It seems like in order to be the "cool" brand on the block, you have to incorporate content marketing into your strategy in some capacity.
At Influence & Co., we have a love-hate relationship with that phenomenon. Yes, people wanting to incorporate content into their marketing efforts is great for us because it means that people are interested in using our services. But it also kind of sucks. As Joe Pulizzi (all hail the content marketing god) pointed out in a recent webinar with Robert Rose, that increase also means we'll be seeing more marketers test the content waters and fail miserably.
Is that failure because there isn't ROI in content marketing? People might try to tell you that, but it couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, the reason why brands fail at content marketing is because of unrealistic expectations.
As the leader of our content marketing team, I faced this challenge myself when I created our team's strategy, but over time, we've come to see pretty substantial success with our efforts.
Lay the Groundwork and Document Your Strategy
In its 2016 B2B Content Marketing report, the Content Marketing Institute reported that the top organizational goals of content marketing are lead generation and sales — and those goals just so happen to be ours, too. We use content to generate new leads and nurture them to a sale for our team, but there are lots of benefits of content marketing.
It's important to note that every company — including every company's unique blend of services, products, values, messages, and audiences — is different, so our goals may be a little different from, say, a healthcare or SaaS company.
Regardless of what your exact goals are, it's important to set them in writing in your documented content strategy before you get started and track your progress in meeting them. Setting hard metrics for your content marketing efforts is crucial to executing your strategy effectively.
This area — setting metrics and tracking success — is something I think a lot of marketers struggle with because there are a lot of different metrics that you can be tracking. We really try to boil it down to what matters most to our company, which is revenue generated. Here's a look at how we attribute our content marketing to revenue on a monthly basis:
Website Traffic --> MQLs --> Sales
In our marketing funnel, prospects are brought to our website — through search results, direct traffic, social, email marketing, or referral traffic from content in reputable external publications — where they're qualified and nurtured to a sale. Each month, we set goals for those metrics, and our team reports and analyzes those numbers to see what role our content plays in that process and how it contributes to revenue generated.
We also set production goals. So if we want to see an increase in traffic to our site each month, we work backward and think through exactly how much and what kind of content we need to create to reach that goal.
In my experience, the exact numbers you set for these metrics are less important than always pushing for an increase each month. For example, our team sets goals for a 10 percent month-over-month increase in MQLs because that makes the most sense for us based on our needs and abilities.
Whatever your goals are, be sure to communicate them across your content team. That way, everyone from your social media coordinator to your copy editor understands exactly what you're trying to achieve. This helps all team members do their jobs better and empowers them to bring their own perspective and ideas on ways to push your team to achieve those goals.
What's most important is to define your goals upfront, communicate them to your team, and stick to them. Setting monthly goals for results and production and tracking key metrics can keep you and your team on track and help you measure ROI.
Set Up Your Back End and Create a Process
Once you've set your goals and defined your metrics, it's good to establish a clear process to effectively create, manage, and analyze your content and its performance. Our company just developed proprietary software that helps everyone on our team do just that. (Side note: My fiance helped build that custom software, so I must say that I'm pretty lucky that he cooks, cleans, and helps me meet my content marketing goals.)
If you don't have a fiance who can build content marketing software for you and your entire company, that's OK. There are a few other great options, including templates we've created to help you organize your content creation, management, distribution, and analysis. You can check them out in our Resource Library.
Beyond the measurement of individual pieces of content, though, we use a marketing automation system to track overall website analytics. Our team uses HubSpot, but whatever system you use to track your performance, remember to commit to consistency. Using the same platform to track data means that each piece of information is identified, categorized, and measured in the same way, and for reporting your site's performance, that consistency is key.
Lastly, set a regular date for tracking your content's and website's performance. I submit reports to my boss the first week of each month — every single month. Not only does this hold our team accountable, but it also ensures we're comparing month-over-month growth and performance accurately.
Evaluate and Reset Expectations Based on Performance
By setting and documenting clear goals, identifying key metrics, and establishing a process that works for your team, you've basically set yourself up for success. But to see the best return on your efforts, you should always look back at your goals and your performance to find ways to improve, push yourself, and exceed your expectations.
We like to go back and look at our benchmarks on a quarterly basis. This gives us a chance to work through a really good or really bad month and see whether we set our expectations accurately. So if you're constantly having really good months and always blow your goals out of the water, raise them to be sure you're pushing yourself. And if you seem to only have bad months and are pretty far from hitting your goals, look instead at setting goals that are more realistic but still motivate your team.
Content marketing is a long-term strategy. Not every piece is going to generate hundreds of leads or close your team's biggest sale. But beginning each piece of content with a clear idea of how it aligns with your strategy and what goals it can contribute to accomplishing will help ensure you're setting yourself up for continued success.
At the end of the day, your content marketing goals should be used as a basis to plan your content strategy and judge your performance. There is no magic benchmark or ROI number that you can expect. It varies for every strategy and for every team. The best things you can do are document, measure, and reset your goals and strategy to continuously push yourself and your team to content marketing success.