In an earlier post, I noted that measuring the performance of content has recently become a hot topic, and I pointed to measurement frameworks suggested by Jay Baer, Curata, and Contently. I agree with many of the specific metrics that these frameworks include, but I also contend that most companies should not focus primarily on measuring the performance of content marketing per se. Here's why.
Content marketing is a marketing method that emphasizes the use of informative or entertaining, and primarily non-promotional, content as the "fuel" for marketing communications programs. These programs are designed to achieve a variety of marketing objectives that have remained largely unchanged for many years. Therefore, the essence of what we now call content marketing is simply about using a distinctive kind of content to accomplish long-standing marketing goals.
In most B2B companies, a comprehensive marketing effort will include four core types of marketing communications programs:
- Reputation building programs that are designed to build brand awareness and bolster brand preference
- Demand generation programs that are designed to acquire new sales leads and nurture those leads until they are ready to engage with a sales rep
- Sales enablement programs that are designed to support the efforts of the sales force
- Customer retention programs that are designed to sustain and enhance relationships with existing customers
Collectively, these four types of programs define the scope of the marketing communications function, and the results of these programs are what companies should measure. Content is an essential ingredient in all of these marketing programs, but it is one of several factors that determine program success. Therefore, metrics that focus exclusively on content performance (consumption, engagement, sharing, etc.) won't adequately measure program performance.
A sound measurement system will certainly include content-related metrics, but the primary metrics should be based on the outcomes that each type of program is designed to produce and, ultimately, on the business impact of those outcomes.
For example, an effective measurement system for demand generation programs will emphasize metrics that focus on the volume of new leads generated, the percentage of leads that are progressing or "converting" from one lead stage to the next, and the velocity with which leads are moving through the lead-to-revenue cycle. Likewise, the metrics for customer retention programs should probably include customer retention rates, share of wallet, and net promoter scores.
As its popularity and use have grown, we have come to view content marketing as a distinct marketing discipline. Overall, this has been good because it has supported the development of a body of knowledge about how to do content marketing well. The downside of this approach is that it can lead us to view content marketing as an end unto itself.
Content is a critical ingredient in the recipe for successful marketing, so measuring the effectiveness of our content is important. But, it's even more important to measure the results produced by our marketing programs.