ROI is a challenging thing to perfect when it comes to content marketing strategy, and many marketers are still struggling with it. Perhaps the problem is that you’re making too much content—or, perhaps, your expectations are out of whack.
Content is asked to do a lot by associations in 2018, but it’s understandable if you feel a little nervous about how it’s actually performing.
Most of your peers probably are, too.
Recently, the B2B marketing firm PAN Communications released the 2018 edition of its Content Fitness Report [registration], which showed that while many respondents are embracing content marketing in their own organizations—around 60 percent or so described it as a marketing budget priority in 2018, the highest of any category—they are also concerned with return on investment.
The report found that 62 percent of the marketers surveyed said they struggled with determining content marketing ROI. And performance concerns were prevalent, too—just 21 percent of respondents suggested that they were ahead of their competitors, while 64 percent felt that their content marketing approach was losing some ground compared to competitors. (One bright side: In last year’s version of the PAN survey, the ROI question was a problem for 76 percent of marketers, which means that 14 percent of respondents appear to have gained more of a grip on ROI issues in the past year.)
PAN suggests that a solution to the ROI issue is to spend time focused on a data-driven strategy that every part of your organization has bought into.
“Once you’ve set your benchmarks, leverage your customer data to identify personas and determine your plan of action,” the report states. “Strong content marketing is about creating a suite of assets that provide real value to your customers. Your work should be thoughtful, authentic, educational, and heavily evergreen.”
While there’s a bit to unpack there, it offers some good thoughts on the concept of what ROI represents: Basically, you’re trying to balance the process of content creation with the impact of that content on the business. And you’re also trying to make sure that the people who are looking at the content have high relevance. Selling readers with broad memes that hit wide audiences means that you’re wasting bandwidth on people who otherwise have zero interest in your association’s offering.
With content marketing, there’s a strong tension between these issues at all times. You’re trying to find the perfect audience and either hit them repeatedly with content or hit them in such a pinpointed way that the content just nails its mark.
And that doesn’t mean hitting people with as much content as possible, either. Jimmy Daly, a longtime content marketing pro currently working with the startup Animalz, has a lot of smart thoughts about content marketing, but I think one of the smartest points he’s ever made about content marketing is that it’s a game of “unit economics,” or (to put it another way) less is more. Here’s how he put the issue in a February blog post:
If a company creates 1,000 blog posts, but only 100 drive traffic, the gross spend means that content could be operating at a net loss.
Two posts that cost the same to produce could have wildly different effects on the business. One could drive 10,000 pageviews and help convert 100 customers—it’s money well-spent. The other could be seen by just a handful of people. Throwing posts at the wall to see what sticks just isn’t good enough.
Traffic will never be evenly distributed across every page on your site. There will always be high and low performers—the goal is to eliminate nonperformers. Save experimentation for Facebook ads and pour your content resources into work that you have real confidence in.
This, of course, means that data and research play a huge role in what that content looks like—some before the content goes online, some after, in terms of tweaking who sees it. (Personas are a popular way to figure out the necessary data and strategic points to work with, though Daly argues you may be doing personas wrong.)
But it also means being realistic about what the content is supposed to do. At a time when literally every crevice of the internet is filled with some other jerk’s content, you’re simply going up against a lot when you build your own strategy. You have to take a deep breath and perhaps expect a little less out of your strategy. Content marketing involves playing the long game, including on search engines, on social media, and through reputation.
In other words, the big reason that ROI is such a complicated thing to report with content marketing is that the results don’t appear immediately. It takes time and constant tweaking. But it also means showing a commitment to the overall content strategy for a long period of time so you can respond to those goals. That means emphasizing to the bosses that the process needs time and TLC.
“You’ll likely need a few months to start seeing the compounding growth that content is so excellent at driving,” Skyword’s Kyle Harper explained in a recent post. “This long-term payoff needs to be clear with your leadership up front, and ideally you’ll want to establish some kind of a timeline to ensure you have the starting runway necessary to get your strategy working.”
I’m not saying that reaching a strong ROI with content marketing is an easy thing to do, but you have to be willing to put time and buy-in into the strategy if it’s going to work. And if that means right-sizing both your expectations and your publishing schedule, perhaps you might find the balance a little easier to digest in the long run.