Six Content Marketing Realities

Content marketing: It’s certainly nothing new — it’s been with us since the dawn of marketing — but in digital channels, it’s rapidly changing and evolving. As content changes, so too do the policies, processes, priorities, and governance organizations require to effectively market with content. This applies not only to owned media channels — content has a strong gravitational pull that cannot be decoupled from earned and paid media.

Conversations these past few weeks about content with some preeminent brands and marketers have yielded insights worth sharing and pondering.

Content is the product

Susan Ridge, vice president of marketing and communications at Save the Children said in a recent meeting, “content is our product.” For most marketers, and for a significant number of brands, truer words were never spoken. As a non-profit charitable organization — and, for full disclosure, one of my clients — Save the Children doesn’t sell widgets or services. They craft stories and evoke emotions that ignite action, involvement, support and evangelism. What organization — even the ones that do have actual products — wouldn’t want the same of their customers, prospects, partners, and stakeholders?

Content achieves functionality

Twitter, Facebook, and Google now offer ‘Buy’ buttons on specific types of content, another indicator of the blurring of paid, owned, and earned media. This means content will increasingly be measured by its ability to convert, whether conversation (which is a desired action) is to bring customers in-store with inventory information, serve in an e-commerce capacity, or some other transaction of money and/or information.  Still, it’s important to bear in mind that selling widgets is not the only KPI for content. Far from it. As I’ve previously mentioned, marketers are far too uncreative when it comes to establishing business-oriented KPIs for content. Please combine transactional functionality with other business metrics that matter, and that have dollar value.

Vertical matters

As visual and audio-visual content continue to rise in prominence thanks to the pervasiveness of mobile, designers, content creators, and UX experts will rethink orientation. Most print and banner images are oriented — and intended to be “read” — horizontally. Phones and handheld devices flip, of course, but the most intuitive interface, particularly for content snacking, is vertical. Plan accordingly.

Concept above product

This is not a new notion, but as more brands pile on to content marketing, it is a strategy worth repeating. The brands most successful in content marketing don’t talk about themselves very much. Everything General Electric does, for example, ladders up to “Ecomagination.” IBM’s concept is “Smarter Planet.” What’s yours? It should inspire and command interest, as well as involvement. It’s what the intended audience cares about.

Plan everything, and prepare for the unforeseen

Competent content marketers don’t just maintain highly detailed editorial calendars, but those calendars incorporate workflow, governance, and process. They also know that even the most tightly-orchestrated plans require leeway. Save the Children has designated staff on-call evenings, weekends, and holidays. Ebola, the Nepal earthquakes — all are calls-to-action to the content teams. Julie Ryan, executive director of worldwide digital marketing at 20th Century Fox, has a great addition to this piece of advice: “Don’t delegate everything to your agency. Things will come up.”

Organize for content

Content is too big, too important, and too ongoing a need to leave to happenstance. Putting organizational structure around content initiatives across paid, owned, and earned media is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. And it needs to be connected with the entirety of the enterprise. This week, Chris Murphy, managing editor of adidas’ newsroom, shared that he has no fewer than eight counterparts worldwide, and that the company moved media buyers to Portland (where he is based) so there can be closer collaboration between the media and content teams — in real-time.

On a personal note, I’m putting my money where my mouth is on that last point. This week I joined Teradata Marketing Applications as vice president of content marketing. I look forward to continuing to share insights and experience on content marketing and content strategy as a practitioner instead of as an analyst.

This post originally published on iMedia

A Business-Oriented Content Measurement Framework

The foundation of content strategy is goals. Without knowing why content will be created and published — to what end, for whom, where, and how — content marketing is at best a spurious, ad hoc activity.

Yet when my colleague and partner-in-research Susan Etlinger and I sat down around a year ago to discuss the state of content measurement, we quickly realized growth in that sector is nowhere near commensurate with the overall growth of content marketing. This lead to research into what KPIs marketers should be working toward and measuring for in content, the subject of our latest research report titled Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact (free PDF download).

Content can indeed lift sales, but it can achieve so many more measurable, revenue-linked goals associated not only with marketing, but with other business areas, from product development to customer service.  Our research outlines some of these KPIs, but goes further in that it helps marketers determine not just what to measure, but how to measure it.

Following, the key recommendations that resulted from our research:

Measurement must be the foundational principle of content strategy

In fact, there is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve. Is it to drive more awareness? Build an audience? Encourage people to convert? Reduce call center expense by deflecting appropriate queries to a digital channel? Each requires different metrics — for content, yes, but also to calculate whether you have achieved your goal. Set and prioritize goals and desired outcomes, develop KPIs to track these, and measure and iterate constantly.

Every measurement strategy must focus on business outcome

Content metrics can be notoriously volume- or vanity-based, rather than outcome-based. This means that counting likes, shares, or organic reach in and of itself likely doesn’t demonstrate business value. To do that, you need to show a business outcome, using the compass in Figure 1. For example:

  1. An increase in reach can show audience growth.
  2. An increase in shares (preferably combined with other measures of engagement) can show engagement.
  3. To understand whether a content strategy has affected brand reputation, you must have a benchmark, measure sentiment, and look at the before and after. It’s critical to have an analyst who can perform this correlation with an eye to other confounding factors. For example, a “viral” video may be immensely popular, but if there is a product recall, pricing change, or other factors, it may be difficult or even impossible to assess the impact on the business overall.
    A business-oriented content measurement framework

Know your metrics and your data

Some signals, like click-through rate, are clear and relatively easy to assess. Measuring sharing behavior requires that an analyst assess multiple platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. — to define what “sharing” actually means. Compounding this issue is the fact that some of the most valuable data — for example, private Facebook data, or Snapchat data — are not available for privacy reasons. So analysts must take that into account as they assess impact and create defensible benchmarks as part of their process.

Be realistic about organizational capabilities and tools

Because content performance data comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from various platforms, it often requires a great deal of manual intervention to analyze properly. This is simply a reality of the market today; content vendors often supply their own analytics dashboards, while social media tools also serve to measure content reach, resonance, and other (content-specific) outcomes.

It is not uncommon to require a mixture of web analytics, content measurement, marketing technology, and social media tools to assess the impact of content. As a result, content strategists should work with their analysts to develop a realistic (short-term) and aspirational (long-term) measurement strategy. Otherwise, content strategists and business leaders will inevitably become frustrated, while analysts will burn out from all the manual work needed to deliver reports.

This post originally published on iMedia

A Meaningful Framework For Content Measurement

content-marketing-box-ss-1920

Content has become pervasive. It fills websites, social media, advertising and collateral. It comprises words, images, audio-visual material, infographics and a host of other form factors. As media and channels proliferate, so too does content.

Yet, according to recent research I conducted, measuring content effectiveness remains the single most daunting task facing (content) marketers.

On my content marketing maturity model, applying measurement and strategy to content initiatives is the third of five levels of maturity.

content_marketing_maturity_model

But measuring only for sales and leads – or simply relying on volume or vanity metrics such as “likes” and “views” that contain little innate business value or meaning – undermines investments in time, media, employees, technology, and vendor relationships.

Content Metrics That Matter (Beyond Sales)

Together with my colleague Susan Etlinger, whose area of expertise is data, measurement and analytics, I’ve been researching content metrics that matter beyond those applied solely (and rather bluntly) to sales.

Clearly, sales matter. But as participation in content initiatives increases and permeates outward-facing and non-marketing divisions such as human resources, customer service and support, product groups, research and development, etc., which we call the Culture of Content, the metrics and KPIs that are applied to content correspondingly shift.

Non-marketing divisions don’t directly support sales but instead have their own success criteria. To encourage participation in content initiatives company-wide, content marketing must support these other departments’ goals that clearly, while not always in a manner that ties directly to sales, are of high value to the organization. Demonstrating this value only occurs through measurement.

In the course of our research we repeatedly found most organizations are at a loss for how to create and deliver useful, insightful and business-building content, and they’re equally puzzled about what KPIs to put in place to measure content benefits.

Content Strategy Is Fundamental

Content strategy would solve for this as strategy is, after all, founded on establishing goals and benchmarks for content marketing, then selecting the tools, processes and governance that will best achieve these goals. But since most companies still lack a documented content strategy, they also fall short in knowing what they want to  (or can) measure. Additionally, they lack the tools and expertise to understand how to measure it.

Our recently-published research (free with registration) is a portfolio of case studies and examples of metrics applied in ways that illustrate the less-obvious benefits of content across a variety of scenarios: e.g. improved customer service, operational efficiencies, marketing optimization, etc. The reality is that content can support these goals, and all these goals can, in turn, correspond to monetary value.

It surprised both of us how much we had to struggle to find these case studies and examples, which underscores the underdeveloped state of content metrics.

Content Marketing Is Becoming As Integral To Business As Is Social

In 2011, Susan developed  “A Framework for Social Analytics,” in which she introduced “The Social Media Measurement Compass.” We updated that graphic in our current report to apply to content. The intent then was to demonstrate the many ways in which social media could deliver value for the business.

Now, the market has evolved to a point where content — which resides not only in earned media channels, but also in owned and paid media — has become a separate entity that is integral to organizations’ ability to scale their communication efforts.

Beyond marketing and sales, content can play a critical role in improving brand health, augmenting the customer experience, reducing cost and risk, and many other goals of the business.

Here is the updated compass, illustrating the key value propositions of a well-crafted content strategy.

Lieb

Each point represents an opportunity for business-centric measurement; that is, measurement that directly ties to business objectives and strategies. For example, operational efficiency metrics may refer to cost savings, risk, crisis management, or even productivity improvements.

These six points are by no means exhaustive, but provide a starting point for organizations eager to derive deeper insights from their content performance.

In many cases, the same “raw” metrics can be used as ingredients to answer many types of questions. In other cases, there are business or strategy-specific metrics that require data from other tools or sources, such as web analytics, business intelligence, market research, email marketing or CRM systems.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

New Research: Content Marketing Performance

16162748854_0b283dbcae_oMy latest research, Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact is hot off the presses (virtually speaking, of course). Please feel free to download a copy from the link above.

Here’s how my esteemed colleague Susan Etlinger introduced our project today, cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog:

About a year ago, Rebecca Lieb and I had a series of conversations about the emerging need for analytics that would allow content and marketing professionals to evaluate the success of their content strategies.  We discussed the predominance of “volume metrics” in content performance analysis, and the focus on linking content to conversion.

As we’ve both written before, that can be a significant challenge, for reasons having to do with attribution, browser complexity, and the complexity of human behavior in the buying cycle. So we wanted to take a look at some other ways that content marketers can gauge the success of their efforts.

The resulting report, “Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact,” is a look at six ways that content marketers can measure value. If that sounds familiar, it is: the social media measurement compass—which looks at brand health, marketing optimization, revenue generation, operational efficiency, customer experience and innovation—is relevant to content’s value as well.

You’ll notice that some of these case studies only include a few metrics; that is partly because some companies are reluctant to share their “secret sauce,” and because we are still in a very nascent state for content measurement. For that reason, we enriched the case studies with other metrics we’d recommend, so you can see how we might approach a measurement strategy to support specific business objectives.

 We hope this report starts a conversation on content measurement, and will be happy to link to substantive posts that discuss the issues in detail. As always, thanks for reading, and we hope you find value in this document.

– Rebecca Lieb and Susan Etlinger

I’d also like to take a moment to extend deep thanks to Senior Researcher Jessica Groopman and Research and Marketing Manager Christine Tran for their unflagging support on this project.

Content Marketing: What To Measure Beyond Sales & Leads

How should content be measured and analyzed? Let us count the ways (or at least begin to).

This column is intended to be an informal sounding board for ideas. Summer’s over and it’s time to get cracking on new research. Next up (in my capacity as a research analyst): content metrics.

My goal on this next project (which I’m undertaking with fellow analyst Susan Etlinger, a specialist in data and analytics) will not merely focus on how companies are measuring the most obvious content marketing goals, such as ROI, or increased sales, leads and conversions. We’re hoping to dig deeper and learn more about some of the less obvious content marketing benefits, as well as to uncover best practices for establishing content KPIs and putting processes into place to measure success.

We’re only just kicking this off, but here are some of the other, the more unexpected, areas that qualify as content marketing KPIs. Measurement practices are just beginning to emerge around these KPIs, and we’ll doubtless uncover more as we begin to research in earnest. Remember: this list deliberately does not include ROI, sales or lead-related metrics.

Customer Service

Brands have long used digital content to help customers to help themselves. Can that value be measured, e.g. the cost of solving an issue with content rather than a much more expensive call center?  Sony’s European Forum & Community Manager, Nico Henderijckx, recently shared great stats around how he calculates value. A recent how-to troubleshooting post, written by a super user on a Sony community site, was viewed by 42,000 visitors. The average call center call costs the brand €7. So the potential value of this one post was €294,000 (7 x 42,000).

Moreover, Henderijckx throws an annual offsite conference for the 45 super users of Sony’s European community to encourage their continued participation. They leverage this in-person opportunity to shoot over 300 videos of those users which are later shared with the broader community audience. More content!

Workflow/Efficiency

Companies that have no problem understanding the value of content marketing still struggle to streamline processes, collaboration and efficiency. Great content comes at a cost – and, like all processes, efficiency is a goal. That’s why I love this recent case study (via Percolate) on how Unilever managed to save $10M annually on content production costs.  As brands become even more sophisticated, they’ll begin to measure how content saves money in a converged media environment.

Reusing, repurposing and optimizing existing content can translate into savings across paid and earned media, as well as on creative and agency services.

Employee Engagement/Advocacy

Not unrelated to efficiency is the role content can play in employee engagement and advocacy – but it goes beyond that as well. Employees who are trained and comfortable with digital content can communicate (often, far better than senior leadership) on a variety of levels and with a range of constituencies, ranging from customer care to sales to recruiting and sales.

Engagement & Amplification

Shares, comments, pass-alongs. “Engagement” is a vague word indeed, but there are many, many instances of content marketing achieving as much reach as paid media, at a fraction of the cost of a campaign that a media buy would entail.

Take the tech company that engaged influencers to create content on topics related to their products (importantly, not about the actual products or brand) and, with disclosure, promote the pieces in their networks. This resulted in 1.1 million interactions – an average 128,000 shares per piece of content. In a B2B context, that amounts to paid media reach without the cost of a paid media buy.

There are a host more potential KPIs: purchase intent, brand sentiment, customer retention, recruitment, consumer insights, feedback and product development/improvement – all of which can be fostered, nurtured and measured with content marketing underpinned by a solid strategy.

That’s what I’m going to spend this Fall season researching. Let me know if you have other examples or great case studies of the less obvious side of measuring content.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Content Marketing Haters Gonna Hate (And Why They’re Wrong)

When something gets big enough to attract a great deal of media coverage and conversation, it’s inevitable that not all the attention will be positive. Take Justin Bieber. Or Miley Cyrus. Both have detractors as vocal and as passionate as their fans.

content_shutterstockContent marketing is certainly no teen idol, but as interest in the topic continues to hockey stick up the charts, the naysayers are coming out in force.

Now, I can be as contrarian as the next guy, but I have yet to see a cogent, well-reasoned argument against content marketing. Instead, detracting arguments seem to be ill-conceived, knee-jerk negativity based on conjecture or downright ignorance.

Let’s take a look at the content marketing haters’ prevailing arguments — and debunk them.

It’s A Meaningless Buzzword

This argument is grounded in the belief that content marketing is basically just marketing. By that measure, so are advertising, promotion, branding, user experience and dozens of other disciplines that fall within the broader category of “marketing.”

Marketing contains many discrete areas of specialization. It’s helpful to have terminology and definitions to describe these separate disciplines.

It’s A Stupid Name

This argument is purely subjective. Sure, there are people out there who hate the term content marketing. They’ll insist on “branded content,” “storytelling,” “brand publishing” and a host of other related terms.  There are arguments against other marketing terms as well, such as “native advertising.”

Let’s just all agree to move beyond the semantics, shall we? You can argue a point like this until the cows come home. Ultimately, it doesn’t help move anything forward, or provide much clarity. Love it or hate it, “content marketing” is the industry standard term now, so learn to live with it.

shutterstock_84816412-measuring-tapeYou Can’t Measure It

Oh yes, you can. Establish the appropriate mechanisms and strategies in advance of implementing content marketing initiatives, and you can measure up and down the funnel: intent to purchase, brand favorability, awareness, amplification and so much more.

Even that shining, most exalted ROI metric can be extracted from content marketing efforts.

Doing so, however, requires discipline, strategy, tools, and an understanding of what to measure, and what KPIs matter to the brand.

Rarely are these metrics the same as the ones used by publishers, yet publisher metrics are all too frequently (and mindlessly) applied to content initiatives. That’s not content marketing’s fault. That’s a lack of planning — and maturity — on the part of marketers.

It’s Social Media

Without content, there is no social media — but content marketing is not social media’s equivalent. Content is owned media: it’s media created by a brand for marketing purposes, and distributed or published on media the brand owns or controls.

Social media can be that, but it also heavily relies upon earned media (e.g., from fans or followers), sometimes even paid promotion and distribution. Paid, owned and earned media are converging and commingling in all sorts of new ways, but pure content marketing is no more social media than it is advertising.

It’s SEO

SEO can certainly be a primary or secondary goal of content marketing — and indeed, without content there can be no SEO — but my research indicates that SEO is diminishing in importance as a stated content marketing objective.

It’s Storytelling

Like social media and search, content marketing can certainly be about storytelling, or forming a narrative to relate a compelling message about a brand. But content marketing goes beyond storytelling into utility, thought leadership, education and other initiatives that are useful, compelling and effective, but hardly narrative.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published.

What to Measure: ROI or KPIs?

Digital marketing is constantly evolving and rapidly changing. It’s full of new technologies, new tactics, and new innovations. Yet there’s one constant: accountability. There’s an expectation that no matter how new, how cutting edge, how experimental or untested, it will all be perfectly measurable.

The reality is all digital marketing is and always will be measurable — but not always along traditional lines. And you can’t always measure what you most want to measure.

Analytics can reveal lots of insight, but there’s a staunch unwillingness to accept (in some quarters) that the exact knowledge desired might well be akin to reading tea leaves rather than spreadsheets and dashboards. This leads to a world of unrealistic expectations and flat-out delusions. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Everything is measurable, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really like to see in 2014, in addition to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably while aligning with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out.”

Otherwise put, and very wisely so by Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet in a talk last week, “There’s a right metric for every campaign. But you have to figure out what it is, and you have to explain why to the boss.”

The right metric isn’t always ROI, but too often, ROI is the default, go-to metric to which marketers are being held accountable. Software manufacturers are under the same pressure. “How can we build ROI accountability into our dashboards?” is a question you hear over and over again in product meetings.

ROI is a wonderful thing. But it’s not always possible to track every single effort down to a dollars-and-cents return. Often, it’s not possible — or even the most desirable outcome. It’s also perfectly valid to have a goal of, say, message amplification in terms of social shares. If your YouTube video was shared 1.4 million times, that metric tells the right story.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.