Marketing ROI: why you need it in content marketing too

One of the purposes of marketing is to generate (more) sales, revenue and profits. There are many ways to achieve that. However, to be able to forecast the impact of your marketing efforts and get budgets approved, you need to know the marketing ROI. And that goes for content marketing as well.

The fact that marketing ROI is an established and well-defined financial term scares many marketers, especially those that are more involved in brand-related activities.

However, there is no way around it: the C-suite increasingly wants you to forecast in a well measured way, follow up the marketing ROI of ongoing campaigns/actions (so we can improve) and report to better forecast for the future. The calculation and implementation of marketing ROI across marketing tactics and the marketing department as a whole does not happen overnight.

Marketing ROI: get strategic about measurement

First of all, you need to understand what marketing ROI is, how it is calculated (it’s not a capital investment so there are other things to take into account), find common metrics, make the case for marketing ROI internally (many marketers still resist) and – usually – start small.

In fact, implementing marketing ROI is as much about a strategic view on measurement and forecasting as it is about measurement as such. In the end and certainly in a holistic marketing view, it’s a process that requires change and buy-in. And the important thing is that you get strategic about measurement in general.

The main objections against the use of the term marketing ROI comes from marketers that:

  • are scared of accountability
  • believe that marketing is only about creativity and gut feeling
  • are misinformed about what marketing ROI really is
  • have been working with a company where marketing ROI was an excuse for not innovation

There is no reason for brand marketers to be scared. There is no reason for social media marketers to be scared, even if social pundits make funny videos or go out to speaking gigs where they say that popping the question about the ROI of social media is like wanting to know the ROI of your mother or your smartphone.

Users of marketing ROI Metrics for general marketing have carried this discipline into social media measurements, demonstrating broader capabilities and greater strengths in measuring incremental sales, revenue, and ROI (source).

Haha. The crowd loves these funny but entirely inappropriate messages. After all, if the gurus say it, it must be true (and they are such great entertainers). Wrong! You can always forecast and measure content marketing ROI. Even more: you can calculate it for your overall marketing plan, a campaign, a tactic and even a channel.

The same goes for content marketing, especially as it’s tightly connected with other marketing tactics, at least if you do it the right way.

Can you calculate everything in a precise way? No. Some forms of marketing can be less measured than other. As Jim Sterne once asked “what’s the ROI of someone writing a blog post about your business”?

But that’s where marketing mix modeling, marketing planning/budgeting/forecasting and other stuff like that comes in: the cool thing about marketing ROI is that in forecasting you can have a nice mix of tactics and campaigns with a proven and well- known ROI and then go for some nifty innovating things, for instance including hot social media or content marketing tactics, with a higher risk but also a higher potential return. You don’t know it if you don’t test it, right? And guess what: once the ROI – or the measurement at the very least – is known and well-defined, you have a great case to get more budgets for those creative and “less measurable” innovative things.

Or in other words: marketing ROI should not be an excuse to not trust the gut feeling and creativity anymore. Business and marketing require innovation. But what’s wrong with planning, forecasting and measuring it? All marketing is part data and part guts.

Content marketing and marketing ROI: it’s not THAT hard

Marketing ROI expert Jim Lenskold - right - at our 2012 event

Marketing ROI expert Jim Lenskold (right) at our 2012 event with Olivier Blanchard, Lee Odden and Kristin Zhivago

That bring me to content marketing and marketing ROI. It seems to me – and I’m generalizing - there is a huge gap between more data-driven and results-oriented people coming from direct marketing, marketing automation, search and other backgrounds on one hand and the brand marketers and creative people on the other.

That shouldn’t be the case. It even makes me a bit sad as, most of the time they often publicly criticize each other, without really understanding the value they all can offer and thus standing collaboration, integrated marketing and…marketing ROI in the way.

Content marketing is a lot about branding too and brand marketers shouldn’t be scared about marketing ROI. They only should be vigilant of marketing managers using marketing ROI the wrong way. Dear marketing manager: marketing ROI is not an excuse to hide behind the things you know will work as you will lose out on opportunities and lose ground to competitors who get it and are creative and innovative.

A good marketer knows the power of a brand and knows the impact of brand attributes on business in general. So, why worry about marketing ROI if you know the impact of branding and thus can plan tactics and creative campaigns that aim to improve brand metrics?

On the other hand, content marketing is not just about branding as some seem to think, especially in the pure ‘publishing’ and ‘newsroom’ corner. It’s about business, leads, loyalty, community, customer experiences, buyer personas, the customer journey,…  If you look at the most used content marketing tactics as the Content Marketing Institute found them below (as an example: Nothern American B2B content marketing research data) you’ll notice that the major part of these tactics concerns very measurable tactics that could also be classified as contextual marketing, fusion marketing, inbound marketing, dialog marketing or whatever you want to call them. Videos, website articles, in-person events (apparently a content marketing tactic as well now), eNewsletters, you name it.

Content marketing tactics or just marketing tactics - most allow easy measurement and marketing ROI calculation

Content marketing tactics or just marketing tactics? It doesn’t really matter but most allow easy measurement and marketing ROI calculation. Source.

So, setting up a content marketing ROI measurement exercise is really mainly a bottom-up exercise, starting from the individual ROI of these tactics, branding and all other data and KPIs you have… You could, for instance also isolate specific elements in these tactics or exclude some and include others. Example: articles on websites. Are all articles on your website a part of a content marketing approach? If you really want to demonstrate marketing ROI of content marketing, you need to be clear. Again: if you really want. Don’t forgot content marketing is virtually used in all contexts nowadays. So you need to know what you understand by it. Note: remember that it’s best not to sell a content marketing strategy to the C-suite, in most cases they just want to see the meat, no matter how you get it.

It’s very frustrating to see how all the different types of marketers often don’t understand each other nor the bigger picture. Everything you do in marketing matters. Just measure, forecast and use marketing ROI as the glue and common language spoken across the business. And start small. And involve the financial guys too. Everything is about balance, so is marketing and content marketing.

Content with the best ROI - never rely on such benchmarks -source

Content with the best ROI – never rely on such benchmarks – source

Why do you want to use marketing ROI in content marketing?

  • Because marketing ROI matters, regardless of all the different techniques, tactics and terms that are used for a while (and then often go away). What matters most is using marketing ROI across potential new tactics you call content marketing, rather than the ROI of ‘content marketing’ as such, since it’s a far too overlapping term.
  • Because content marketing essentially is an umbrella term and the use of content happens in an integrated way, for instance using marketing automation (some data on marketing and marketing ROI here), demand generation, social media marketing, etc. Content marketing started living a life of itself and really encompasses various known tactics.
  • Because you want to move from content marketing related and social media metrics to a more holistic view on your business and customers. Whereas content marketing metrics typically start from easy metrics such as number of views, social interactions, etc., as such these metrics say nothing/nada/zilch about the end goals.
  • Because you really don’t want to build your marketing and content marketing strategy on vague data about the ROI of different content marketing formats. While the graphics look good in this eMarketer article, a download of the full report showed me that respondents were asked to rate the ROI per channel as they perceived it. Unfortunately, however, most marketers today (it’s the truth) don’t know how to measure or define ROI. For many of us it’s still about eyeballs, traffic and so on. Do not fall in the trap of basing decisions upon benchmarks whereby respondents rate channels or formats. It’s your business, your customer and your smart use of channels and formats within your smart context.
  • Because you want to succeed and help your customers, teams, bosses, partners, colleagues and the whole world to succeed. Customer experiences, incremental revenue, business goals, touchpoints, journeys and your success first and content marketing formats last.
  • Because it’s not that hard. You should know the impact of overall branding on revenue and, as said before most so-called content marketing tactics are really easy to measure, forecast and track. Remember the surveys of the Content Marketing Institute and many others regarding the most used content marketing tactics.
  • Because we’ve been doing it forever. We just didn’t call it content marketing ROI, for all the above mentioned obvious reasons. Just check the example below from this blog post by Jim. The term content marketing is used nowhere but it is all about content marketing, again the problem with a broad term that started living a life of itself.
Marketing ROI example

Marketing ROI example – content marketing without calling it content marketing

Marketing automation users that also use ROI metrics to assess effectiveness are much more likely to realize an increase in Total Marketing Revenue Contribution from their automation (69% compared to just 19%of marketers using only traditional, non-financial metrics). Source.

I’ll follow this post up with some examples of marketing ROI in content marketing. But remember: ultimately, it’s about knowing what incremental optimizations of the customer experience and which marketing tactics and goals generate the best incremental revenue. And that doesn’t have to be today. It also doesn’t have to be fully measurable and there are some things you can’t include or predict. Such as the value of a blog post or a connection of a connection of a connection of a connection tweeting your content (unless you’re lucky and the tracking is perfect).

In the meantime, below is a small video where marketing ROI expert Jim Lenskold (who wrote a great book on marketing ROI and, yes, branding is in there too), answers some of our questions on marketing ROI for one of our past event.

Not familiar with marketing ROI and looking for some tools and models (not for each circumstance but for lead generation, for instance)? Check this out.

  • Note 1: it’s about being strategic in our measurements, the customer path to purchase and less about “just” reporting.
  • Note 2: it’s about INCREMENTAL revenues, sales, whatever,…
  • Note 3: the purpose of marketing is not just generating more revenue, read more.
  • Note 4: there is no such thing as a universal content marketing ROI as content marketing means different things to different people and ROI is about your business, so benchmarks are relatively useless (as they often are).

If you want help with content marketing ROI; feel free to shout.

Join us on June 10th in Antwerp, Belgium, for the Content Marketing Conference Europe. With confirmed speakers such as Jay Baer, Lee Odden, Mike Corak, Kelly Hungerford, Dado Van Peteghem, Tristan Lavender, Guido Everaert, Tom De Baere and Xaviera Ringeling (more to be announced), we'll take you across a learning experience leading to tangible insights and actionable inspiration, moderated by media expert Jo Caudron!

Content Marketing Conference Europe

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