What is Content Marketing and How Can You Measure ROI?

These are two questions that never seem to go away. For over 10 years these questions keep getting asked and many marketers still struggle to answer them. There are many opposing ideas and half of answers out there that seem to complicate things, so in this post we’ll break down the answers to these questions as thoroughly and as simply as possible.

What is Content Marketing?

Let’s start with what content marketing isn’t. In Europe, for example, media publishers believe when they do sponsored content for a brand it’s content marketing. In some cases, it can be, but in most it’s not. While sponsored content can indeed be a part of a content marketing campaign, alone it usually isn’t. It’s simply, sponsored content.

Publishing top-funnel content on a company blog alone is not content marketing. HubSpot would call it inbound marketing. Doing direct marketing alone isn’t content marketing. PPC ads going to landing pages isn’t content marketing. Creating videos on YouTube by itself isn’t content marketing. Posting platitudes on social media isn’t content marketing.

So, what is content marketing? We always seem to find ourselves coming back to the CMI definition:

“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.” ~Content Marketing Institute

Let’s break this down as easily as possible in a few phrases bolded above:

  1. Strategic marketing approach – The reasons individual tactics mentioned above were ruled out as full fledged content marketing is because on their own, they do not make for a strategic marketing approach. They’re just tactics to be executed and measured in a broader content marketing effort.
  2. Creating – This can be owned and earned content, as well as sponsored content from a publisher. Content marketing needs content creation in order to promote it.
  3. Distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content – Amplification of the creative is often overlooked in content marketing. Many just share organically on social media and hope Google picks up the content. The better the content, the more relevant it is, and the more consistency it has bodes well for distribution via paid media – native advertising and paid social. This ensures the optimization of the creation investment.
  4. Attract and retain a clearly defined audience – With Google’s recent announcement it will drop support for third-party cookies, this aspect of content marketing is more important than ever. Companies will no longer be able to buy their way into data sources for targeting but will be forced to attract and retain an audience within their own walled garden (landing pages and subscriptions).
  5. Drive profitable customer action – Here’s where many people misunderstand content marketing. Rather than the group think of it being a top-funnel exercise in creation and distribution, it’s actually a full-funnel from top to bottom practice. Content must also be created and distributed for the consideration and decision stages of the buyer’s journey, too.

How do You Measure Content ROI?

This can be a challenging question to answer if the correct marketing and sales stack isn’t in place to track it. Depending on the amount of scale in audience building makes measurement without the appropriate software even more difficult.

That said, measuring ROI can be done with software or not. Marketers need to understand which visitors are downloading content assets or subscribing. Then they need to pay attention to the content they access and consume on the website. If this is achieved than any conversion at the bottom of the funnel can be tracked along with all of the content engaged with prior. It’s this data that allows marketers to measure content marketing ROI.

Each content asset engaged with can have some sort of monetary attribution assigned to it. There are many attribution models to use but let’s keep it simple. The revenue from the final sale can be equally shared by each content asset engaged with. This lets marketers know the content responsible for converting a transaction. Some use first touch attribution, while others use last touch attribution. Neither give credit to the content in between.

Since we’ve agreed that to actually do content marketing it requires a distribution component. Many paid content amplification platforms can track up and down funnel movement of consumers and the content that’s engaged with. This means that a full marketing and sales stack isn’t always necessary to track content marketing ROI, but still recommended.

These are two questions that refuse to die and it’s clear content marketers still struggle for answers. The fact of the matter is that traditional silos throughout corporate America makes it difficult to see and measure the whole picture up and down the funnel. This is mostly the reason these two questions keep getting asked over the last 10 or more years.

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