Editorial note – this is a post from Steve, Founder of 26 Characters.

 

As a marketer, I take pride in my ability to self-evaluate my performance. B2B content marketing can be especially tricky. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Throughout the years, I’ve used several approaches to understand the impact of my content marketing programs. While there isn’t a perfect approach, it’s important to understand the different options and choose the best one that works for your situation.

When thinking through the following five options, it’s important to understand your company culture and sales structure. From my experience, if one of the methods below isn’t a good fit with leadership, (non marketing)you won’t get any traction.

Here are five approaches to consider for your next B2B content marketing program. Make sure to weigh things out, such as ease of implementation, resources, infrastructure and speed of results when deciding which one suits your next B2B content marketing program best.

Approach #1 – Media Equivalency (Easy to Implement)

How it works…

This is an approach that can be quickly implemented since you don’t need any infrastructure or technical resources. However, this may come with potential scrutiny as some people think media equivalency falls somewhere between voodoo and snake oil.

In simple terms, this is the cost you would have paid in media to generate the same number of impressions, or the market price for paid media in the channel you distribute your content marketing through. This is easily achievable with LinkedIn’s advertising tool. Once you have the CPM (cost per thousand), you can apply that to the number of impressions you generated.

Here’s an example: Napoleon’s Delicious Bass Company generated 800,000 impressions on LinkedIn last month. If you executed a paid LinkedIn campaign to reach the same target, you would have been charged a CPM of $14. Sinceyou generated 800,000 impressions on your own, that’s equivalent to $11,200.

(800,000 / 1,000) x $14 = $11,200

Here’s a free online tool from ClickZ which does all the math for you.

Things to consider…

Pros:

  • Quick way to demonstrate the value of content marketing.
  • Anyone in the company can understand the math.
  • You can change the CPM to reflect what you perceive as a fair value.
  • Compliments your company’s existing model (if any).

Cons:

  • Tends to be dismissed by companies that reject the value of paid advertising.
  • Might encourage your team to ‘game the system’ by generating more impressions.

Approach #2 – Lead Generation (Moderately Complex to Implement)

How it works…

This is where you set up tracking to follow your potential customers via various marketing channels. Since you know what they are doing on your channels, you can understand how many of them have raised their hand for more information. These leads are then handed over to the sales team who will nurture them until they become real customers. Ideally, you’ll be using a sales automation system like SalesforceMarketo or HubSpot to manage the entire customer experience.

Things to consider…

Pros:

  • Hard to dispute since it clearly shows the number of generated leads.
  • Allows you to optimize customer experience over time.
  • Measures the ROI of various pieces of content (e.g. ‘Content X generated 150 leads for us last year’).
  • Provides a data decision framework for your future marketing efforts (e.g. ‘We’re not doing this again because it didn’t drive any leads last time’).

Cons:

  • Requires investments and resources to put everything in place.
  • Requires salesforce to follow up on leads.
  • Takes time to set up the infrastructure.

Approach #3 – Market Research (Easy to Moderately Complex to Implement)

How it works…

This is a pretty straightforward approach as you’re trying to gain insight through conducting traditional market research. You can use this as a one-off research initiative or tie it into your company’s existing research. If you happen to be doing any NPS work, this is an ideal question to slip into that survey: simply send out a survey to your customers and ask what they think of the content you distribute through social media or email.

The results will usually generate statistics that helps to demonstrate the value of content marketing. For example, you may learn that 74% of all research respondents find content marketing and what you’re doing highly valuable.

Things to consider…

Pros:

  • Feedback collected directly from customers backs you up when rallying internal teams (e.g. ‘Our customers told us they want this’).
  • According to statistical research, asking customers for their opinions creates long-term value.
  • If you have direct access to the customer database, you can quickly implement the survey.

Cons:

  • Depending on the structure of your sales team, some may be resistant in handing over client information. If this is the case, consider asking them to send out a link on your behalf.
  • If you don’t have direct access to customer information, it can take a while to get it. In this scenario, the head of sales needs to champion this. Otherwise, you may spend months trying to build your list.

Approach #4 – Salesforce Feedback (Easy to Implement)

How it works…

This is a quick down and dirty approach. You send a survey – which should come from the head of sales – of 5-10 questions to your sales force. Ask if they think the content provided is of value, and what their customers have said about content over the past year. You can also use this survey to generate new content ideas since the sales force is great at understanding what’s happening with the marketplace.

Things to consider…

Pros:

  • Low-cost initiative.
  • Helps build a relationship with your sales force since you are asking them for feedback.
  • Generates new content ideas.

Cons:

  • Sales leadership may not want you to engage their team (e.g. ‘My team is too busy’).
  • Feedback from the salesforce might be more about what they want vs. actual customer needs.

Approach #5 – Test and Control Groups (Difficult to Implement)

How it works…

This is the most complex methodology for measuring the value of content marketing, but when executed, it can generate awesome results. The essence of this approach is, you split an audience into a test and control group. Group One receives all the outbound content marketing while Group Two receives nothing, and you compare the incremental lift between the two groups.

This approach only works on outbound marketing efforts. After all, you can’t stop someone from seeing your content on social media, or if they frequent your website. The test results can be proven scientifically with a basic statistical significance test.

Things to consider…

Pros:

  • It’s a scientific, data-driven approach which is hard to dispute.
  • Helps you rally the CFO in getting incremental content investments.
  • Identifies the true incremental value of content marketing.
  • Effectively shows the value provided by marketing to the sales team.
  • Sets up a test and learn culture which will optimize over time.

Cons:

  • You need talented resources to help you set it up the right way.
  • Requires the right infrastructure.
  • Takes time (i.e. 30-90 days) to run the test.

 

So there you have it… that’s 5 ways to prove your B2B content marketing works.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below with your reaction. Or, if you have other ways to measure your B2B content, share those in the comments.

If you’re interested in other articles about B2B content marketing, read The Insider’s Guide to Getting the Most out of your 2018 Content Marketing Budget and How a Content Marketing Collective can Lower your B2B Blood Pressure.