How to generate – and measure – ROI from your content marketing

The answer to #1 is easy and I’m going to steal a page from Content Marketing Institute because they sum it up pretty well: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

As for #2, well…#2 has everything to do with measurement. To reach the level of success with your content marketing, you first have to define what “success” is to you and your organization. That means defining your goals and objectives.

According to Curata, the top three content marketing objectives: Drive Sales and/or Leads; Engage Customers/Buyers/Influencers; Boost Brand Awareness. For some, the goal is as simple as increased brand awareness. For others, the goal is lead generation and new customers, objectives tied to much “harder” metrics.

Regardless of your goals, measurement is a must.

The next step is to build a strategy that caters to these objectives. In its most distilled definition, content marketing is producing content (videos, articles, social media posts, white papers, case studies, etc.) that satisfy the needs, questions and information gaps of your (potential & existing) customers.

Let’s take a look at some of these different business objectives and how content marketing can be used to deliver success.

Generating Brand Awareness

This is a major goal for most content marketers. For some, it is the only goal. For others, it is a side benefit that results from a content strategy specifically created to drive ROI. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive, either. A report from Oracle and Aberdeen Group reported that 74% of CMOs consider brand awareness a top priority. That is likely because brand awareness itself directly drives ROI. When people see good content that adds value, provides the information for which they seek and leaves them impressed by the thought leadership, they associate value and a positive association with your brand.

Content Focus for Brand Awareness:

  • Videos or other rich media that showcases the tone & voice of your brand (funny, authoritative, educational, etc.)
  • Infographics for social media or use on your website
  • How-to articles to highlight your brand’s authority on a subject

Typically, measuring brand awareness takes into account an objective view of several metrics and how content may have impacted them. These include:

  • Impressions
  • Web Traffic
  • Traffic Sources
  • Domain Authority
  • Pageviews
  • Mentions, follows, comments and shares on social media platforms

Engaging Visitors

Another goal of content marketing is to start engaging with visitors (unqualified prospects) who have discovered your site/content. You now have the opportunity to build a relationship with them, qualify them, determine where they are in the buyers journey, create and deliver content appropriate to the stage they are in to nurture them through the funnel and eventually move them down to the end of the sales funnel where they hopefully become a customer.

Content Focus for Engaging Visitors:

  • Trigger articles published on external sites that summarize a longer piece of content and push people to a page on your website.
  • Videos, infographics or other shareable content that drives people back to a page on your site
  • SEO-focused blog posts on relevant topics
  • Gamification
  • Email newsletters or other email campaigns

Metrics to track when engaging visitors via your website include the following:

  • Referral traffic (looking specifically for your off-site content that may have steered visitors to your website)
  • Social referrers
  • Google UTM codes that may have been used in email campaigns

Driving Qualified Leads

Once you’ve identified qualified leads aka prospects, you want to generate initial discussions with these people. You are raising your hand as an option to be considered and you want to entice them into that consideration. These prospects have a known challenge, pain point or problem and at this stage, the goal of your content is to flag these people down and offer up your brand/service/product as the clear solution. The content at this stage is usually longer form (though not always) and really drills down into the state of the industry/the core of the problem/the tenets of a good solution – and sometimes end with a tie-in to the brand’s service or solution.

Content Focus for Driving Sales Leads:

  • Trigger articles published on external sites that summarize a longer piece of content and push people to a landing page on your website where a form fill is required to gain access to full content.
  • Videos, infographics or other shareable content that drives people back to a landing page on your website where a form fill is required to gain access to full content.
  • How-to guides or videos
  • E-books
  • White papers

Metrics to track when looking at driving sales leads include the following:

  • Leads by content type/piece
  • Landing page conversion rate
  • Google UTM codes that may have been used in email campaigns
Turning Leads into Customers

This is where content becomes bottom of the funnel focused, closing any remaining information gaps a prospect may have during the evaluation stage. At this stage, the goal in content creation should be quality, clarity and demonstrating value. These are all necessary to keep the lead in the funnel and moving downward towards a becoming a customer.

Content Focus for Turning Leads into Customers

  • Case Studies
  • Customer reviews & testimonials
  • Tools/utilities: worksheets, checklists, calculators
  • Demos
  • Webinars
  • Free trials
  • White papers that outline the lead’s challenge and position your service/solution to the challenge

Metrics to track when turning leads into customers include the following:

  • Leads-to-conversion rate by campaign and/or piece of content
  • Average time to close

While some of these content stages are more directly tied to ROI than others, they all contribute to new revenue in different ways. If you’ve set up your tracking and measurement correctly, you should be able to trace each new customer back to the beginning brand awareness stage. It can be tricky, messy and sometimes downright convoluted, but it is possible.

Don’t Forget Customer Retention/Upselling/Cross-selling & Delight

Don’t make the rookie mistake of stopping there, though. Once you have new customers, your focus must also be on retention. Content plays an important role here, too. Taking emails with questions and concerns from current customers and turning them into an FAQ section is a great way to preempt additional customer complaints of confusion on points that people have already identified. Additionally, as current customers identify new uses or other benefits of your service or product, you can publish tips and pointers to help other current customers. These can make great email campaigns as well as SEO content for the website.

Content Focus for Upsell/Retention (Delight!)

  • Thought leadership on current industry events and trends
  • Exclusive offers/trials/sneak peaks
  • Segmented email campaigns delivering exclusive content to “VIP” customers
  • Demos/podcasts/tutorials for new product launches or feature add-ons

Metrics to track when creating content to upsell and/or retain customers:

  • Tracking codes (UTM parameters and other tracking elements) included in distributed content, retargeting ads and email campaigns
  • Coupon codes for special offers
  • Event goals as setup to track conversions on new promotions or special product upsells

What’s ROI Got to Do With It?

No matter what your goal or objective when it comes to content marketing, you can calculate ROI on your content marketing program.

ROI = Return/Investment

In simple terms, the money you spent on content marketing was hopefully dwarfed by the return in brand awareness/thought leadership/leads/revenue.

Here’s a quick math example to better illustrate what an ROI calculation may look like.

Company: SaaS payroll service provider

Objective: Generate more leads

Strategy: Gated premium white papers that require a form fill, supported by trigger articles and videos posted on external sites and on-site blogs to produce inbound traffic.

PROGRAM BREAKDOWN (1 month):

Let’s make a few assumptions. First, let’s assume that the close rate on these qualified leads is 20%. Let’s also say that each sale is worth recurring revenue of $500/month.

That equates to 4 new sales for the month. If we know the average customer has an average repeat purchase rate of 5 years (60 months), we can calculate the estimated Lifetime Value (LTV) of those new customers with the formula below:

LTV = (Average Value of a Sale) X (Number of Repeat Transactions) X (Average Retention Time in Months or Years for a Typical Customer)

PROGRAM COST BREAKDOWN (1 month):

TYPE OF CONTENT          COST              LEADS GENERATED
White Paper                        $8,000              40
Blog                                       $2,000             N/A
Video                                    $4,000              N/A
Trigger Article                    $1,000               N/A

______________________________________________
TOTAL                                 $15,000             40

In our example, that translates to:

($500) X (12 months) X (5 years) = $30,000 X 4 new customers = $120,000

That means, for $15,000 in content marketing costs, you generated enough leads to capture $120,000 in lifetime value. That’s an EIGHT FOLD return!

Again, the “return” you’re looking at will depend upon the initial goals you set out to achieve with your content marketing. It’s important to analyze your returns vs. your investment in order to make strategic decisions moving forward with your content marketing.

Another key to remember is: test, test, test. Having an agile content marketing strategy means you can test different strategies and tactics iteratively to constantly move towards improved results. This, in turn, can increase your ROI. As you inch closer to which headlines, article length, keywords, media type and storytelling experience your potential buyers enjoy most, you can produce more of that content faster, hypothetically cutting production costs and increasing goal achievement (return).

In all of your content marketing endeavors, it’s important to remember that these programs take type to gear up. It’s unreasonable to expect that you’ll see immediate results if you just started blogging one month ago. It’s a step in the right direction, but ultimately just a cog in what should be a larger wheel – the larger strategy – that is a content marketing program. Remember these key tenets when getting started:

  1. Be decisive and clear on goal(s) and objective(s)
  2. Understand and clearly communicate to the rest of your organization how those goals and objectives will be evaluated (metrics)
  3. Constantly assess your metrics to see where there are wins and where there are failures. Test to improve both.
  4. Understand your ROI – be sure to get buy-in on what is considered “return” based on what goals you are trying to achieve with your content
  5. Wash, rinse, repeat.
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