Content is pervasive. It is, after all, the most foundational element of marketing. Without content there can be no websites, social media, advertising or print collateral, not to mention content marketing as owned media. Content spans many elements: words, images, audio-visual material, infographics and a host of other form factors. As media and channels proliferate, so too does content.
Beyond marketing and sales, content can play a critical role in improving brand health, augmenting the customer experience, reducing cost and risk, product development and testing, recruiting and retention, and many other foundational business goals.
Research I recently co-authored with Susan Etlinger contains a portfolio of case studies, with metrics illustrating the less-obvious benefits of content across a variety of scenarios; improved customer service, operational efficiencies, and marketing optimization being just a few examples. The reality is that content can support these goals, and all these goals can, in turn, correspond to monetary value.
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.
Our compass (below) illustrates the key value propositions of a well-crafted content strategy.
Image source and copyright: Altimeter
While those organizations that do have formalized content strategy are to be lauded, most don’t go far enough. Their goals are too simplistic; either they are attempting to measure only sales, or they measure volume metrics that have little business value such as views, likes, or shares in social media channels.
Obviously, sales are critically important any business venture that’s a given. And those blunt volume metrics can reveal some broader truths. But organizations can go so much further in demonstrating the business value of their content marketing initiatives. Take a look at content metrics beyond sales and beyond volume metrics. These are content measurements you can take to the CMO, even to the CFO.
Brands have long used digital content to help customers to help themselves. Can that value be measured? Absolutely. What’s required is the foresight to put those metrics in place at the outset of the content initiative. Sony’s European Forum and Community Manager Nico Henderijckx provides us with a stunning example. Henderijckx learned from a call center manager that call volume around an issue with a television set was particularly high. He asked a customer forum moderator to write a quick post on how to troubleshoot the issue (at literally no cost to the company, the moderator was a super-user volunteer). The post was viewed by 42,000 visitors in the first two weeks it was live. The average call center call costs the brand €7. So the potential value of this one post in only 14 days was €294,000 (€7 x 42,000).
That’s a number to take to the bank (or the CFO). But not if you don’t measure it.
Henderijckx throws an annual offsite conference for the 45 super users of Sony’s European community to encourage 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 Percolate’s recent case study on how Unilever managed to save $10M annually on content production expenses by reducing redundant and replicated creative work across their global offices and agencies. 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. 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 recruiting and sales. Opportunities in this realm can be internal as well as external. 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 I 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.
An example? ESPN’s ‘Be Here’ employee advocacy recruiting site.
Engagement And 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, to promote the content to their followers. 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.
Content Strategy Is Fundamental
As stated above, a sound content strategy will solve the measurement problem. 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 as most companies still lack that documented content strategy, they also fall short in knowing what they want to (or are able to) measure. They also lack the tools and expertise to understand how to measure.
Each point on the compass 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. Instead, they 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.