A business always looks to measure the return on its investments. Otherwise, how would it know if it’s properly allocating its precious resources? How would it know if it’s succeeding, failing, or just treading water? Similarly, any firm that generates and publishes thought leadership content should ask itself how it will measure the return on that investment. This is a more difficult task than many other investments businesses make. It’s rarely as simple as spending X amount of time and money and then seeing how many widgets have been sold at what price and determining the return. However, many of our clients do measure their content marketing ROI, and no two do it the same way because their circumstances and objectives differ.
So let’s start with what companies are seeking to achieve by creating and publishing thought leadership content; that is, their objectives. These are the usual ones:
- To build reputation
- Position the firm as a leader
- Differentiate from competitors
- Establish credibility
- To drive new business
- Generate leads
- Educate and prequalify prospects
- Strengthen client relationships
Most companies that publish thought leadership are hoping to do both – burnish their reputation and develop new business. But sometimes a firm is trying to do one more than the other. Occasionally a client may care about one to the exclusion of the other.
Does that seem odd? Here are a couple of recent examples.
A life science services company ran a thought leadership campaign of about 20 articles mailed directly to 1,500 executives. The goal was to generate leads and the criteria the firm measured were:
- The number of client meetings generated
- The number of requests for proposal it received
- The total value of the proposal opportunities
- The total value of new business won
This campaign exceeded all its targets. New business it generated included a single deal of $2 million that was inspired by one of the articles.
A major technology firm created a new website to strengthen its reputation. It had no intention of generating leads from this initiative and it developed a sophisticated hierarchy of measures that doesn’t include any of those above. Instead, they have 22 measures organized into eight categories, including:
- Unique Visitors
- Time on site
- Page Views
- Return visitors
- Platform subscriptions
- Social media Followers
- Requests for quotes/comments
- Requests for speakers
- Reputation as measured by surveys
At the early stages they are monitoring the simpler measures under Popularity. As the site matures they will add the more sophisticated ones. It’s too early to say how this initiative is going, but another client which started a similar project three years ago has seen its website traffic rise fourfold over the period, from about 7,500 visitors a month to 30,000.
Many companies don’t specifically measure the ROI of their thought leadership. We know one that believes so strongly in the importance of reputation-building that the only question it asks itself is whether it’s spending enough on it.
But most firms should measure ROI. There is no single approach that suits every project or campaign. But if you start with what you are trying to achieve, you should be able to identify the metrics that can best tell you whether you are succeeding, failing, or just treading water. And isn’t that important to know?