Making a science of content marketing

John Warner, In-house Content Executive, Click Consult Ltd.

If content is good enough, the theory goes, it will find its own audience. Though unlikely, it does happen, and such accidental virality is enough to perpetuate the myth. While there are a few instances (mostly non-branded memes and videos), branded content succeeds for different reasons.

To be considered truly successful, a content marketing strategy cannot be left to chance – it must be replicable, and there are few things better equipped to ensure this than using the scientific method.

Ask a question

What should the strategy seek to achieve?

Content and promotional channels for a target of ‘increased visibility’, for example, will be different to those for increased organic traffic or leads.

What content do our consumers want?

Regardless of quality, content inappropriately or too narrowly targeted will not be seen – or if seen is unlikely to convert. In the age of search marketing, personalisation is paramount.

What kind of content can meet both needs?

It’s here that the magic of content marketing happens – the best campaigns will always meet both requirements.

Do background research

Produce consumer profiles which accurately reflect your target audience. Cater to ancillary interests, leave sales content with the sales team; content marketing is about creating conversations and inspiring relationships.

Focus on asset creation and distribution, treading a fine line between the requirements of the brand and consumer. How, for example, does a provably unhealthy fizzy drinks brand combine a visibility campaign with customer interest in sports? Ask Pepsi. Engineering with science fiction? General Electric’s branded podcast The Message.

Construct a hypothesis

Define the metrics for success then make predictions based on data gathered from previous campaigns, traffic data, SERPs positions etc. At every point, with each subsequent campaign, realistic targets and parameters must be set to define success.

  • Have the types of content you’re looking to produce been used before?
  • Can positive outcomes be expected to be reproduced over the length of a campaign?
  • What increase in link accrual would represent a good ROI?
  • What increase in sales would represent a profitable campaign?

Content marketing is not something entered into as a ‘one-off’, it’s a long term strategy. Expect results to increase incrementally as the brand grows, and experience and expertise increase. Even successful campaigns return to this step and should feed back into the next.


One of the core scientific practices to draw upon is ‘experimentation’. This limits the budget spent on incorrect assumptions, it also shortens the time between conception and improvement of ideas.

Begin small, with short-term campaigns – potentially with A/B variations – to steepen the learning curve, allowing insights from early experimentation to inform later strategies.

Is the process working?

The assets produced should be measured against targets.

If yes:The challenge here is to determine which performed best, representing the best ROI. It may not be the one that has most exceeded the targets set once budgetary requirements, design time and content production are weighted. It’s important to assess results impartially.

If no:Failure is never the end result; it represents information gained. Analysis will show what has led to delayed success.

Analyse data, draw conclusions

Each campaign must be evaluated as part of a constant cycle of trial and improvement. This will help you to decide whether a campaign can be tweaked, and whether to trial variations in style, content etc., before committing to a longer term strategy.

Knowing what makes for a success is as important as knowing why something failed.

Communicate results

There will be things each department involved can learn from any campaign.

Did particular styles of design or tones of voice perform better?

Which promotional channels were best suited to each?

Which produced the best ROI?

All of this must be communicated to the relevant people, allowing them to contribute to improvements.

The science behind content marketing

There should be nothing left to chance when it comes to your brand, and content marketing need not be the hit and hope strategy many perceive it to be. Following the scientific method contributes to a comprehensive, data-driven process to ensure that data and creativity work together to deliver the results that you want and deserve.

John Warner, In-house Content Executive, Click Consult Ltd.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.