or are looking to more effectively focus your efforts moving forward, then you need to address the issue of measuring ROI early on. The best way to successfully grab that key information is to ensure you have the right tools and software in place from the start. You need a clear direction and proper strategy, plus a system of adjust and refine to make sure you’re getting it right. Just remember, it’s playing the long game and there’s no rushing it.