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Is Content Marketing ROI a Myth?

By Carrie DagenhardNov 18, 2014

BigfootBigfoot, unicorns, an Oscar win for Leonardo DiCaprio and content marketing ROI.

While three of these things may only exist in the farthest reaches of our imagination, one of them is genuinely real. Unfortunately, it’s not a statuette from the Academy for Mr. DiCaprio.

Sorry, Leo.

Despite industry chatter claiming content marketing is immeasurable, determining the return on your content marketing endeavors is possible. The primary reason many business analysts reject the idea of content marketing ROI, however, is because the path is slightly more complex than the “input X, yield Y amount of profit” model we’re accustomed to using. In order to determine the monetary result of your content investment, you have to map out your entire strategy from A to B.

Here are a few reasons you may have trouble quantifying your content marketing success, and easy solutions for achieving the elusive content marketing ROI:

You Haven’t Defined Your Content Marketing Objectives

Ask yourself this question: Why are you producing content?

If you answered “Because my competitors are doing it,” then read no further. Save yourself a lot of trouble by putting your content marketing on hold and re-allocate your marketing budget toward a sign-spinner in a Snoopy costume.

You can’t even begin to measure the success of your content marketing unless you’re tying your content back to specific, clearly identified business goals. If you haven’t laid out your objectives, then you don’t have a strategy. If you don’t have a strategy, then you’re essentially tossing content against a wall and hoping something sticks.

Instead, set quantifiable goals such as:

  • Generate 20 new leads monthly


  • Boost email subscribers by 25 percent before the end of the year


  • Grow social media following by 300 users in two weeks


  • Double number of software demos by next quarter


At the core, content marketing is about building relationships. Otherwise, according to Forbes contributor Daniel Newman, “All of those measured campaigns are going to be nothing more than a beautiful automobile without the gas and oil required to run it.”

So, determining your content ROI means calculating the cost of building that relationship as well as the value that relationship brings to your company over time.

You’re Spoiled by Easy Metrics

In the age of “big data,” everything is trackable and measurable. Marketers today live in a world of clicks, conversion codes and bounce rates. Simply open up your preferred flavor of website analytics dashboard, and you’ll see a slew of green and red arrows denoting your campaign successes and failures. These tools are great for calculating the ROI of digital efforts such as PPC, for example, but performance-at-a-glance has made us a little lazy.

According to Kieran Flanagan, EMEA Marketing Director at Hubspot, “Trying to measure content in the same way as PPC, SEO, display or any other marketing tactic is wrong.”

The success of your content can’t be measured by one, single metric, so you have to separate yourself from this way of thinking. You can’t tie one monetary value to a single blog post, tweet or eBook. Each piece of content makes up a strategy that should align with the steps of the marketing funnel—which brings me to my next point.

Your Content Doesn’t Correlate with the Buying Cycle

Each piece of content you create should fit neatly within one step in the buying cycle. The best way to achieve this goal is to break out of the silo. Chat with sales representatives, client relationship managers and other professionals who touch customers at different portions of the cycle so you can gain insight into what sort of content is most helpful.

For example, top of the funnel (TOFU) content may consist of editorial content and eBooks, middle of the funnel (MOFU) content may consist of comparison white papers and bottom of the funnel (BOFU) content may consist of product comparison sheets and demos. Additionally, each piece of content should seamlessly guide your prospective customers into the next step in the buyer’s journey.

While content marketing ROI is no mirage, it does require a shift in the way businesses consider returns. The inability to assign values to specific initiatives muddies our streamlined X = Y way of calculating marketing success, but it also forces us, as marketers, to think outside the at-a-glance metric dashboard and consider multiple KPIs.

By utilizing closed-loop reporting and following customers all the way down the funnel, it’s much easier to determine the gains you’re earning from your content marketing initiatives.

Learn how to gauge your content marketing success, and determine your content budget for 2015. Check out our free eBook The ROI of Content Marketing.

The ROI of Content Marketing - Free eBook!

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The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst for a web development and SEO company. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story. Outside of the office, Carrie enjoys live music, Tex-Mex, exploring the city with her husband and attempting to win the affections of her two terrible cats.
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