Becoming a judge for content marketing awards has inevitably thrown the issue of how to measure campaign effectiveness into sharp relief for me.
Awards are all about effectiveness, but in content marketing it can be difficult to demonstrate the impact that a campaign has had. Sometimes brands suffer from data overload and struggle to isolate what really made the difference – especially for international content campaigns that add another layer of complexity to the situation. Conversely, some marketers don’t have the data they need to show what they have achieved.
What doesn’t help is the fact that the definition of content marketing depends on who you are talking to. A few years ago it was just called advertising but as new media channels have emerged and evolved to give us alternative ways to engage with customers, so too have the terms that describe these more value-driven communications – be it customised content, native advertising, sponsored content, brand journalism, owned media or branded content. If one marketer’s definition of content marketing is different to other people in their team it can be difficult to agree on what to measure.
Another complicating issue has been the big changes we’ve seen in the customer journey. Just five years ago most brands were pushing customers down a ‘funnel’ which ignored real human behaviour. Today we all recognise that the customer journey looks more like a spider’s web than a sequential process. The granular data should be there for brands to measure the true customer journey, but this is by no means easy.
Mechanical versus behavioural change
However, the most important factor that is hampering content marketing measurement is the difficulty marketers have in deciding on the effect they want their campaigns to elicit. Typically, they want content to create either ‘mechanical change’ or ‘behavioural change’ and are more familiar with the metrics for measuring the former, and are set up to track this through monitoring website visits, CPMs and conversions etc.
Content marketing’s strengths, though, also lie in its ability to change behaviour and work at a more personal level that can create an emotional bond between the consumer and the brand. If we agree that the brain makes an emotional decision which then drives the mechanical decision, does that mean behavioural change is more important than mechanical change? And how do we measure emotional response? Does the sharing or liking of content, or how long we spend looking at it really reflect the campaign effect?
Clear objectives are essential
To identify the best metrics for content marketing, we therefore really need to hone down our objectives. Defining what we want our campaign to achieve has to be the first step in any campaign as, once you’ve decided on that, you can start to look at the data you can collect and decide what will really demonstrate whether you have achieved them. What NOT to do is what I have seen in the past when judging awards, which is to reverse engineer your objectives to fit with the data that you have measured – this may be tempting but is not the way to sustain a marketing career!
When it comes to content marketing objectives, though, it is important to ensure that these are customer focused. Clearly business objectives, such as reducing the time it takes to bring a new product to market, are important – but marketers should never forget that the primary role of their job is to satisfy consumer needs. This means that at the forefront of content objectives should be ensuring that it can be found by the right consumer, that it is useful, relevant and sharable and that it provides them with a positive brand experience.
The three fundamentals of content marketing
So, with all this in mind, what data do content marketers need to measure effectiveness? There needs to be data that can be used as the basis for metrics that measure impact on the three key fundamentals of content marketing: generating intrigue, informing and a call to action. The metrics then need to relate to a timeframe too as the objectives for a car campaign will need to be measured against a much longer period than for FMCG, for instance. Plus, we need to consider if success for one element of a content campaign (eg an infographic) is going to look very different to success in another, such as video.
Metrics will also need to be able to provide a measure of the quality of the story the content is telling and how much it resonates with the target audience at an emotional level. Measurements such as sharing, dwell time, scroll depth and organic search visibility are metrics that brands are using here.
With so many measures available, and with eMarketer predicting that 65% of European marketers will invest more on content promotion in 2016, now is the time for the industry to make content marketing metrics a priority. In particular, we all need to work together to bring insight from across all product categories so that we can gain a much deeper understanding of the fundamental things that drive behavioural change. Only then can we isolate the three or four things that make the difference in order to create branded content benchmarks.
If we could get the best planners from across some of the biggest agencies into one room to share their knowledge for the good of the industry, that would be a fantastic start. The resulting industry metrics would help marketers to not only better measure effectiveness, but to put effectiveness at the heart of their planning too. And it would certainly make it easier for us award judges to identify the content campaign winners!
Ian Armstrong is global advertising general manager at Jaguar Land Rover and co-head judge of the 2017 World Media Awards