Content Marketing Success Measures

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With Email, One Size Does Not Fit All
With Email, One Size Does Not Fit All

This article on measuring the efficacy of content is the final installment on Direct Marketing News's primer on content marketing. The original feature, 3 Things Every Content Marketer Better Know, appeared in the July issue of the magazine. The feature was followed by two web-only articles on syndicating content and developing content to push pipeline.

This article will focus on techniques for measuring the efficacy of a brand's content marketing. Depending on your goal, the measure might be ROI or perhaps something "softer." Synthetic oil manufacturer Royal Purple, for instance, has a branded show called Outperformer, but it's not actively measuring any hard results.

“It's about brand awareness,” says Royal Purple Director of Marketing Randy Fisher. “We want people to recognize Royal Purple as a fun company that does things different. We don't really recognize any ROI or link the show with our sales.”

But even companies that want to brand might still need to measure exactly how successful that branding actually is. Take the regional California Bank & Trust. It developed an infographic with its agency Traction—as companies and agencies do these days—to draw visitors to its website, get its name out there, etc. California Bank targeted influencer blogs in the financial services sector and sent out press releases about the infographic. And of course, California Bank measured how many placements it got (147 across the Web) and whether it created traffic to the main California Bank website. It was also aware when it jumped above the page- one fold on Google and hit top positioning on some of its keywords.

But these goals, albeit successful, were also short-term. California Bank's next step, according to Susan Brown, the financial institution's SVP and marketing group manager. “We're looking over the long term how this will drive traffic to the site and drive brand awareness and increase the percentage of organic searches,” she says. “We need to invest in this strategy to make sure we continue to see really good results and move the needle.”

The initial set of metrics that content marketers should gather are the traditional KPIs like the time individuals spend on a site looking at content, the bounce rate, the number of repeat visitors, or the amount of traffic that's driven to the site.

If you're interested in measuring amplification, page impressions are less important than what Ashley Brown, Coca-Cola's group director of digital communications and social media, calls expressions. “I'm much more interested in looking at how many people are arriving at an article due to referrals from social media,” he says. “How many have shared that article on LinkedIn or Twitter? How many have left a comment? That's more interesting than straight-up impressions. We look at what people do with content, and how they put their own personality on it.”

Whatever marketers choose to measure, they need strong analytics on the back end, according Liya Sharif, senior director of marketing and global communications at Qualcomm. She's also the publisher of Qualcomm's digital magazine Spark. But despite the publisher's mentality behind the production of Spark, Sharif acknowledges that she fundamentally works not for a magazine, but for a corporation. “We need to look at the ROI for everything we do in marketing,” she says. “We have a great analytics team behind the scenes that's tracking the work [produced by Spark]. We have weekly reports.”

Perhaps the most important virtue for content marketers is patience. When a piece of content is created and distributed, metrics will flow in almost immediately—but what those numbers mean and how it relates to long-term business growth is something that can only be interpreted over a length of time.

Sharif concedes that building up enough data to make informed decisions about the role content plays in a business takes a long time. Currently, Spark is little over one year old and at this point it's still too early to tell what effect it's had on Qualcomm. “These things take a while to compile, especially around brand awareness,” Sharif says. “We may have better answers in a year or two from now.”

For brands that actively tie content to sales, measuring content becomes more of a process. Cyber-security software provider Sourcefire uses a marketing automation system to track which pieces from a campaign create the best leads and opportunities.

Record management services provider Iron Mountain has similar challenges. “Wherever possible, we attach ourselves to revenue and we have metrics in place to measure performance of our content and tie that to pipeline in the revenue,” says Patty Foley Reid, director of inbound and content marketing at Iron Mountain.

For instance, Iron Mountain will monitor growth in leads—and a big part of the company's content initiative is specifically designed to drive marketing through phone calls or web leads. In the first few months, Iron Mountain noticed a 46% increase, which she attributed to content marketing initiatives.

Measuring how audiences respond to content, like most other aspects of digital marketing, can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. But it's also necessary. If marketers want to put out content, doing it right means having a complete and measurable strategy that goes beyond simply producing attractive pieces.

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