Be honest with yourself. If I asked you if your content marketing program is successful, would you be able to answer?
Recent research conducted by Advertising Age and The Content Council reports only 58 percent of content marketers believe that content marketing is truly measurable. And only 13 percent of those surveyed rated the marketing industry as doing "extremely well" when it comes to using content in their programs.
So if you're really being honest, there is a pretty good chance that you'd hold back in your response.
In order to start confidently bragging about your success, you need to have your metrics set and results at hand. This is not an easy task, as currently there is no silver bullet to measuring content marketing. It's a rapidly developing space that is constantly writing its own rules, which makes measuring it very difficult. For example, according to the same study cited earlier, when content marketers were asked their biggest challenges, 49.1 perfect said "Proving ROI," making it #4 on the list behind creating engaging content, lack of time and lack of budget.
To help you navigate these muddy waters, here are five tips to help you evaluate and improve your current content marketing efforts.
1. Pick a Metric (or Three) at the Onset and Stick to It
This is listed at number one for a reason. To evaluate whether your current content is doing the job you set out for it to do -- whether that's creating an audience from scratch or finding new ways to engage an already built in audience -- you need to commit to a few measurements and begin benchmarking. Based on your goals and objectives, start with main categories including consumption, sharing, lead generation and sales. There are obvious quantitative measurements like page views, time spent, click-thru rates, downloads or actual purchases made - but don't overlook the more qualitative metrics like brand awareness, strengthened relationships and better-educated customers. Sure, they're a little harder to measure, but they are key performance indicators of your content. And get direct feedback from your clients about your content, if possible. A few simple questions in a quick survey, using tools like SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics will provide valuable feedback to inform the evolution of your content.
2. Gauge Level of Experimentation with Formats
On a regular basis (i.e. monthly), take a look at the formats of your content pieces. Evaluate how you're using visuals--are there enough? Too many? Are your pieces primarily short form or longer reads? What themes or styles are reflected?
Be sure to think about how your audience is consuming your content. Are they reading it on the web or on a mobile device? Your content needs to be appropriate for the device - so consider images, infographics and video that improve the visual appeal of your content and will go a long way towards driving engagement.
3. Identify Sales Funnel Flags
It's important to create content that educates, entertains and engages, but it's even more critical that it goes beyond calls to action and interaction. Does your content help guide the reader through the sales funnel of your organization? As you evaluate your content (and create future content), make sure this question doesn't go unanswered. Think through the journey your customer follows prior to making key decisions, and make sure you are serving up relevant content at each of those points. According to a study by CEB, a buyer is 57 percent of the way into the decision path prior to engaging a company representative, so you need to make sure your content is effectively leading them down that path.
4. Take a Pulse on the Competition
As you diagnose the health and effectiveness of your content, take a peek at what your competition is doing. You can learn a lot from your competitors and it's easier to distinguish yourself through your content and avoid producing "me, too" content if you know what they are doing. There are also a number of content listening tools like TrackMaven and SocialCrawlytics that you can utilize to track and monitor your competitor's content. Create a simple scorecard system that measures back to your specific objectives for branded content creation - and revisit it frequently to stay one step ahead of your competition.
5. Look Outside for Inspiration
It's easy to fall into the trap of only reading about your own industry. Get out of the bubble and look at how other brands in completely unrelated industries are experimenting and creating branded content. Then contact them and ask how they are measuring. You'll be surprised at how easily it is to apply new formats and styles to what you have in the works. Keeping tabs on best practices outside your industry is another way to bring fresh new differentiating content to your audience.
At the end of the day, it's all about engagement - so to stay on top of quality, and commit to having a solid measurement plan in place. You'll not only be able to ask for bigger budgets, you'll have earned bragging rights.
This article is a part of a series exploring communications and media trends in honor of the second annual Communications Week, a week-long series of events celebrating the communications industry, held from October 19-23, 2015. Follow @CommsWeekNY.
Post by Andrew Seibert, Chairman of The Content Council. You can reach Andrew on Twitter @Imprint_AndyS.