THE BLOG
12/24/2014 01:53 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

The Economics of Content Marketing in 2015 - Investment Tipping Point

Many of us are familiar with a level of maturity in online marketing nowadays, one that requires a far more comprehensive approach than the individual sum of its parts. Tangibility of any marketing practices has become forefront, and at the the CMO and executive level we find ourselves faced with the daunting task of mapping a framework on which to measure successes.

The rapid and evolving marketing landscape has assumed greater necessity for economical understanding of the decisions we make. Given its stratospheric rise in recent times, content is the forerunner.

Methods of measurement for marketing disciplines is a complicated and multi-faceted discussion. The breadth and complexity of marketing in the modern landscape has, in turn, caused an increase in complex KPIs that are now dispersed amongst multiple organizational layers. As Jake Sorofman form Gartner puts it " Performance Marketing Comes Of Age"

CMO's Need To Justify Content Marketing Investment

The fear here is that, at the executive level, we may be losing control on what measurements are well constituted and those that simply exist for the matter of good order. Worse still, all too commonly we are ignoring the key problem here, poorly formed KPIs and poor communication between marketing and other senior executives are causing goals and objectives to drift. This is bringing the effectiveness of content into question in such a way that is rectifiable, but doing so involves a revision of the ways in which we are measuring successes.

Without this being recognized, major problems can arise seemingly out of the blue and threaten the very brand we are collectively working towards building. The content marketing industry must work towards the remedy.

Content Effectiveness: Difficulties in Constituting Value

It probably will not surprise you that a year-on-year trend shows an increase in the adoption of content marketing practices within organizations, highlights include:

• 90 percent of B2C marketers now use content marketing (4 percent increase in from last years 86 percent)
• 72 percent of B2C marketers are producing more content than they did one year ago
• B2C and B2B marketers now use an average of 6 social media platforms frequently, up from last years 4

However, this research from the Content Marketing Institute demonstrates the worrying lack of belief in the role of content in current marketing practices. Those surveyed in the 2014 survey demonstrated only a 2 percent increase (to 34 percent) in the measure of content marketing's effectiveness.

This illustrates the gap in adoption of and requirement for measurement and defining what effective content marketing looks like.

Executives & Marketers: Reading From Two Different Pages

This reality uncovers a significant issue with the way in which measurement and goals are communicated in the senior echelons of our organizations.

It appears therefore that closer collaboration of marketing and senior executives is essential in defining and understanding goals and objectives for content. After all, we are currently vastly misaligned:

• Executives judge content based on its notoriety and distinctiveness
• Whilst marketers focus on commercial performance and sales

Source - The Economist Group, Missing The Mark Global Content Survey

By addressing this issue we, as content-aware organizations, will be able to define and communicate what effective content looks like.

Something that executives and marketers are, however, aligned on, is the belief that the primary importance of content marketing is the development and awareness of the brand itself. A notion that is also supported by the previously reference research from the Content Marketing Institute:

Hopefully now you are convinced of the importance of our focus on measurement, particularly so if you belong to an organization with long-purchase or repeat-purchase cycles. These require an understanding of softer content metrics but, critically also a depth of data on deeper economic principles. Loni Stark, Senior Director of Strategy & Product Marketing at Adobe, explains here in detail how to use data to create content that also deepens customer relationships.

As examples, consider the automotive industry, PC-buyers or energy suppliers as good examples.

Finally, given that content can both create and destroy a brand, surely establishing organization wide understanding of measurement and effectiveness, while defining what constitutes as value, are of paramount importance? So how do we go about enabling our organizations for this trend?

Let's explore this now...

Breaking Down The Barriers To Content Marketing Investment

It's only natural therefore to recognize that people define their forms of measurement differently. The rise of the content-aware organization, the increasing focus on storytelling and brand communications being brought to the forefront in the ever changing digital landscape, do their bit in keeping us on our metaphorical toes. However, at the executive level the more complicated and crucial task involves defining and mapping the structure of measurement, metrics and KPIs and doing so in a way which enables us to establish, scale and iterate our marketing practices.

The practicalities behind the economics of an organizations' content should not be underestimated. The creation, dissemination and scalability of brand storytelling in such a large spectrum is not achieved through simply creating an internal content team. CMO's must do more.

Barriers between access to internal information must be broken, restructuring of marketing personnel and closer cooperation across senior levels of the business may be required to create a functioning and accountable content being in your organization. Moreover, these new teams need to hold a tight understanding and focus on the bottom line, iterating in the process to the more economically achievable and rewarding activities.

Most of all, they need to be relevant, appealing to their target audience, creating and providing value to the needs of those individuals so vital for corporate success. Only then can CMO's justify further investment in content marketing initiatives.

Establishing Accurate Methods of Measurement

With the varied role that content can play in an organization the key here is context. Research shows that, in the B2C context, marketers' still use web traffic as the most important metric for defining success. While this tends to agree with the earlier finding that most executives and marketers see increasing brand awareness/developing a brand as the main objective for content marketing, it fails to be closely attributed to the bottom-line.

In the same research contrarily we can observe that economic benchmarks such as: direct sales, increased customer loyalty and lead generation, represent just one third of the top 15 metrics covered in the survey.

Metrics can and should differ depending on the objectives for each given activity, and as executives we need to work integrally with marketers to uncover and communicate these organization wide.

Transparency aids familiarity and familiarity aids adoption.

Borrowing from two highly insightful pieces on Contently and SmartInsights, in the former we can see that some metrics are arguably of higher importance, that haven't been considered yet include:

1. Brand Lift - likened to brand awareness, but broadly encompassing audience perception, rather than simply recognition.

2. Engaged Time - ensure that you're looking beyond time spent on page/site and actual engaged time - actively interacting with your content.

3. Average Finish - On average how many individuals actually completed reading your content? Factoring out those that skipped or exited early (<10 seconds).

4. Audience Loyalty - The frequency or recency of returning visitors (>5 times a month and you're doing well!)

5. Content Longevity - Is your content a flash in the pan, or an evergreen piece that continues reaping rewards?

The important takeaway here being the way these measures are framed:

Brand measures - these are the more goal-driven measures that we've identified as currently being utilized by the majority of marketers.

Consider: Branded keyword mentions (+ vs. competitors), site traffic and sentiment.

Content Performance/Tactical measures - similar to the brand measures but on a more granular level.

Consider (for an individual piece of content): Views, clicks and social shares.

Commercial measures - many have failed to adopt these and is largely the reason for poor understanding on content effectiveness

Consider: Audience share, leads generated, sales, returning customers and customer satisfaction.

The key for measurement is to ensure that these are incremental and ideally attributable to your content marketing efforts, team and process (organizational attribution)

The Content Challenges for CMO's in 2015 and Beyond

The CMOs amongst us will hopefully be aware of the virtues of content given today's content ecosystem (source Digital Relevance) a recognition that content can truly provide the holy grail in what organizations can achieve. Our task is consequently to communicate this across the organization, cross-pollinating contents' virtues as we go and gaining access to budget to maintain and develop this.

We are on the right track for this, but doing so will be denied if we do not pay lip service to the importance of the economics of content. Understanding different types of measurement will be required for different types of content based on the goals that we set ourselves. Defining personas and propagating content tailored for each of these, while ensuring that both executives and marketers are of a clear understanding on what the goals are, will be essential for success in achieving them.

This is your task at the executive level, tasking your CMOs to establish and communicate the framework for measurement, defining economically aware goals that will guide our content strategies moving forward.

Taking part in this revolution will mean corporations can and will use content to mould the way their business will be shaped. Content now serves a higher purpose, an investment in what our corporations are going to become, the legacy that will define them in years to come. Let's ensure we're economically aware while doing so.