Marketers suck at measurement.

It’s a prevalent perception, and it’s one the industry has been fighting to overcome with mixed success. For years, the problem was that too many marketers didn’t realize that measuring the effectiveness of their endeavors was that important. We have surmounted that challenge for the most part—67% of marketers stated that measurement would be their top area of investment this year—but now we have a new problem. Many marketers aren’t sure what to measure or how to do it… and what’s worse, some now believe that they know what they’re doing, but they’re looking at the wrong metrics and are hence confidently making poorly informed decisions.

Measurement is especially problematic in the content marketing space. Those marketers that have figured out how to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns are often analyzing the same short-term sales-based metrics to determine whether their content marketing efforts are successful. As I mentioned in my last content marketing blog post, this is often not the right approach, as successful content marketers seek to build collections of compelling content, build an audience, and build lasting relationships—not build quick sales numbers.

So, where do we go from here? How do we avoid measurement misconceptions and missteps? How do we justify content marketing efforts to bosses used to seeing ROI defined by hot leads? This was a hot topic at Content Marketing World this year. Here are a few takeaways that have helped me:

1. Think harder about your goals up front, and always assign business outcome-aligned KPIs.

Measurement planning should be a foundational part of your content strategy. We too often think about measuring outcomes late in the process, but it should be an early discussion point. Start by knowing what you can measure, and how you’ll go about it. Do you have access to the data you need? Do you have the organizational resources/tools to make it happen? What concrete steps do you need to take to make smart measurement a reality?

From there, consider what KPIs will be most indicative of desired business outcomes when deciding what to measure; avoid simply measuring volume/vanity metrics because they’re easily obtained. Say, for instance, the goal of your content marketing efforts is to build an audience and to understand what resonates best with them—a great goal, by the way. You should therefore be measuring success in the form of email subscriber signups, blog RSS feed subscribers and similar conversions. Be concrete when establishing your goals to give you the most clarity when looking back at performance.

2. Realize that content marketing DOES drive ROI.

Robert Rose stated that his core focus this year will be content marketing measurement, and he is adamant that content marketing does drive ROI, despite some marketers struggling to find it. He pointed out at Content Marketing World that content marketing is, by nature, an investment that can create value for multiple lines of business. Whereas campaigns provide value in time, and are often looked at as expenses rather than investments, content marketing provides increasing value over time as audiences grow on owned channels and positive brand perceptions grow in tandem.

In the most successful examples of content marketing, we see strong collections of interconnected content, not single pieces, creating the most value (that we can measure). When we spend our year creating campaigns, Robert explained, it is easy to end up with a disconnected pile of assets, and we can’t measure the efficacy of that program because it is not a program—rather, it is tactical support of direct marketing campaigns. As a result, content marketing lends itself to creating a useful resource center over time much better than campaign-based marketing does. Robert is actually re-presenting his talk from CMW in an upcoming webinar if you want to get more of his take on this.

3. Consider less-than-obvious, but valuable outcomes you could be measuring.

Rebecca Lieb, longtime analyst and author, gave a great presentation at CMW on performance ROI and thinking outside the box when it comes to measuring content marketing success. She encouraged us all to start by considering these areas of measurement:

  • Brand Health: Create content and responses that signal how conversations about or behaviors toward the brand can serve as indicators of overall brand health. When you know what resonates, you can then create even more valuable content and make better decisions.
  • Marketing Optimization: Consider factors that can improve your marketing programs, such as utilizing new channel or tools to save on costs. For example, Rokenbok, a toy manufacturer, harnessed YouTube to showcase its toys instead of doing in-store demos… and that channel now yields 50% of their customers.
  • Revenue Generation: Consider where your company makes money, and create content that benefits customers as they travel through every stage of the buyer journey. You may focus on SEO, SEM and social media up front, and then create loyalty or crowdsourcing programs for existing customers that may influence others.
  • Operational Efficiency: Consider where and how your company could reduce expenses, and how a content strategy could help you save. Unilever, for instance, invested in a content management tool and scaled it across all their brands, markets and agencies to allow better collaboration and brand control. It saved them $10 million in costs in the first year by reducing time to create and publish.
  • Customer Experience: How might content improve customer service while at the same time saving you money? Sony identified a user-submitted troubleshooting post that indicated a problem many were having with a TV, for instance. They created content that addressed it, saving the company a projected €294,000 and improving customer relations.
  • Innovation: Content can help solicit ideas and engagement from community members, advancing organizational initiatives. Crowdsourcing not only can save on R&D costs, but it can be a great way to give community members a fun way to engage with the brand.

The point is this: All of these factors are of benefit to your company or brand, but if you don’t measure them by paying attention to the right metrics, you may be missing a lot of overlooked success to which your content marketing program contributed.

There are many smart people dedicating themselves to better defining the best ways to go about content marketing measurement, so you can expect to hear far more about this in the near future. For now, just remember that even if you can’t necessarily point to hot sales leads resulting from your content marketing program immediately, that doesn’t make it a failure. You’re investing in long-term success if you’re doing it right, and if you think critically about how your program is positively impacting the business beyond the obvious, you may be surprised to see how much success you find.

Lukas Treu is Lead, Content Strategy for AKHIA, and is a regular contributor to The Brew on all things content marketing and strategy. Follow him on Twitter @ltreu.