Randy Shattuck
Randy Shattuck 2 March 2015

Where Is The ROI For Content Marketing?

How can you quantify the ROI for your content?

Recently I’ve been hearing a fair amount of grumbling about content marketing.

Most of it is coming from senior executives at professional service firms who are losing confidence in this strategy. They are now asking for specific examples of how content marketing has grown brand awareness, increased client acquisition and enhanced revenues. In other words, they want an ROI analysis on content marketing.

Uh oh.

For many marketing executives, this is a conversation they have been dreading for quite some time. If you are wondering how you might handle these types of questions, I have some suggestions for you here as well as some analysis about what may not be working so well and how to fix this.


What is content marketing?
Just so we’re on the same page, here is what I mean by content marketing. Many services firms offer these types of content: A blog. It’s sometimes embedded into the corporate website and sometimes a separate website. It typically offers articles, videos and thoughts from the senior executives in the company.

Most services firms offer some type of webinars that cover a wide range of topics. The one-hour webinar is very common.

Case studies
Many services firms now profile either specific client engagements or produce write-ups about engagements where they don’t identify an actual client.

Email newsletters
Most services firms provide email newsletters. The newsletters often link to a blog-site where users click-through to see the full article after reading a snippet in the email. While there certainly are many other types of content, this short list is typical for many service firms.

Most of the issues I see for content marketing fall into three larger categories:

  • Visibility
  • Sales funnel movement
  • Hidden costs

The visibility challenge

Many marketing functions have low visibility into how “users” engage the content they produce. The tracking systems available to them are often from disconnected sources, like email engines, webinar platforms and Google analytics. There is no overarching view that informs what’s working.

This produces challenges of two types. First, it is difficult for marketing executives to understand which types of content are popular and which are duds.

Second, and this is a much bigger problem, it is difficult for marketing leaders to identify the hot leads, the ones who are ready to close right away. If 100 people attend a webinar, how do you know which ones to call? If 1,000 users visit your website, which ones are ready to buy? Many marketing executives cannot answer these questions.

Sales funnel movement
Many marketing leaders struggle to show how, or even if, their content pulls someone through the sales funnel toward a conversation. For most professional service firms, the sales funnel looks like this:

  • Awareness - Prospects become aware of your brand, services and content
  • Consideration - Prospects sample your content to see how you can help them
  • Interest - Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal
  • Evaluation - Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings
  • Selection - Prospects accept your proposal and move to next steps

Why are there problems pulling prospects through the sales funnel using content? I typically see two types of issues. First, the connection between content and services is weak. Many services firms are creating content that puts their expertise on display but does not direct a user toward a specific service. Users who may want to take next steps don’t know where to turn because the marketing function hasn’t made the link clear between content and services. This means most content consumers sit at the top of the sales funnel (Awareness and Consideration) and never move toward a real conversation.

Second, many service organizations haven’t created the right balance between short-form and deep-dive content types. In today’s world, most people go searching for a service provider after they have been given a charter to accomplish a goal, resolve a challenge or realize an opportunity. If they find a service provider with great ideas to guide them on their journey, they’ll usually spend quite a bit of time on that service provider’s website. But until they have been given a charter, they probably won’t spend more than 10 minutes reading a blog post. This means professional service firms need short-form content for nurturing leads over time. But they also need deep-dive content for those prospects who have a charter and want great ideas to guide them.

Hidden costs
Content marketing is no longer seen as inexpensive. Most marketing departments are not staffed by subject-matter-experts, the people with deep knowledge about how to deliver the services and achieve outcomes. Instead, marketing functions typically borrow the expertise for the content from other departments, usually very billable people. This means content marketing, while not having high hard-costs, has high opportunity costs. If you can put a very billable person, say $350 per hour, on a client engagement for 20 hours ($7,000) versus a webinar where they get paid nothing, the company has lost $7,000. Maybe better stated, the company has funded $7,000 in marketing’s budget.

These costs are no longer flying under the radar. Part of content marketing’s appeal in the past has been its low costs. Marketing executives could say (in good conscience), “I can spend $20,000 on advertising this month or we can do content marketing and pay nothing out of pocket.” That’s a no-brainer decision. Every CFO on the planet has supported it. But as content marketing programs have grown, marketing departments have come to rely on these billable people for ideas, at the very least. Some trim marketing departments rely on billable people to create final prose for blogs and slide-decks for webinars. That’s a lot of time and effort from these people.

Those who manage the P&L for these people want to know – what am I getting for the dollar? How to address these three issues If you are struggling with visibility issues for content marketing, I strongly urge you to invest in marketing automation. The primary benefit of these tools is not automation; it’s visibility. They do a great job of showing you what’s working and what needs to be improved. More importantly, because of lead scoring, they show you the hot leads.

Check out this webinar I’ve recorded on marketing automation. If you are struggling with sales funnel movement, I urge you to create a stronger connection between your services and your content. This usually starts in the ideation process, where you are creating your list of topics around which you will create content.

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