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What Is Content ROI?

March 03, 2016 | By Erin Provey

  • Marketing operations and content operations leaders need to think about three categories of measurement and insight
  • The kitchen sink is the full set of metrics and insight feeds available to the measurement team for analysis
  • The executive dashboard is a custom summary view anchored in the insights that inspired the measurement initiative to begin with

Fellow analyst Ross Graber and I have a habit of signing ourselves up to answer some nebulous and seemingly unanswerable questions. Two years ago, we tackled brand measurement and introduced the B-to-B Brand Measurement Framework, which many of our clients have since operationalized with great success. This year, we signed ourselves up to take on the vast topic of content ROI, and we are in the midst of building the framework and tool (launching this May at our Summit), that will enable our clients to begin to truly understand and articulate the impact of content on their organizations. Exciting stuff. As a sneak preview, I wanted to share three "big ideas" that differentiate what we're working on from some of the noise out there on the topic of content ROI:

Summit Tracks1. Process vs. performance. Let's face it – performance measurement is sexy stuff. We all want to understand the way that the things we do contribute to the business. That said, too many of the organizations we work with want to jump directly to content performance without measuring the content creation process to gain context. 

Consider for a moment two pieces of content – one of which was the first touch in one closed/won deal, and the other of which was the first touch in two closed/won deals. The latter would seem to be providing double the value, yes? But what if I told you that the second piece of content cost the organization $100,000 in ideation and production cycles, while the first was essentially free content created quickly by recycling existing assets? Contextualizing content performance in process metrics (investments of time and money) is critical to truly understanding optimal b-to-b content health.

2. Content marketing vs. b-to-b content. This is a big one. There is a lot of chatter out there about content marketing, and we get it – it's important. I tend not to use the term “content marketing” simply because I fear it excuses the rest of the organization from changing its wicked content ways, but that's a discussion for another day. Fundamentally, the content marketing trend is a positive one in b-to-b, and in practice, it means a deeper commitment to pulling audiences toward us with relevant content – instead of pushing “product-y” content in expensive and inefficient ways (see point #1 above). 

That said, b-to-b content is much bigger than just inbound digital content marketing. Content is the lifeblood of b-to-b marketing, product and sales. Measuring only content marketing means measuring only a fraction of what's really going on in a b-to-b organization and represents a large missed opportunity in organizations of any size. Understanding the positive value and efficiency that digitally delivered high-quality content creates is very important. But it's equally important to understand successes and failures within other large areas of content investment, including outbound content (yes, that still happens!), sales-activated content and internal-facing sales enablement content.

3. Rationalizing the chaos. One of the things we've come to realize is that there are a lot – a LOT – of metrics available that can be spun into telling a "content" story. As we've begun working with organizations that are trying to develop this big picture content ROI story (including – but not limited to – content marketing), what we've realized is that it becomes extremely important to think about what the output of or deliverable for the initiative really is. 

Marketing operations and content operations leaders undertaking this type of initiative need to think about three categories of measurement and insight, which are the primary deliverables that come out of the exercise: the "kitchen sink," the executive dashboard and the insight hub. The kitchen sink is the full set of metrics and insight feeds available to the measurement team for analysis. The executive dashboard is a custom summary view for the executive team, anchored in the insights that inspired the measurement initiative to begin with. For some organizations, this could be a focus on field adoption of centrally generated content and campaigns. For others, it could be about sales satisfaction with – and utilization – of marketing-generated content. For still others, it could be anchored in the value created by the shift from outbound to inbound. Lastly, the insight hub is an intelligence resource for upstream content creators to learn about what works for different personas, segments and geos. What works best at different stages in the buying process or customer lifecycle? Which messages are working and which are falling flat? Which topics or formats are performing well? Give your content creators the insights they require in order to optimize their efforts moving forward.

Does your organization do any of this well? Talk to us (and each other) in the comments below. To get firsthand access to the Content ROI Framework, join us in Nashville this May.

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.
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