Labcast: Don’t Let Details Derail Your Content Marketing Goals

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You may be incorporating content marketing into your marketing strategy, but are you focusing on the right metrics and goals?

In content marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in the metrics and details: page views, bounce rates, and amount content. In this week’s Labcast, Robert Rose, Chief Strategist for Content Marketing Institute shares his advice for choosing the right metrics and setting the right content marketing goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Know your overall goals: Before revamping your content marketing, determine how that change is going to impact your marketing, overall. [4:00]
  • Check out Content Institute Marketing’s latest report on Content Collaboration Tools: It evaluates the effectiveness of 13 content marketing solutions. [6:25]
  • Satisfaction over Transactions: Examining customer engagement and satisfaction is a key content marketing metric. [13:30]
  • Stop reporting all your metrics: Don’t get too caught up in page views and bounce rates. Focus on your overall goals. [17:17]

“In many cases, we’re so focused as marketers on numbers of transactions, that we lost sight of actually closing better, more valuable customers that are more highly engaged.”

Listen Here:

Labcast 112_ Robert Rose Discusses Content Marketing Goals, Execution, and Metrics 1

Transcript:

Kevin: Hello there, and welcome to this edition of Labcast. I’m your host, Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by Robert Rose, who’s the Chief Strategist for the Content Marketing Institute. Robert joins me today to talk about a number of things pertaining to content marketing, from establishing good goals, to executing against those goals, in which he’s going to talk to us about a new report from the Content Marketing Institute, and he’s also going to talk to us a little bit about how to measure your goals and measure executing against them.

Hey, Robert. Welcome to Labcast. Thanks for joining me today.

Robert: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Kevin: So, one of the things we wanted to talk about today in this podcast was a little bit about your experience working with companies, both the Content Marketing Institute and otherwise. I know you’ve had a chance to consult with big companies, small companies, helping them with their content strategies. And what I would assume, and correct me if I’m wrong, but, one of the first things that you’d probably be talking about with those companies is, how do you set the right goals for your content strategy and your content marketing program? Where do you want it to go?

And I wondered, what kind of advice do you offer to those companies to make sure they’re getting to the right goals, with enough specificity that they’re actionable, and that actually has some meaning for them?

Robert: Sure, and that’s exactly the right way to think about it. Whether it’s a start-up or a Fortune 50 company, what we have learned over the last couple of years of doing this is that most organizations, we’re not coming in and doing something new. They’ve been doing content marketing, in some form, for a long time. Ostensibly, really, since the beginning of the business. What they have lacked, really, is this idea of a plan for how content marketing can positively affect the business.

So they’ve started, sort of, ad hoc. “We need a social media strategy. We need a Twitter strategy. We have to have a blog. We have to have content and a white paper programmer,” whatever it is, they start producing content, but there’s no larger plan or process to really support that.

And one of the first things that we do, regardless of the size of the company, and how we are first engaged, is to start there. What is it that we’re trying to do, not only from a larger narrative standpoint of what is the story, but also, what part of the funnel are we really trying to optimize? Is it drawing more awareness? It is making the lead nurturing process more efficient? Drawing higher customer value? Drawing higher customer retention, or upsell opportunities, and taking those and really putting together a good plan to start with, and then talking about the content we’re actually going to produce to support it.

Kevin: And so, is that sort of level of detail sufficient, or do you need to get more specific, as in, “We want to generate 50% more leads than we did last year,” or, “We want to get to 10,000 views a day on our web site?”

Robert: It really depends. I love to get as specific with goals as you possibly can, right? So whether it’s drawing 60% more leads into the funnel, or making ourselves 10% more efficient with the marketing budget we have, or whatever it is, I love getting that specific. And I’ll tell you, it’s rare that we get that specific. Most of the time when we’re coming in and fixing something, they have no idea how content marketing is really being applied from a metric standpoint. So it’s even first just getting to some benchmark that we can then use as a benchmark to improve upon going forward.

Kevin: And is there a way that you coach these companies when they’re either more advanced, and they maybe haven’t been doing, officially, content marketing by that name, but they’ve been doing the various components of it, that you mentioned, versus those companies who really are brand new to it, or at least, far less experienced with it?

Robert: Well, yes. I mean, there can be different approaches, for sure. What is common in both of those situations that you just went through, is the idea of stepping back and saying, “How is content marketing going to support the overall marketing process, and ultimately, the business going forward?”

And once we have that broader goal established, now we can start diving into the details of, “Okay, well what are you already doing that’s really smart and already working, that doesn’t need to be fixed,” for those that are already doing it, and the other, which is, they’re not doing it at all, and this is all greenfield for them. “Okay. What are we going to start with? How are we going to get started, given your limited resources, or bandwidth constraints,” or whatever it may be.

Kevin: And do you find that it’s best to set goals that are very short- term. “What can we get done this month or this quarter?” or do you look with a longer-term view to the year or beyond?

Robert: I try and do both, because I understand the pressure. It is very hard to build business case that says, “Trust me for three years and we’ll build you something great.” And so, in the case where we can look long-term, and absolutely, the organization needs to start looking long term at this at a process, not as something that’s going to be a quick fix to anything.

But absolutely you need to set shorter term goals that can actually support the business case, and let us know we’re actually on a productive path. It’s kind of like we’re leaving little bread crumbs for ourselves all along the way, to let us know, “Hey, we’re doing okay,” that we’re actually working progressively toward a goal that we’re trying to get to three years from now.

But we need to get those short-term wins in there to continue to build excitement, to continue to build a progress, and of course, to build support internally for the effort.

Kevin: Right. No, that makes a lot of sense. So, let’s shift gears a little bit and move beyond the goals and to the point where you’re actually trying to execute against them. And obviously there is a number of challenges that companies face, too many for us to go through in the course of a single podcast.

But what I wanted to hone in on, during this conversation was sort of the challenge of scaling, making the operation a little bit bigger. I know that’s something that the Content Marketing Institute has recently taken on in a report where they’ve looked at some content service providers. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit to the challenges that companies are having, and tell us a little bit about that report.

Robert: Sure. It’s funny, the report really was born out of our observation that so many new startup companies were really coming to the fore, in terms of technology solutions, to support specifically, the content marketing process. And of course, you guys are very interested and knowledgeable about that piece.

But the real first report was this idea of what we call, “content collaboration tools”, and the two biggest challenges almost each every year that we see from the study that we do in conjunction with MarketingProfs every year, is that marketers say that their biggest challenges are producing enough content and producing enough content that engages.

And when we peel back the cover a little bit from that, what we really find is, is that most larger enterprises or startup companies, that this is really a symptom, not necessarily the disease. The idea of content scaling is really one of what we were just talking about. The plan for what we’re trying to do more holistically hasn’t really been set, and so therefore, we’re just throwing as much content as we can, and we feel like we can’t keep up with the machine.

But once we have figured out that plan, then scaling actually does become a real challenge. How do you actually produce enough content and specifically, content that is really engaging, to support the effort going forward? And so there are a ton of solutions out there that are helping organizations do that. Everything from, “How do we make ourselves more efficient?” in other words, collaborative work flow solutions, all the way to pure content services that will actually outsource the entire process for you. And this report really covers both ends of that spectrum, because many of those solutions actually have overlapping capabilities in each of those things.

Kevin: Can you give us any sort of a preview of what some of that report’s findings were?

Robert: Sure. I mean, really, what we tried to do was come up with a pragmatic sort of overview of the space. In other words, we weren’t grading the solutions. We weren’t saying, “X solution is better than Y solution,” or, “This one’s better or has more feature than that one.” What we wanted to do was really say, “Here’s the content collaborations space as we see it, and here are the solutions in it, and here are the business problems that they solve.”

And so really I think the big takeaways are one, enterprise content management tools are not up to the job, yet. I absolutely believe that they can and should be up to the job of creating these online collaborative work flow spaces, and actually facilitating the engagement of external writers to be able to provide a blog and white paper, and other types of contextual content into the organization, but they’re not there yet.

And that they’re really solving a quite focused business challenge that marketers have right now which is, “How do I get my external team,” which is going to be tens, if not, sometimes hundreds of writers, “and how do I move that content through a single work flow process to get it out to all the channels I need to get it out to?”

And so you’ve got companies ranging from Compendium, and Contently, and DBHQ, and GatherContent, InboundWriter, [ComPost], Scripted, Textbroker. There’re 13 benders, total, that we cover in the report, and all of them are handling some or all of that process. Some of them are handling it better than others, but all of them are really helping marketers to sort of figure out that scaling and work flow challenge.

Kevin: And how did you cover that list of 13? I mean, I’ve come across many different companies in the last couple of years, and I’m sure you’ve come across many more, as well. How did you narrow the group down to the 13?

Robert: Yeah, it’s great question, and honestly, what it was, was the ones that we were seeing or hearing about the most, quite frankly. They represented software solutions, technology solutions, and so therefore, they represented some sort of tool that a marketer could use.

So, for example, we didn’t cover services like [Graphed In] or Demand Media, or some of the publishers that are offering some of the niche content services. Because they themselves really aren’t software solutions, as much as they are just outsourced content creation. The one exception to that is, we did cover Servio, which doesn’t really offer a software solution, but is really focused on optimization of content as an outsource service, and we did cover them.

But for the most part they were companies that we were seeing day to day get implemented into the clients that we were working with, and they were also companies that were start-up and/or well- known solutions that had software components to them.

Kevin: Well that’s great. Did you find a lot of consistency to those companies in terms of how they sort of operate? I mean, obviously they’re doing all sorts of different things, but I’m thinking more in terms of pricing and sort of range of capabilities.

Robert: Absolutely not. There were no consistencies across the board.

It is a new and very nascent space, and they’re all trying to find their way as best they can. Many of them are overpriced and many of them are underpriced, and some of them have way too many features, and some of them don’t have enough features. It’s a very disruptive space right now, and there’re some excellent solutions in there that are really solving challenges. But consistency would not be a word I use to describe them.

Kevin: Got it. And it sounds like if you want to sort of get the behind-the-scenes view, we’ll have to have another podcast to talk about some of the specifics of who you thought were the leaders in that pack. But we’ll save that for another day.

What I wanted to move onto next was sort of the end of the content marketing process, which is really once you’ve got your goals, once you’ve executed against those goals, you need to measure them and you need to do something with those measurements. My question here is really just what content marketing metrics do you suggest people track, whether it’s to create your content, to distribute your content, to achieve conversions, and what do you suggest people actually do with that information?

Robert: Yeah. I mean, that’s the $64,000 question, right? Because it’s the one question I get asked every single consulting engagement I go on, and every single talk I give, and every workshop I give, which is, “How are we going to measure this thing?” Here’s the bottom line, and this is really I’m really passionate about measurement, which is, if we stop measuring at a very focused, myopic level, you will lose every time.

And what I mean by that is, too many times content marketing is looked at as a sort of layer on top of something else that we’re doing, and we stop measuring at that part. In other words, we stop measuring we get more or less page views, or we stop measuring because it produces X or Y number of leads, or opportunities.

And what I’m really encouraging companies to do now is put into place processes that let you understand as much as you can from the first time you meet a customer, when you’re starting to upsell them and get them retained. In other words, they’re already a customer. And as much as you can every step in between.

Because what I find many times is that content marketing, the process, can cost more, and can take longer to actually close a customer through a process, whether you’re a B2C company or a B2B company. But what I often find is that those customers spend more, they’re more engaged, they’re retained longer, they’re more likely to share their story, they’re better customers. And so in many cases, we’re so focused as marketers on numbers of transactions, that we lost sight of actually closing better, more valuable customers that are more highly engaged.

A great example is, a study just came out from Accenture, talking about the disruption in the CMO’s office, and they found that 80% of the data CMO’s are using right now is still being used to facilitate transactions instead of to develop deeper relationships with customers. And that’s really the power that the content marketing has, is to develop deeper relationships.

So to the extent that you can, and I understand that it’s hard in many organizations, change the paradigm of measurement to really get to be a process of developing deeper insight and engagement with customers, rather than to proof point that we’re developing more transactions. That’s hard. But it’s really the key of how measurement is going to get applied to content marketing in a useful way going forward.

Kevin: So, that’s sort of a more holistic approach. I’m wondering if we can also get into some more tactical things.

Robert: Sure.

Kevin: Obviously it’s not just page views. It’s not just number of conversions. It’s exactly as you said, getting to that higher quality customer. But what would you recommend for the companies that are just getting started, or the smaller companies that they should track so that they can get some sort of sense of the traction that they’re getting, and how they’re performing?

Robert: It depends on your goal. So you said this very well at the very beginning of the podcast, where you said, “Are we developing specific goals for the customer? Should we be 60% more effective or are we trying to drive 25% more leads?” That’s where we start, right? Then what we start to measure is, everything that gets to that goal.

So if we’re trying to generate 10% more leads with the same marketing budget as our goal, well then, now we understand what we need to measure. We need to measure page views, and how many of those page views from various sources are turning into leads, and how many leads are turning into opportunities, and how many of those opportunities are turning into sales, etc?

Then we can look back and we can say, “Okay. Content marketing contributed X, Y, Z to the percentage of leads that were actually getting generated. And we measure it all the way back up to the top of the funnel.” If we’re trying to measure, for example, customer retention using content marketing, or net promoter score, same thing. We’re working backwards through the metrics that get us to that goal, to understand, specifically, what we should be measuring at each stage.

So yeah, it’s all of those things. It’s page views, engagement, it’s time on site, it’s bounce rate, but all of those are really just KPI’s that are leading us towards an ultimate goal, which is our real, true metric.

Kevin: Right. So let’s assume that you’re starting to track these various metrics, and you’re looking at them on a week-to-week basis, or a month-to-month basis, whatever it may be. How do you recommend that company sort of then form their strategy, based off of them? So if they see a dip in page views, or see people are now bouncing a bit faster or a bit more often, what do you recommend people do.

Robert: The first thing I recommend, if they at all possibly can is, to stop reporting all the metrics to their management team. When I was at a start-up, my management team got two numbers: basically, my progression toward a goal, and the actual two metrics that made up that goal. In other words, if I was trying to draw 10% more leads with the same marketing budget, you’ve got the number of leads that I was generating, and the percentage of my marketing budget that I had used.

Everything else is used to drive deeper insight into my process. So I knew all of the metrics, in other words, the page views, the bounce rates, the engagement on site, and all of that, and I was using that to basically create more content processes, and more compelling, creative, or AB testing landing pages, all of the things that we would want to do. My board would often ask, “What’s the traffic to the web site?” and I would say, “You don’t care. You don’t care what the traffic to the web site is, because if I generate that same number or greater number of leads, that turns into a greater or higher of sales, if web traffic is half, you’re happy.”

Kevin: Right.

Robert: And so, that’s a really hard paradigm to get out of, from those marketers, because we’re very used to now submitting this giant book of metrics that we’ve got to constantly keep going up and to the right. And if page views for some reason go down because we tried some wacky or experimental thing that didn’t work, it’s very hard to get out of that machine.

So, to the extent that you can stop reporting all of the metrics that you’re tracking, and use metrics to improve your process, producing better content, producing higher quality content focusing on better channels to syndicate out your content, those are all great things. They should all be in support of bigger goals that ultimately are what we report.

Kevin: Well that’s great. Some really good insights there. I appreciate it, Robert. Just to kind of wrap things up, before I let you go, I wanted to know if you could just kind of give our listeners a sense of where they should go to get that report you mentioned. Is it just going to the CMI site, or is there a specific place they can get it?

Robert: You’re very, very sweet to make that. Yes, they can go to the ContentMarketingInstitute.com web site and I suspect there are many banner ads there that will direct you to the report that you can download.

Kevin: Well that’s great. Thank you so much for your time today, Robert. This has been really interesting and helpful, and I appreciate having the chance to talk to you about this stuff.

Robert: Thanks so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

What content marketing goals do you focus on?

Photo by: Jonathan Pedleton