How to measure effectiveness in B2B content marketing

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An old saw from the construction trades—literally involving a saw—says to measure twice and cut once. Something similar yet different seems applicable to B2B content marketing. Except that in this case B2B content marketers must measure all the time and cut all the time. However, B2B campaigns measure after finishing the work. Then reworks the final product. That might involve a saw or perhaps an ax.

According to two prior recaps from the July Content Marketing Summit at LinkedIn, presented by Ragan Communications and PRSA, the tool chest of content marketing includes brand journalism and visual marketing. But without knowing the effectiveness of those tools, what’s the point? Or as Brian Solis posited, “If an infographic is published and no one shares it, did it even exist?”

To answer these questions, the penultimate session at the summit addressed various aspects of how to measure effectiveness of B2B content marketing.

When a turkey is not a turkey
First on stage came Jason Miller, senior content marketing manager at host LinkedIn. The first thing that comes across about Miller is his manic energy and great enthusiasm for his vocation—and heavy metal attitude. Apropos, many analogies from Miller’s presentation came via allusions to the rock band KISS. For example, Peter Criss, drums, is SEO; Paul Stanley, rhythm guitar/vocals, is social media; Gene Simmons, bass, is content; and Ace Frehley, lead guitarist, is demand generation. “The four unique band members work together to deliver an amazing product,” Miller said.

A content marketing-KISS slide from Jason Miller's presentation
A content marketing-KISS slide from Jason Miller’s presentation

In an approach Miller calls “turkey slices,” one piece of content is used many times in an ungated format (i.e., no customer info required) such as podcasts, blog posts, slideshares, webinars and infographics to drive B2B customers to the gated content—the “big rock” in Miller’s parlance. “Email, blog, et cetera—use all your channels to launch your (gated) content,” Miller said.

As a long form example, Miller referred to The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn campaign, of which the centerpiece was the eponymous gated content (i.e., big rock) throughout his presentation. When this campaign was launched, LinkedIn came out firing all guns a blazing. “We were driving a tremendous amount of content in the first 30 days,” Miller said.

The result: the generated leads in the first 30 days came from: 34 percent email, 32 percent blog posts, 15 percent InMail, 9 percent direct/SEO, 6 percent other, 4  percent display ads. After 90 days, all the organic methods of marketing were exhausted, and most leads now came from native advertising, according to Miller.

Overall, 18,000 percent ROI for this content marketing campaign. The takeaway: if you can create face melting (i.e., mind blowing) content and serve it in small snackable bits (i.e., turkey slices) over time you can achieve big content marketing metrics, according to Miller.

Measuring the correct content stats
The second presenter, Louis Gray, Google program manager for Google Analytics, showed a lot more composure and sedately ran through his slides but with an earnestness that belied his laidback manner.

He focused on getting the right metrics and valuing the best B2B customers across their entire journey showing the incremental effect of marketing investment on the way. “Don’t confuse results with effort,” Gray said. “Are you measuring the right things?”

By finding the right metrics, B2B marketers can measure customer attribution and give credit where the credit belongs for lead conversion, according to Gray. For example, in a multi-touch customer journey, display, email, social and organic could all play a role in lead conversion. But it’s more than what produced the last click to convert the lead; it’s a process, according to Gray.

Marketing has always been seen as a cost center, Gray said. However, with Google Analytics and Salesforce, Gray was able to show that the more money you spend on marketing the more revenue you can get. “Revenue solves all problems,” Gray said. “Make sure your activity is driving leads. Don’t get distracted by ‘likes’ and ‘favorites.’”

To do this B2B marketers must have relevant metrics defined before campaign spend begins. “Do the tools allow you to track your activity for leads?” Gray asked. The data measured helps drive the next decision, according to Gray. As content marketing data is gathered and analyzed, results can be proven. This information can be fed back into content marketing to tweak it to better align with B2B goals, according to Gray’s presentation.

“Bouncing (lead gen) stats don’t show what the trend is,” Gray said. “Content marketing can feed a steady trend up, moving away from chasing spikes. The data—and your users—give you the next move.”

To conclude, Gray gave the audience three takeaways/tips:

  1. The world is noisy. Break through with unique and valuable content customers will seek
  2. Find the value of a customer and let content drive them to your goals (e.g., maybe five leads is good, maybe 500 leads is more like it, Gray says)
  3. Good data leads to more budget. Prove value, and your CxO will support your initiatives in a virtuous cycle

Strategies for winning with numbers
To conclude this section of the summit, a second LinkedIn staffer, John Phillip Loof of product management, took the floor. Currently looking after the SlideShare solution, Loof originally came from investment banking to LinkedIn to work on the initial public offering. So he says he takes a more analytical approach to content marketing than most B2B practitioners. “Technical people can speak to numbers,” Loof said. “Others need help.”

Numbers are less about qualifying or quantifying data and more about picking apart the nuances of the information, according to Loof. For example, Loof referred to his own situation with the SlideShare acquisition by LinkedIn. “What does the acquisition need to do to prove success?” Loof asked. “How can we make that case?”

Correspondingly, there are four key stages to winning with metrics in B2B: definition, evaluation, celebration, leverage.

Definition: In a marketing communications campaign, the objective can be more about marketing your brand or company than establishing thought leadership or driving sales prospects, according to Loof. In any event, B2B marketers need to emphasize one of these buckets. “You won’t win in all three buckets,” Loof said. “Maybe you can win in two buckets.”

The point of the campaign may not be to drive leads or views. “It could be about finding related audiences,” Loof said. Whatever the goal, B2B marketers must define it ahead of the campaign. You must know what success looks like.

Evaluation: In the evaluation stage, B2B marketing needs to be judged on a sliding scale. For example, in different markets, the mix of access devices could change, according to Loof. “Why would you evaluate desktop, tablet and mobile metrics the same?” Loof asked. And B2B marketers need to be aware of the business culture where their campaigns run. For example, the B2B culture in Denmark is very outgoing compared to elsewhere, and people are much more likely to share content, according to Loof. “So have a position on how you measure impact across different regions,” he said.

That’s because if you don’t screen out mobile phone views, it can skew metrics for signups, according to Loof. Bottom line: be cognizant of geographical and cultural differences when considering metrics.

Celebration: Content marketing employees generally celebrate the launch of content campaigns. If the B2B leaders of content teams don’t come from a creative background, they need to learn to be excited about their team’s successes, according to Loof. “Learn the team’s culture,” he added.

Leaders must embrace success and share wins with the team,  Loof said. “(Then) invest in training and technology to make analysis easier,” he said. “In more finance and analytical roles, they have better macros or other tools that make their jobs easier. Not so many quantifying tools in content.”

Leverage: In content marketing, it is all about adding value, Loof said. “Ask yourself (about this) and revisit the metrics you use.” The metrics you use in content marketing could follow a 70-20-10 breakdown. 70 percent of metrics can be used to drive fundamental decisions (e.g., how many blogs or videos to produce). “These are your bread and butter,” Loof said.

Twenty percent of metrics can be for market expansion and customer retention. The remaining 10 percent is for growth. “(Here) intuition and creativity drive change and innovation,” Loof said. “Are you developing emotional attachment from your audience (for your brand)? If there is growth but no (connection) to your product, it can be massively destructive and not worth doing.”

Under this scenario, it’s OK to not have defined growth targets, according to Loof. “Don’t be a slave to the data or risk going extinct,” he said. If you wait to have perfect data, you could miss market opportunities. Or as Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first iteration of your product, you launched too slowly.” So go beyond the numbers to keep growing, Loof closed.

Flickr photo via user PersonalCreations.com

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).