John Lynch

Half my content is working but which Half?

Content marketing is still in its infancy, however as with social media before, its just beginning to poke its little head out of the safe world of harmless early-adopter type stuff to being a widely accepted and vindicated marketing practice. Consequently, as it becomes more pervasive, and gets more budget, conversation turns from "Ohhh, this is exciting" to the thorny question of ROI.

The sharp intake of breath!

I recently stood up at a top London conference and asked a distinguish panel of UK content gurus one question - What are the hard metrics when measuring content ROI? The back story to my question is a client whose digital strategy was based around storytelling and it’s been successful, very successful indeed. The problem is we are trying to determine how content contributed to that success (if at all) as opposed to just good design, good UX and good technology.

After a sharp intake of breath, one expert declared that success was a joint affair (bit of a cop-out answer), another confidently assured us that it was down to whoever proposed the story telling strategy. Then one refreshingly said he didn’t know, because there are no hard metrics to measure content sucess. I feel he was half right, there are some hard metrics but it quantifying the soft metrics that’s hard, hence why talk of content ROI is met by sharp intakes of breath.

What is good content marketing? 

Firstly a definition of what they are trying to measure. The Content Marketing Institute recently updated its definition of content marketing as ‘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.

The same source claims that 23% of B2C marketers are successful at tracking the ROI of their content. They also claim that 74% of marketers believe that they could drive 2.5x more ROI, brand lift, or lifetime customer value (LTV) if they had an expert content team.  How are they doing this? What do these marketers know that my panel expert didn’t?

Are they delusional?

Perhaps they are simply delusional. Or they have actually worked out a link between their content and their overall business results, because for content marketing to truly be worth doing we need to understand how it’s influenced the funnel and demonstrably 'move the needle'. Any calculator must build in both immediate and residual ‘brand’ affect, only then can you claim something approaching a workable ROI content calculator.

Just show me the money!

The bean counter view would be as follows. You produce content that is found by a consumer and that ‘engagement’’ will need to create a sale of more value than the cost of the content creation to justify a repeat exercise. Simple? This cost would have to include, salaries, overheads to create content, costs of distribution either putting it online, socialising it, using amplifier platforms like OutBrain or even paid media promotion.  There is also the cost of ownership of any hardware, or software used to design or publish content and possibly any content monitoring tools.

To complement things a little further, you need to include the cost savings of good content. Good content replaces a sales spiel or a customer service inquiry in many cases, and as such eliminates the need for that human. So the full formula is:

(Revenue generated - Savings made) / Total cost of Creation = ROI

Soft impact of good content

The problem with the accountants approach is you can show a clear link between what's read/watched/listened to and what's bought. This is enough for some, but that’s only half the measure. We need to look at the more ethereal longer term value that content brings to businesses.

Content marketing is fundamentally about earning familiarity, trust and hopefully building a relationship. Maybe a sale comes on the first pass, but normally for many businesses it after many passes.

It’s all about how each piece of content (text, image, audio, video) creates familiarity with your brand so that when the consumer is in the market for whatever you are selling they think of you, or they pass on your details to someone they know in the market for your product or service.  It’s very hard to link this sort of activity together never mind connecting it back to specific content.

So in summary, measuring the immediate short term gains is useful but only to an extent. For content marketing, it’s a long, long season. It should be viewed against an average lifetime customer value. There should be, many chances to fail and as long as you fail quickly, learn fast, and adapt you’re on your way to maximise the efficiencies of your content program.


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John Lynch Digital Ministry John Lynch
Company: Digital Ministry
Position: Editor
Involved in the digital media and Marketing industry for many years, through working at the Economist Group (uk), Universal McCanns, Zivo, emitch, OneDigital, IBM (client side), Agency.com & now TBWA NY Now in Bath, UK working as a consultant

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