At Content Marketing World 2021, proving content ROI was a central theme. While the industry is booming, and content is king for many organizations the world over, company leaders and financial stakeholders are searching for ways to buckle down and weather today's uncertain economic market conditions. The ongoing global pandemic is still wreaking havoc, and numbers-focused leaders have put more pressure on content marketing teams to demonstrate their value.
Historically, content marketing has been associated with "softer" performance metrics and KPIs — but this is changing. One session at this year's CMWorld focused on this exact topic and covered it in depth, exploring how brand leaders can evaluate and measure content marketing ROI in a way that ties back to the business's bottom line.
This all-women panel featured some of the industry's top content marketers, including moderator Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, Managing Partner at Masthead Media; Jessica Jensen, CMO of Indeed; Michelle Wong, CMO of Sprinkles Cupcakes; Annie Granatstein, VP of Content Marketing for Marriott International; and Nekasha Pratt, VP of Marketing for HarperCollins Publishers.
Here are eight key ways these marketing leaders measure their content success:
1. Look Back to Look Forward
When asked how she decides where to put her marketing dollars and how to divvy up her budget every year, Nekasha said, "The first thing we do is look back to look forward."
This is wise advice, especially for today, when every organization is trying to make data-driven decisions. According to Nekasha, her team is always thinking about what will get them the most return on their investment, and data and research are the top drivers in making those decisions. This is a great way to justify your budget.
2. Balance the "Hard" and "Soft" Metrics
In response to this same question, Jessica had an apt response: "Marketing is the wonderful fusion of math and art. We have to constantly hold brand objectives and performance objectives in our mind at the same time."
Jessica works with her leadership team to develop "hard" metrics and allocations. For Indeed, this includes KPIs like new job seeker account creation and new employer spending account creation. Content they produce for these metrics is aimed at driving lead generation, and topics could include anything from "What's the right job for you?" to "How should you prepare for an interview?"
This type of content is very trackable, with clear SEO and traffic acquisition benefits — and it keeps the leadership team happy. With this in place, Jessica then makes room for content initiatives that don't have such measurable results, like content that persuades people to think about changing jobs. In the end, it results in a "patchwork quilt of efforts and metrics, and we try to make it all yield the desired outcome overall."
3. Tie Everything Back to the Brand
The driver behind the work Michelle leads at Sprinkles Cupcakes is the brand message. "For Sprinkles, our content always comes back to our core brand beliefs. It's the thread that connects everything."
This core message boils down to: "We want to empower our customers to find love and celebrate it every day — you don't need to wait for a special occasion." Michelle leverages this lens as her guiding principle for content development. She digs up the emotional connections underpinning the brand's products to shape messaging and demonstrate the brand beliefs, and this impacts how content is ideated and executed.
When leadership sees this messaging baked in, they understand how it extends the brand's values, how it helps customers connect with product and how it impacts the bottom line.
4. Make Reporting Metrics to Leadership a Habit
At Marriott, Annie said she's made it a regular habit to report results up the chain: "On a regular basis (monthly or quarterly), we float up a summation of metrics to leadership."
Don't wait to report on your successes in a once- or twice-a-year meeting with your organization leaders. Even if your content isn't low in the funnel, you can draw a line between what you're doing and how it's driving revenue, and the more you can demonstrate this for leadership, the better.
Annie collects everything from interactions on social posts and click-through rates on newsletters to various engagement and brand perception metrics, and she makes it a point to share this information with leadership, whether if it's just via a quick email or in a more formal review meeting.
5. Identify Metrics That Matter for Your Niche
At HarperCollins Publishers, Nekasha looks at standard metrics first: follows, views, visits, engagement, etc. But she also looks at early indicators of success for her particular industry.
In publishing, for example, reviews and presales are big indicators of success. Owned audience is also important: Did email subscribers grow? Did open rates increase? What do authors' followers/readers look like when comparing audiences from their last book to their newest book?
Nekasha also looks at whether people want to engage with content. Are they downloading content? Are they adding books to their wish lists? Are they continuing to re-engage, and do they want to connect again? And finally, she looks at bestseller lists, another strong indicator of success.
For other industries, these types of metrics may not be relevant, so if you're tracking the standard metrics, it might be time to assess the value of those benchmarks and whether there are other indicators you can track unique to your space.
6. Make Every Content Decision Purposeful
According to Michelle, you should be wary of creating content for the sake of having content. "No matter what we put out, it's always purposeful," she said.
And that's important advice: It's easy to fall into the habit of focusing on quantity over quality. But when you have a purpose behind every piece of content, it's easier to justify its existence.
That said, experimentation is a good enough reason to create something. If someone has a new idea they really want to try out, it's worth pursuing. You might uncover a customer insight you wouldn't have known otherwise, while other times, you might just take away that it's not an avenue you want to go down.
Annie had a similar experience at Marriott. The team was hesitant to try out a new platform: TikTok. They weren't sure how content would perform or if an audience was even there, but to their surprise, an organic audience already existed. Thousands of people were creating TikToks showing off their hotel rooms, and sure enough, their first foray onto the platform as a brand proved a huge success.
It just goes to show that trying out new things is just as valuable as following tried-and-true strategies.
7. Repurpose Content to Get Even More Value from It
Nekasha had a compelling perspective on content, given her organization's goal as a publisher is to make content to sell content. As such, she's always thinking about clever ways to use and reuse the content her team produces.
For example, she might create a quiz, a listicle of fun facts or a recipe related to a book. While that content might be one-and-done normally, she might repurpose the content by sending it over to PR or other channels, which can then use it to support their marketing efforts.
"That's the beauty of content marketing: We can be scrappy and repurpose content, allowing us to be cost-effective and extend our dollar further," she said. "We also create content that our authors can use, which they can leverage to build their own platforms. In turn, this helps us sell books — and that's why content marketing is so important to our overall marketing strategy."
8. Remember: Not Everything Is Measurable — and That's Okay
Finally, after all this talk about reporting against key indicators and hard metrics, Jessica had a fitting reminder for her fellow brand marketers: "Not everything is measurable."
At Indeed, Jessica is always thinking about: "What is the quality of work we can produce and do that is unique to us and our market but then creates a coalition of our partnerships and elevates us and them as thought leaders?"
This type of work isn't necessarily measurable, but its impact can be felt all the same. When you're doing things that reflect your brand and values, and you're producing work to change society for the better, you'll attract partners who want to do the same. Together, you can spread a positive message that will resonate with customers, and that can be more valuable than any numbers in a spreadsheet.
Hopefully, these key takeaways from some of the brightest leaders at CMWorld will help you in your quest to evaluate and measure content marketing ROI.
Learn how Skyword can help you prove content ROI with unified performance analytics and competitive intelligence.