Content marketing measurement: connecting content to business outcomes

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Learn how to talk the talk with executives and change the content narrative.

Kate Thompson

They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure. While this is not strictly true (you can go a long way on gut instinct and observation) measuring the performance of your content marketing in a scientific way helps you determine whether you’re on track with your goals and objectives.

There are plenty of frameworks (NewsCred’s buyer’s journey is popular) and KPIs (SEMrush lists nine essentials) to choose from – but it’s most important that your approach aligns with your strategy and that you use reliable and valid measures. 

Why measurement matters

For a savvy content marketing director, considered and dynamic measurement helps to reveal the effectiveness and efficiency of the operation, the key drivers of success, and identifies where things aren’t tracking so well and might need to be retired, tweaked or optimised. Sophisticated content marketers, many of whom are using content marketing as an inbound lead generation tactic, also track return on investment or perform driver analysis across the classic marketing funnel.

Through my career working with a variety of brands both agency- and client-side, and meeting with and learning from peers at industry events, it’s fair to say there’s a common content marketing language and set of measures that act as the universal currency to compare and discuss performance. 

But there is one element that can often be overlooked or simply isn’t on some people’s radars at all, particularly those using content marketing as an instrument for brand building or customer loyalty. Quite surprisingly, many people still don’t understand content marketing’s contribution to their overall business performance. This means getting buy-in at an executive level can be challenging, to say the least.

This got me thinking. Rather than rehash the essentials – how to develop a measurement framework, selecting the right metrics, or interpreting social media, web, search and email performance (which I might tackle in the future regardless) – it could be more interesting to briefly reflect on how you can talk more confidently with CMOs, CXOs or CEOs about why to invest in content at your organisation.

Starting the conversation with management

To consider this, let's look at a sample of common goals across different layers of business. 

Business goals
Marketing and brand goals
Content marketing goals
Used by:

CEO / division or portfolio heads incl. CMO / general managers
Used by:

CMO / GM marketing / heads of marketing and brand
Used by:

Content director / content marketers / content producers / editors
Market share / penetration Sales (incremental and repurchase) Audience growth and development
Customer volume and lifetime value (LTV) Brand health (awareness, perception, recognition, engagement) Lead generation and lifecycle management (new and existing customers)
Gross revenue Customer experience, satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS)  Content engagement and interaction 
Net profit (EBITDA)  Media and creative impact and efficiency  Brand / thought leadership
Brand value Marketing return on investment (ROI / ROMI)

Quite quickly, it becomes clear why it can be so hard to hold the attention of many executives – they're focused on hard business performance metrics. At a practical level, you’re probably also wondering how you can tell a story about your recent magazine publication that your CEO would care about. Or you might be sitting there pondering how your organic social media activity can get the attention of your CMO.

Well, it’s not easy, but assuming you have a good relationship with a curious and capable data analyst, or you’re pretty handy yourself, it is possible to change the narrative. 

Altering leadership's perspective

Let’s take magazines. If you’re like any of the marketing managers I know, you’re probably getting pressure to move all of your communications to 'digital'. Many senior leaders see substantial print and postage expenses in the budget and have no data that expresses a direct return on the investment. All you’ve got to show is distribution, circulation and readership figures. This is great for commercial strategy and ad sales, but only helpful if your goal is revenue.

But what if you analysed your customer database to understand if there are any differences in customer lifetime value (LTV) between those that receive your magazine versus those who don’t? Maybe it’s not LTV and some other behaviour? Or could you commission some market research to understand the association between magazine readers and brand? We have recently conducted research across two client publishing projects that demonstrated a compelling relationship between subscribers, brand perception and NPS. We also work with another client that distributes publications via unaddressed mail and links this activity to incremental revenue via correlation analysis.  

"If your content marketing dashboard only highlights token metrics like reach, impressions and click-through rate, but doesn’t outline the business result... then it’s time to push a little harder."

What about social media? A huge amount of effort goes into creating regular content and staffing multiple channels to engage with or service a community. But CMOs tend to care more about paid social activity because it delivers familiar media metrics.

In a previous lifetime I worked with a brilliant analyst who shared the same passion for social networking as I did and was keen to help me promote the benefits of scaling our operation and investing in social media and social technology. Using the sentiment data from Radian 6 (now known as Salesforce Social Studio) – which is a net measurement of public posts from a scale of positive, negative or neutral – my colleague explored the relationship between brand and customer satisfaction metrics.

What he found was really interesting: social media sentiment was a lead indicator of customer satisfaction – which is a known lead indicator of customer loyalty, churn and gross revenue. All of a sudden social media and sentiment data wasn’t so trivial and the way the brand behaved across customer touchpoints – content and campaigns included – was thrown into the spotlight more than ever before.

In theory, we didn’t have to wait for quarterly customer satisfaction reports – we could use social media as a barometer to pulse check how the brand was tracking. Fast forward to today and this idea of social as an indicator of brand health is quite pervasive, with many social listening platforms developing their own indexes for anything from brand passion and brand engagement.

You could say this isn’t pure marketing, and not easily traced to the contribution of content per se, but if your organisation makes the customer experience, and social interactions, the responsibility of the marketing department and content team, this should resonate and help place real importance on how you engage in online conversations.

Maintaining leadership's buy-in over the long-term

There are also plenty of other ways you can connect your content operation to business outcomes. I like this short piece by Marketing Land that outlines a few other meaningful measures beyond sales, including customer experience, innovation, and operational efficiency.

I guess if there’s one takeaway from all of this it’s investing the time to find ways to take your content marketing data and connect it to metrics that are discussed around the boardroom table. If your content marketing dashboard only highlights what you did across a handful of channels with some token metrics like reach, impressions and click-through rate, but doesn’t outline the business result of the activity, or an interpretation of what it all means and why things happened, then it’s time to push a little harder and take things to the next level.

Easier said than done, I know. But if you keep it simple and aligned to your content strategy, you should be able to make some quick progress.

As always, if you have any thoughts, ideas or questions about this article, or you just want to talk strategy in general, drop me a line at My shout for coffee.

Kate Thompson is strategy director at Hardie Grant Media.

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