Content strategy & content measurement

Top 100 Content Marketing Question: How to measure the success of your content marketing efforts?

A marketer at the University of Chicago Medicine asked, “How to measure the success of your content marketing efforts?”

I heartily recommend an approach called all-in analytics. Measure marketing by working from the macro to the micro results, that is:

  • Measure overall results from all your marketing.
  • Then measure the results of specific marketing campaigns.
  • If needed, measure results from individual marketing projects.

Use all-in analytics to see clearly what’s working 

Leading marketers measure in two dimensions:

  1. How to drive business performance
  2. How to fine-tune marketing operations

Start by measuring business performance

Measure returns on marketing investment (ROMI), revenue, sales pipeline, the number of customers gained, and the number of deals won.

Executives invest in marketing to grow the organization and make money. They expect marketing to produce growth in sales and revenue, new clients or customers, and new deals. Rightly so.

But most executives don’t understand marketing metrics like page views, dwell time, bounce rates, email opens and click-through rates, or social followers. So, how do they measure marketing success?

Clarify what is your return on marketing investments 

ROI
To calculate marketing’s contribution, use a return on marketing investment formula — ROMI, not ROI.

Executives may calculate a return on investment (ROI) for marketing. Here’s an ROI formula with many uses:

(Revenue – expense) = net profit
           Total investment

For marketing, this ROI formula is problematic. It applies to assets that are invested in, then sold off (such as companies and stocks). ROI takes in all the revenue and expenses to calculate a net profit, then divides net profit by total investment.

The specific problem is that most of what goes into an ROI formula lies well outside the domain of the marketing department. To narrow down ROI enough to apply it sensibly to marketing, calculate a return on marketing investment (ROMI) using this formula instead:

(profit from sales growth – marketing expense)
                 Marketing expense

Marketing Expense

For example, say that successful marketing increases sales by $1 million and produces an additional profit of $100,000. Whether that was a good investment for the company depends on the amount of marketing expense:

  • If marketing expense was $200,000, the company got a negative ROMI of 50%. That is, each $1 invested in marketing produced 50 cents in additional profit.
  • If marketing expense was $100,000, the company broke even. The ROMI is zero. (Note: companies that enter or build a new market often consider that investment necessary and worthwhile, when the goal is to build brand awareness or drive sampling of a new product.)
  • If the marketing expense was only $50,000, the ROMI is 100%. Marketing produced $2 of incremental profit for each $1 invested in marketing.
  • If the marketing expense was $33,333, the ROMI is 200%. Marketing produced $3 of incremental profit for each $1 investment in marketing.

ROMI can lead to a mechanical mindset: the higher the profit from sales growth, and the lower the marketing expense, the better. That can become a dangerous precedent.

Why? Because some executives follow this mechanical mindset out the window. They cut marketing expenses, again and again, sometimes leading a brand or company into a death spiral.

Simpler measures lead to more successes 

You can simplify marketing success measures even more. Find the “rule of thumb” that works for marketing in your company.

For example, I worked with a chief financial officer (CFO) to come up with this Marketing rule of thumb. For each additional $1 in marketing expense, the Marketing Department needed to produce $3 in additional revenue. That’s what it took for the company to achieve profitable incremental growth.

This simple rule of thumb guided the company to make profitable investments in marketing. Everyone in the Marketing Department understood exactly what we needed to do.

10 budget rules of thumb
A budget rule of thumb is easier for everyone to understand than ROI or ROMI.

That’s what we marketers really need – a success measure everyone can understand and measure up to. So, ROI or ROMI may or may not be the best measure for your content marketing.

Marketing is successful whenever it helps the company reach its objectives and goals – only one of which is a financial return. Many other valid business objectives such as brand awareness, customer retention, quality of user experience, and customer satisfaction do not show up immediately in a ROMI calculation.

The right things to measure in marketing must connect directly to the CEO’s and company’s objectives. That’s the key to finding marketing metrics executives will respect and heed.

Our job is to find the right metrics and present them as evidence that content marketing is working.

Make the results quick and easy to present: boil them down to a 1-page report or 1 slide that builds. Give others due credit for the business they bring in, too.

Measure content for marketing operations

How best to manage and track success of best performing content Group of rulers/measuring sticks
Measure the impact of your content marketing to demonstrate business results and learn how to improve.

Remember: measuring business performance alone is not sufficient. You also need a way to see inside content marketing to find out what’s making your marketing succeed.

So, you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Marketing operation measurements enable you to answer questions such as:

  • What made our performance go up or down?
  • How to improve the quality of your existing content?
  • Which measures drive business results?
  • What measures trend together? Which appear to be predictive?
  • How to enlighten marketing by testing and learning from experiments?

To improve content quality over time, measure your existing and new content for the:

  • Consistency of your message since consistency leads to credibility.
  • The scannability of your content, to be sure people follow you quickly.
  • The readability of your text, to make sure more people can understand it.
  • The emotional marketing value (EMV) of your headlines since people make decisions based on their emotions – not just the facts.

For more about measuring to improve content quality, see this blog.

Granular Marketing Measurements

To improve content marketing results over time, perform granular marketing measurements behind the scenes. Those measures include:

  • Website and SEO metrics such as search rank, keywords, website traffic, time on a webpage, bounce rate, conversion path. See “Content Marketing Metrics: 10 Easy Ways to Measure Effectiveness,” a blog by Andy Crestodina.
  • Email metrics such as subscribers, deliveries, open rates, click-through rates. See “Email Analytics, The 6 Email Marketing Metrics and KPIs You Should Be Tracking,” a blog by Lindsay Kolowich.
  • PR metrics such as share of desirable coverage, conversions, cost-effectiveness. See “Katie Payne’s 5 Data Points You Need in Your PR Dashboard,” a blog by Steve Goldstein.
  • Event metrics such as new leads, social media reach, new customers, customers reached with product demonstrations. See “The 4 Most Important Metrics for Measuring Your Trade Show Marketing ROI,” a blog by Rachel Sprung.
  • Social media metrics such as followers, likes, shares, user-generated content. See “7 Social Media Metrics that Really Matter – and How to Track Them,” a blog by Eddie Shleyner.
  • Brand value, as calculated under UK accounting rules. See “Brand Valuation – What It Means and Why it Matters,” a white paper from Brand Finance.

In addition, audit your content annually to make sure it’s still competitive. Here’s our blog that covers how to audit content.

Evolve measurements from complexity to simplicity

To sum up, measure everything that’s feasible and practical to measure. You may start out by rounding up as many as 30 or 40 measures.

At first, a dashboard with 30 or 40 marketing metrics looks as complicated as the cockpit in a passenger jet. Give yourself time to get used to all the dials and gauges, learn which ones move in tandem, then hypothesize and experiment to improve overall results.

measure the success of your content marketing efforts
At first, marketing measurement may seem as complex as an airliner cockpit. Over time it grows easier.

Assign someone to round up all the metrics from each marketing and PR function and produce a regular monthly report. If you have the luxury of a full-time data analyst or data scientist to help with measurement, apply your skills.

Bring the whole marketing team together to discuss marketing metrics regularly – monthly or quarterly.

Invite individuals to dream up their own hypotheses about why certain measures are trending up or down. Once you have a set of competing hypotheses in hand, you can test them to learn which holds up – so you learn over time.

Discover what’s really important

Through this process – discovering data, hypothesizing, and testing – you’ll find out which measures are most important.

Be patient: it may take a year or two to get to this point.

In particular, you need to find out which measures best foreshadow growth in revenue, sales, and customers. Then you can manage a smaller set of metrics – 5 or 10 – that are sufficient to fine-tune your content marketing and keep it successful.

When you seek measurement help from third-party consultants, be careful. Many experts set out to intentionally mystify measurement.

How can you tell? They talk over your head and make measurement seem too complex for mere mortals to understand. They present 100-page-long PowerPoints that have lots of data, little meaning.

If consultants can’t walk you through the highlights of a straightforward measurement process and make it reasonable to understand, avoid them.

Find the simplest set of measures that work for your company. The quality of any marketing measurement reflects:

  • The quality of the questions you ask
  • The hypotheses you test
  • The willingness to accept the data, no matter what it says – even when it doesn’t reinforce your existing beliefs.

As David Ogilvy noted long ago, most clients use to research the way a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination.

quote-we-all-have-a-tendency-to-use-research-as-a-drunkard-uses-a-lamppost-for-support-but-david-ogilvy-85-18-64
David Ogilvy described one dilemma of measurement. Credit: AZ Quotes

The challenge of marketing measurement is to seek true illumination. Over time, as you learn, measurement can become as easy and intuitive as the dashboard of your car.

Practice patience – you’ll learn more in time

Content marketing is a long-term play, best thought about strategically as a monthly, quarterly and annual activity – not overly tied up in the day-to-day activity.

It’s all about building relationships by teaching and helping your clients or customers. Teach or entertain them first, sell later.

“How to measure the success of a particular marketing effort?” is one of marketers’ Top 100 Questions about content marketing. Here are the answers.

Top 100 content marketing questions
This is one of marketers’ Top 100 Questions about content marketing. Here are the answers.

How to measure the success of your content marketing efforts