Revealing the ROI of Content

Content marketing is the new ‘in’ thing to do, to grow followers, grab attention, improve SEO and ultimately drive sales and brand loyalty. And it does them all very well, right? All the metrics point to improvements across the board – the better the content, the better the result, right? So why therefore do marketeers find it so hard to give an accurate ROI estimate for content?

Entrepreneur and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk was famously grilled by a particularly conservative CMO on ‘What is the ROI of social media?’, after a tense back and forth, he countered ‘What’s the ROI of your mother.’ What he said was intense, extreme, but relevant. He was communicating that creating a pipeline of investing a certain amount of money, to publishing a specific amount of posts, leading to X many likes, leading to Y purchases and Z repeat purchases is flawed. The steps may have worked with conventional marketing distribution networks, but to do so with social media, content, and new media… it’s just wrong. Measuring ROI can be a fool’s errand, and unless adequately defined parameters are established, is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard.

So, how do we reveal the ROI of Content? Firstly, we need to take a step back and audit ourselves in two main areas;

1.      What are the objectives for the campaign and for the company?

Figure out what you are doing. If SMART objectives are not set for each and every one of your campaigns, you will lose before writing the first word and before posting the first tweet. Without an idea of what you are trying to achieve both in every campaign, as well as tied into your wider business goals, any progress and benefit gained will not be ‘enough’. As human beings, we are programmed to want more, to achieve more, to do better and to be unsatisfied with what we have attained. Unless a tangible goal is set and understood, it can never be reached.

2.      What is the lay of the land internally?

Most importantly and least thought upon – does the company have the infrastructure to support the reaction of those consuming the content? A great piece of content may drive hundreds of thousands of clicks, but if it drives them to a slow, badly constructed and archaic website, the funnel falls apart. This is why it is critical to work out the aim of the content created and to understand the behavior that you are trying to elicit. Perfect planning prevents pathetic performance – try to conceive every reaction to your content and prepare accordingly to maximize throughput to your objective.

So now the SMART objectives have been set, and the internal groundwork prepared, the overarching ROI can be explored – overarching, not specific. To put detailed quantitative numbers to content is to disregard the fact that the content is being read by real people, rather than automatons. People have emotions, people’s moods change, interactions with people grow cumulatively and above all, people are often unpredictable, human thought and behavior are complex to the level that, to give metrics, inherently ignores the majority of the interaction itself. Imagine if off the back of an email campaign, your analytics show a high open and forwarding rate, you would be over the moon, patting your team on the back for a job well done. Open and forwarding rates show no more and no less than the email being opened, and forwarded, it does not show satisfaction or success. For all you know, you could have a catastrophic typo that people can’t help but share with the world, thus damaging your overall brand.

Rather than measure with metrics and treat your audience like a faceless commodity, reimagine them as a group of individuals that you are sitting down for coffee with. Your holistic approach to the way in which you interact with them will lead to a return on your investment, not the way in which you reach for the sugar, or the amount of milk you add to your coffee.

As distribution methods shift from billboards to newspapers to new media It is important that we reconsider our approach to evaluating the relative success or failure of each campaign. Measuring the accomplishments of tasks is critical, but ensuring that the measurement gives an accurate representation will always trump analytics for analytics sake. We as marketeers must stop ROI as an algorithm or numbers on a page, and begin viewing it as a living, breathing relationship.

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