Measuring the impact of B2B content is tricky. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Throughout the years, I’ve used several ways of measuring the impact. Thinking through the pros and cons of the following five options for a particular situation requires a thorough understanding of the pertinent company culture and sales structure.
Why is this important? If you use a method that isn’t a good fit for your particular situation, the way you measure the impact of your content will be neither practical nor believable. When choosing from the five methods described in this post, consider how easy the implementation would be, what resources and infrastructure are available to you, and how quickly the results must be available. Choose a method your company can stick with, so that the current results can be compared with results from the past.
1. Media equivalency
Put simply, media equivalency is the cost you would have to pay to generate the same number of impressions. This approach can be quickly implemented because you don’t need infrastructure or technical resources.
Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s say your content generated 800,000 impressions on LinkedIn last month. If you used a paid LinkedIn campaign to reach the same target, you would have been charged a cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM) of $14. Eight hundred thousand impressions were generated, which is the equivalent of $11,200 (800 x $14). This is also what’s known as “earned media,” the number of media impressions earned after your message reaches people online.
This type of model has been around for a while. It started when public relations departments wanted to quantify the value of media placements it received. For example, the appearance in the New York Times of your company’s story or quote from an executive has a value. PR departments determined the value based on how much room the coverage took up in the paper and paper’s circulation.
Not everyone believes in media equivalency. Some are skeptical because it’s not a tangible thing. After all, the value generated doesn’t end up as cash in a bank account. While there is something to be said for this approach being somewhat theoretical, I like that it uses market-rate CPMs to determine the value of what it would cost to distribute your message in a paid channel.
2. Lead generation
Most marketers measure the impact of their content by counting how many leads it enables them to capture. As touched on in the blog post, “Content Types,” these leads are captured by gating content behind a required form. The user receives access to the content in exchange for providing his or her contact information. These leads are then handed over to the sales team, who nurture the leads until they become real customers.
The nice thing about this approach is that it measures the direct impact of content on revenue. You can clearly say that a gated article posted on your company website created ten leads, and that three of them converted into actual customers. Add up all the revenue from each of the three leads, and that’s the amount of revenue generated by the content marketing effort.
Then look at how much that particular marketing effort (the article) cost relative to how much revenue it brought in. The result is the return on investment, or ROI, for that article. This is why lead generation is the most popular and noncontroversial way to measure the effectiveness of content marketing. It’s hard to dispute, since it clearly identifies the number of generated leads per marketing effort.
Lead generation also allows your content marketing’s effectiveness to improve over time. After creating various pieces of content, you’ll know which ones work and can tweak the others to improve their performance. The lead generation results of individual pieces of content should affect your approach to creating content. You could make the case, for example, that company resources are better spent on videos than blogs, or that content organized as case studies are downloaded more than general articles. Clearly, a lot of variables, including topic, format, design, and quality of execution, go into the performance of a piece of content, but over time the lead generation results will give you a feel for what’s working and what isn’t.
For this approach to be effective, you need a way to capture the leads and pass them along to the sales team. You also need a sales team that follows up and lets you know how each of the leads has performed.
3. Market research
If you have the resources to conduct market research, it can be an effective tool to measure the long-term impact of your content. This approach uses customer research to measure how people feel about the content you create.
This is a pretty straightforward approach. You can use this as a one-off research initiative or tie it into your company’s existing research. If you have a Net Promoter Score (NPS) program, as discussed in Chapter 16, “How Do I Improve Customer Retention?,” this is an ideal question to slip into that survey.
You can ask a variety of questions to learn about what people think of your company. There are a variety of best practices for how to ask these questions, which we’re not going into here. Just know that the way you ask the questions is really important. And you want to make the questions consistent over time, so that the results are comparable and you can monitor trends over time.
Market research is great because you collect information from your actual customers. The results are helpful for aligning internal teams on what to focus on. After all, it’s hard to argue with an editorial direction when your customers are telling you that’s what they want and need.
4. Sales force feedback
This is a down-and-dirty approach to seeing how content is working. It’s not the best approach, because the feedback is not coming from your prospects or customers. But marketers can take what you learn from their sales teams as directional learning.
With this approach, you send a five- to ten-question survey to the sales team. Ask them if they think the B2B content you’re creating is of any value. Make sure to frame the question in a way that focuses on the customer. For example, “What would your customers say about the content we create for them?”
The strength of this approach is that the cost is extremely low and implementation is easy. You can create a survey in ten minutes and have your head of sales send it out. You can also use this survey to generate new content ideas, since the sales force understands well what’s happening in the marketplace.
A word of caution: what your sales team wants and what your customers want may be two different things. Sometimes customers don’t reveal everything to a salesperson. And sometimes salespeople don’t always ask the right questions to determine customer pain or needs. So, again, don’t use this technique as the only way to understand how effective your content is.
5. Test and control groups
This is the most complex methodology for measuring content-marketing performance. When implemented, however, it can provide proof of the content’s impact. You split the same audience into two groups, the test and the control groups, and test different variables to understand the incremental lift. You need the right tools to set up the tests, but these are standard these days and easy to use.
You can test something as simple as different subject lines or pieces of copy. For example, in testing a renewal direct-mail piece for a fitness company mailed in March, the line “Swimsuit season is right around the corner” drove a lift in overall conversion compared to the control group. It’s amazing to see what one small tweak like that can have on performance.
Tests aren’t always so simple. For example, I’ve tested the effects of a series of tactics in one group of cities and a different series of tactics in a similar group of cities. We then looked at the difference in the two groups’ brand awareness and sales. The results helped us to determine the mix of marketing tactics and budgets that would optimize performance.
The main advantage of using test and control groups is that it’s a data-driven approach that provides a conclusion. You can also perform a chi-squared test to understand how confident you are that you can replicate the test results. Companies that embrace test and control are usually better at making more sound decisions about their sales and marketing. Why? There’s no guessing about the outcome; you letting the numbers tell you how to move forward.
You know you’re in a test-and-control culture when someone says something like, “Interesting idea . . . we should test it.” Letting the data make the decisions also helps reduce internal resistance to adopting new ideas and approaches. Endless debates can be avoided by basing decisions on the numbers.
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