It’s the inevitable question — almost an accusation, really — that will often get lobbed at those responsible for content marketing at some point in their professional journey:
“We’re creating all this stuff, but does it really make a difference in terms of our actual business?”
Even if the question is phrased a little bit differently, the underlying criticism is the same. What ultimately matters to companies is whether or not they’re profitable enough to survive and grow. The tools and tactics that clearly contribute to that goal are the ones that tend to get the necessary funding and support from senior management.
Anything that’s a little less tangibly connected to profits, or where return on investment (ROI) isn’t always clear, become subject to greater scrutiny and, sometimes, a budget cut.
Content marketers may not always feel they have a great answer to this question, because it involves more than a simple yes or no.
The stories a company tells about itself and its target market — which is what content marketing is really all about — are an essential part of forming a relationship with its customers. Without it, you’re only left with a conversation that happens when someone makes a purchase, which doesn’t do much for getting more of their business, or keeping them loyal.
Quantifying that benefit and making a direct correlation to revenue (let alone profit) can be extremely difficult. If sales teams aren’t making the most of content marketing assets in their selling process, it becomes even harder. If you need to measure the quarterly impact on profit, it may seem nearly impossible.
Instead of giving up on evaluating the success of content marketing (or abandoning it completely), companies should look at other metrics that could help suggest the real, long-term value such storytelling brings.
Some of these metrics are ones content marketers inherently know already, but may need to educate the rest of their peers about:
It’s not always certain that customers and prospects are really interested in the products and services your sales team will offer them. If they read the blog posts, watch the videos and download the infographic, however, it’s a pretty good bet they’ll consider a purchase.
While marketing departments often talk about demand generation, demand validation is a way of looking at how sales resources will need to be weighed against the propensity of your target market to hear a pitch. In other words, if the traffic, downloads, and views of your content marketing assets are low, there are two explanations. Either the content is bad or the underlying message the company wants to communicate isn’t resonating.
Better to fine-tune that message — whether it’s a matter of adjusting product features, pricing or some other factor — before having reps waste a lot of time on cold calls or outreach that is greeted with a similar lack of interest.
Content marketing assets may not always lead directly to a profitable sale, but they might encourage another customer or prospect to join the group of people willing to listen to what you have to say.
Beyond capturing names for lead generation purposes, having people opt in to receive content marketing assets means the company will have a larger audience for email newsletters, webinar registrations and even push notifications.
Most sales leaders and other executives will be quick to invest in “paid media” such as online ads that they can directly control in terms of reach. They might enjoy “earned media” when they get interviewed and featured in reputable publications. Content marketing assets represent a company’s “owned media.” This equates to a database that becomes a huge asset for nurturing relationships, leading to initial purchases, cross-selling and upselling opportunities.
Owned media is also a good bellwether of how much your audience trusts your company and its brand promise. If you see a slew of opt-outs, it can be a good indication of larger things that need to be addressed which could otherwise severely impact profitability.
Why, when and how will a customer or prospect move from a “maybe” to a “yes” and a closed deal?
Experienced reps might feel they know some of their best customers well enough to answer that question, but it becomes harder the more customers you have and the faster you grow. It’s one of the reasons companies have adopted CRM in droves — to better assess all the data surrounding the customer journey and their purchasing decisions.
Besides the information that reps directly input into tools such as Sales Cloud, content marketing assets are a key source of that data. The volume of visits, the bounce rate on landing pages, the time they spend with a particular asset are all strong signals of intent.
When you string multiple content marketing assets together as part of an integrated campaign, you begin to have what will almost look like a treasure map outlining the route from opportunity to final sale. This includes the areas where a deal gets stuck for some reason.
If the “top of funnel” content you created to raise awareness about a product performed well, for example, but interest dropped by the time they got to a spec sheet or buyer’s guide, it may mean a rep needs to get involved earlier.
Conversion and retention of customers isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. It is a process that needs to be carefully managed by everyone on the sales team as well as their marketing counterparts.
There are many other content marketing metrics you can consider beyond the “three Ds” we’ve outlined in this post. The point is to be as creative in connecting the assets to things that matter to the business as you are when creating those assets. The ROI here isn’t just profitability, but engagement and insight about your customers.