As you might expect from its title, the recent CMA and TNS study, Content Marketing – State of the Nation, has many relevant takeaways for our industry. For example, companies in the UK spend an estimated total of £4bn a year on content marketing. Seven in 10 marketing professionals in the UK are thought to use it, and they spend 20p of every marketing pound on content-marketing professionals or agencies. Better still, half of them plan to increase spending on content marketing in the next year.
But the strength of these figures shouldn’t lull agency CEOs into a sense of security. Rather, they would do well to keep in mind the risks. The biggest problem that marketing budget holders face – and by extension those who provide content-marketing services – is getting internal recognition of the effectiveness of content. So while content marketing may be seen as a must-have element of many campaigns, I suspect budgets may be pared back should content fail to prove its worth.
Type “return on investment content marketing” into Google and 12.8m results come back at you (in 0.42 seconds, at the last go). That seems a lot for a niche subject, but the ROI debate comes down to this: how do you best relate spend on content marketing to any marginal increase in sales or retention of customers?
You could, of course, ask your customers directly why they chose to buy your product from you (or stay as a customer). They may mention content marketing in their response. More likely, they won’t. This isn’t to suggest content marketing doesn’t work, but its effects are subtle and behavioural to the point that even consumers aren’t fully aware of why they feel loyal to a brand (and spend more money on it) – the white noise you notice only after the power dies.
So how else to measure ROI? It’s not an ideal solution but digitally, at least, a company can start by measuring engagement – click-throughs, sharing and dwell time are popular metrics. If there is a call to action on a piece of content, then it’s easy to see what proportion of the audience is clicking through and therefore interested in what the company is selling.
How does such effectiveness relate to revenue increase? To square the circle, a company can resort to statistics: most medium-to-large sized companies have an idea of how search enquiries relate to sales, expressed as a ratio. From there it can calculate an expected “lifetime customer value” and contrast it to the costs.
Given how this measure is less than ideal, how can the content marketing industry prove its worth?
Again, the answer isn’t easy, but automation can help. I’ve previously written about the virtues of Content Cloud – where content is commissioned and created, optimised, paid for and measured all in one system – from the perspective of content creators. Having nurtured the system as a trustworthy marketplace for content, we have been keen to fast track the issue of ROI for clients.
ROI, as we conceive it, is programmed into Content Cloud to reflect the above – and we are convinced that these tools for measurement should be available to all levels of paying client (from the smallest firms signing up to a basic package, to the largest signing up to an enterprise licence). This means that any client can measure the effectiveness of the content they have commissioned in the system, and filter it in a number of helpful ways to really give them valuable insight into what is working hard, and what isn’t.
By analysing core metrics such as views, uniques, dwell time and social shares, alongside the associated spend invested in producing the content, clients can see what their cost per key metric has been… and compare it against other projects, campaigns and content creators they’ve used. Of course if they have an idea of how each measure of engagement relates to completed sales, they have a reliable insight into ROI, too.
The content-marketing industry has always gone out of its way to engage with clients, listen to their apprehensions about ROI and offer its own perspective. It should continue to do so, as successful content will doubtless swell that £4bn UK yearly spend (and $100bn worldwide). But the least we can do is make those tools available so clients can recognise the potency of what we do best.
Visit Content Cloud to sign up as a creator, or commission the content your business needs