Rarely does a meeting about a prospective content strategy not entail some discussion of ROI. In the corporate marketing world, professionals are trained to be focused on wise resource investment and measuring successful marketing strategies. Yet, measuring less easily countable elements of the sales conversion process is somewhat difficult — and currently the topic of much research. Aspects such as authority, expertise, trustworthiness and leadership do not fit nicely into an Excel sheet.
The marketing world at large is already aware that long-form content is critical to selling big ticket B2B products and services, so the remaining question is how to translate the success of a particularly successful content strategy into numbers that can be brought into a board room. According to a report published in 2018 by the Content Marketing Institute, only 35% of B2B marketers measure the ROI of their content.
And why not? 38% of respondents say the reason they do not measure their content is because they need an easier way to do it. Another 27% said they simply do not know how.1 Although it sometimes seems like more art than science, there are metrics that can be utilized to understand how well content is performing and to what degree it is yielding a positive return. Using these metrics, as well as understanding certain challenges, helps professional marketers better understand the ROI of their content, and to plan forthcoming strategies from a decisive, informed perspective.
With other types of investments, measuring ROI is pretty clear and simple, especially when the variables are definitive values, ROI = Return – Investment. Unfortunately, some return variables, such as brand awareness, cannot be numerically quantified with any degree of certainty. It is inherently more difficult to ascertain what effect industry authority has on a client, or at what point in the sales funnel a specific white paper convinced someone to make a decision.
To make things more complicated, many B2B marketers do not begin with a documented content strategy. The Content Marketing Institute asked B2B marketers if they have a documented strategy — and only 37% answered yes.1 The institute said in a previous report in 2016 that B2B marketers who have a documented strategy are rated as more effective when compared to their peers who do not.2 Beginning with a clear plan can not only make the content more effective but also help measure ROI by knowing what successful content looks like, uniquely, for a specific organization.
Another challenge professional marketers face is the struggle to see any ROI to begin with. Almost any content strategy will start with a neutral or negative ROI. Content marketing is a long-term endevour that only pays off with persistence. The true return and benefits may not be apparent for months or even years of continuous effort.
Despite these challenges, understanding and measuring ROI is possible. With the help of Google Analytics, CRM software, and some simple math, a return can be calculated. Here are the metrics that can help measure the performance of the content, as well as the cost.
The consumption metric is used to determine how many people are seeing the content and at what frequency. Understanding this metric helps understand how far it is actually reaching. Analytics that can be used include:
Retention and Engagement
The retention and engagement metric gives the ability to track how well one can hold on to their audience’s attention and keep them engaged. Neil Patel, founder of Quick Sprout, says “The one metric I really look at is comments per post. It tells me how engaged an audience is. No matter how much traffic you have, if you can’t cultivate an engaged audience you won’t be able to convert those visitors into customers.”3 Analytics that can be used include:
Leads and Sales
Leads and sales can be one of the easiest metrics to track if a content marketing automation software is used. The software can initially be a complicated process, but by setting up campaign tracking, the insights gained are well worth the effort. A sales professional who uses a CRM to report on their lead conversion should be making notes regarding which way the lead was engaged. Any piece of content that is designed to reinforce the quality or efficacy of a product or service, such as a case study, white paper, or some form of thought leadership, can be given to a client, and noted in the CRM. At intervals, reports can be generated to show which types of content correlate with a higher sales conversion, thus providing a sense of ROI, as well as giving direction for future content development.
A Better informed sales team also helps the company emphasize content that is successful. In fact, companies that use some form of content marketing automation software have 53% higher conversion rate from responding leads.4 Metrics to measure sales and leads include:
With a third-party writer (freelance or agency), tracking the cost of a single piece of content is pretty straightforward. The writer composes the material and sends an invoice, providing a clear production cost. With an in-house writing department, different factors are involved. The cost of the content is somewhat more challenging to determine because one needs to average the employee’s salary for the year, divide it by how much time he or she spends per piece, as well as add in other in-house expenses such as benefits, materials, equipment, etc. To read further about the difference in the cost of in-house writing and partnering with a writing company click here.
Posting content on a website can cost little to nothing. However, distributing the content through different channels can become costly. According to Glassdoor, the average social media manager can make upwards of $50,000 a year.5 Some distribution costs to consider:
To calculate the ROI of content, Curata has developed a formula:
For each piece of content x in Campaign C, take the $ amount of Revenue generated (a sales metric) by Content x and divide it by the ($ Production Cost for x + $ Distribution Cost for x) (a production metric). If the ratio is greater than 1, your content was profitable from a sales perspective. You can similarly compute this for a single piece of content, or all your content marketing.”2 If a ratio lower than one is computed, look back at the metrics and figure out where the problem lies, whether it is in the cost, quality, or distribution.
1 “B2B Content Marketing 2018” http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2018_B2B_Research_FINAL.pdf
2 “B2B Content Marketing 2016” http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2016_B2B_Report_Final.pdf
3 ”The Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing Metrics and Analytics” http://www.curata.com/blog/the-comprehensive-guide-to-content-marketing-analytics-metrics/
4 “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing ROI” https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/2017-7-11-the-ultimate-guide-to-content-marketing-roi
5 “Social Media Marketing Manager” https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/social-media-marketing-manager-salary-SRCH_KO0,30.htm