Ahead of Content Marketing World 2023 in September (which I'm speaking at) content experts were asked for their opinions on marketing analytics. In the blog post below, there are brilliant insights, so be sure to take note of their advice. My contribution was also included.
🔗 The original blog post published by the Content Marketing Institute on 2 August 2023 can be accessed here:
Overwhelmed by Marketing Analytics? This Advice Will Help Create a Workable Strategy
You can measure too much in content marketing.
The volume of metrics to be analyzed can confuse, frustrate, and overwhelm even the best practitioners.
Yet, the executive team wants to know the numbers. Well, really, they want you to prove the value of your content marketing.
Without a universal answer on how to do that, we asked the experts presenting at Content Marketing World what they suggest to improve your measurement strategy.
“Sometimes, it feels like riding a rolling coaster with one hand on the safety bar,” says Bernie Borges, vice president of content marketing at iQor.
Let’s start this ride that covers how to look at measurement differently, make it more holistic, benefit from the increasing role of AI, and implement a few specific changes.
Reassess the analytics that matter
Do you measure what you should? Often, it’s all about volume, impressions, and the categories that surface the bigger numbers. But the metrics that matter most often fall outside those popular parameters.
The future of marketing analytics is trust. As marketers, everything is about building trust in people, products, and institutions. Trust has shifted from established mainstays to individual influencers in the last decade. We must create ways to track, measure and report against trust. – Kristyn Wilson, executive vice president of digital PR and communication, Adept
Think what, not how
Conventional wisdom might say the how of marketing analytics is the big challenge. In other words, I might know what I want to measure, but how do I go about doing it? Instead, I think the bigger challenge is the what. You want to tie impact to business benefits, but many marketers are left asking what business benefits to use. – Dennis Shiao, founder, Attention Retention
Learn Google Analytics 4
We're all going to start using GA4, and it's going to be fine. Invest 40 hours of your time over several months into learning how to create all kinds of GA4 explorations. If you're the first on your team to do this, you'll be the most valuable member of your team in the years ahead. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios
Don’t just go where it counts
Marketers need to avoid the attribution trap. Paid social, paid search, display ads, and other short-term direct-response advertising are easy to track, while LinkedIn content, podcasts, public relations work, and other brand-focused communications are more difficult. Teams can fall into the attribution trap, where they only do what is easy to measure but underinvest in brand-building assets, such as top-of-funnel content. Analytics and ROI are important, but they can't be the whole story. – Jesse Harris, digital marketing coordinator, ACD/Labs
Do outcomes, not outputs
The greatest measurement downfall is relying on outputs instead of outcomes. Outputs are metrics such as impressions and reach, and using them to gauge success is antiquated. Instead, think of outcomes, such as how the content improved brand awareness, customer satisfaction, or sales.
Outcomes-based measurement involves introducing other forms of measurement, such as post-campaign surveys, covariance analysis, or linear regression. The future of marketing analytics will depend on understanding how different types of data and metrics relate to the content's performance. Leveraging more advanced analytics tied to the business objectives will ensure that impact is measured better than using outputs alone. – Darren Bosik, senior director, data science, APCO Worldwide
Output metrics such as impressions and reach to gauge success is antiquated, says Darren Bosik of @apcoworldwide via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld
Use metrics to drive your content marketing goals
By connecting your numbers to the bigger picture, you can better understand what content moves the business and what doesn’t. And that, after all, is what most executives want to know.
Document the goals
Measurement often goes astray when people don't have goals or KPIs in mind for specific promotions, content buckets, etc. If your blog strategy is to attract subscribers, make sure your measurement strategy matches every touchpoint that your visitors interact with – visits, engagement, email sign-ups, and then for the long term, eventual conversions and ROI on those email subscribers. Data is power, and you can tweak your strategy based on what's actually working – literal money in the bank. – Karen Hopper, senior director, performance marketing, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Build and use a dashboard
It may be painful, but it's absolutely vital for teams to bring data into more usable dashboards and centralized systems rather than manually pulling data from a variety of sources. Using tools like Google Data Studio and PowerBI, your team can create multiple reports for different stakeholders that showcase decision-making metrics with different levels of granularity. In the future, more of these tools will include AI and allow more natural language queries, but in the short term, getting your data houses in order is the only way you can prepare for the future. – Zontee Hou, director of strategy, Convince & Convert
Go beyond the numbers
Measurement efforts run amok when you're only looking at data. Yes, you read that right. Data is important, but data without context is just numbers.
OK, so your engagement was two times higher than last month, but what was last month's number? If last month you had two likes and this month you had four, it's still only four. Metrics and storytelling go hand in hand. What is the story of the customer journey that your metrics are trying to tell you? Are you listening/adjusting? Metrics also go astray when you're not doing a great job of using this data to communicate your team's values. If the CFO is saying social is only about sales, there's a disconnect. – Carmen Collins, head of social marketing, Intuit QuickBooks
#Measurement runs amok with just data. Without context, they’re just numbers, says @CShirkeyCollins via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld
Make it simple
Often, I see clients forgoing or getting really behind on performance measurement and ROI because they make it too (challenging) (detailed), (involved), (long), or (built-up). Rip off the bandage. Report easy-to-understand results early and often against pre-established, specific KPIs. Make sure every number and stat are translated into an elevator ride's storytelling soundbite. (“Hey boss, guess what? Our latest X outperformed our year-to-date average by Y%.”)
Most of your key stakeholders don't want to read a bajillion-page report. They want the highlights with the so what context laid out in easy, frequent, and bite-sized nuggets of success (or learnings.) Don't make it more complicated than that. – Jennifer Harmon, content strategist and creator, Convince & Convert
Never forget what the numbers really mean
For every number in your analytics, there is a person. Sometimes, wading through the calculations can leave content marketers thinking about the numbers, not the people who make up those numbers. That can’t happen in a sustainable content marketing strategy.
See the behavior
GA4 is leading the way in the future of data analytics. With its release, Google is signaling that marketers should focus more on behaviors and actions on their websites, not just visit volume. Analyzing the engagement rate of different pieces of content is one of the best ways to measure content performance. – Wendy Covey, co-founder and CEO, TREW Marketing
Assess the impact on people
People. Marketers forget to measure the impact of, and on, their people. When tracking the ROI and performance of content, businesses need to look at the impact that producing the content has on their people and because of them. Besides monetary budget (salaries, agency, and freelancers), content takes a wealth of knowledge, experience, and care to create. It takes a team who works well together with others to tell wonderful stories that create impact for your business.
A few people-focused metrics to look at with your content's impact include:
- Burnout: Are you producing more content than your audience needs? Focusing on quantity can cause your team to overwork and burn out. Doing more with less is not always better.
- Collaboration: Is your content produced in a silo or with a team of subject matter experts? Content is a team sport, but content by committee does no one any good. When looking at your content operations, look at the team's RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed). Do you have the right people contributing at the right stage? Do you have the right experts in the room? Are there multiple review cycles adding to the time to publish? You can streamline the ROI of your content by optimizing how and with whom the content is created.
- Professional growth: Have you ever watched a TV series that gets stale and overly predictable after the second season? Your content can be the same way. Look at the metrics of how your content team is developing at advancing their skillset. Are they learning new things? Focusing on the projects they love? As one of my team members recently said to me, I just can't write another e-book on [insert topic here]. – Amy Higgins, director, content strategy, Lyra Health
Evaluate the buyer’s journey
Measurement efforts go astray when they only measure content as individual pages and only by traffic and conversion. All content about a topic across the buyer/customer journey works together for a common goal. The future is negative for a while, but solutions will allow for page collections to have shared goals more effectively. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder and chief strategy officer, MarketMuse, Inc.
End the one-by-one success metrics
The parts that are easiest to measure are furthest from impact. It goes astray when you try to get a direct result for a single post or type of content. People don't work in the linear way you've been studying in slide decks for 25 years. Few can do real attribution modeling at a meaningful scale. – Adam Pierno, managing director of brand strategy, Arizona State University
People don’t work in the linear way you’ve been studying on slide decks for 25 years, says @apierno via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld
Develop a helpful attribution strategy
Given buyers rarely traverse a straight line, your content doesn’t either. That’s why your analytics strategy shouldn’t limit itself to a group of disconnected metrics.
Go for more than one touch
Measurement efforts don’t go well when content is only assessed in single-touch attribution models (first touch for lead generation, last touch for subscription, etc.). To truly measure content’s impact on business goals, it needs to be integrated into larger, multi-touch attribution models. It’s also important to understand the fractured, nonlinear paths users can take today.
Google Analytics 4 has made it easier to measure cross-device journeys, for instance, but analysts and content creators also need to keep in mind that their audiences could engage with the same piece of content at any different funnel stage, not just at the stage you hoped for. – Nicole Martin, managing director, Pace.
Pick content-relevant KPIs
There are a lot of challenges when it comes to measuring impact, but I'd say a top frustration is a lack of alignment when it comes to what KPIs you can measure through content and having this understanding from the top down.
Being able to hypothesize what you want to measure, similar to how product managers hypothesize the results of a UX change, can be a big step. For example, I want to understand how people are engaging with my content can come from time on page, conversion metrics, metrics segmented by audience/industry, etc. I want to understand how content contributes to marketing-driven revenue means that your content needs to be connected to a CRM that is built properly to connect opportunities to content interactions.
The future of marketing analytics is that they're just going to become more important as marketers fight for budget and head count, particularly as AI becomes the new shiny object to steal writers' jobs, which, if you're working for the right company, it won't. – Chloe Thompson, head of global content strategy and thought leadership, Reward Gateway
Think analytics when content planning
Marketers need to be developing their measurement plan alongside their content creation. In addition to overall campaign measurement, each piece of content needs to have specific goals that can be measured. (Otherwise, why are you creating it?) – Andi Robinson, content consultant, Hijinx Marketing
Stop the competition
It doesn’t work to focus solely on the competition and not the engagement and performance of target audiences. Teams get lost in vanity metrics, but just because sessions are up doesn't mean engagement is. The focus needs to be on quality and core business metrics of performance, including pipeline quality, loyalty, etc. – Jill Roberson, vice president, digital marketing, Velir
Measure sales content too
I believe many marketers overlook a crucial aspect when measuring content – not just evaluating the number of views but the impact of content being shared by others. I'm particularly focused on sales content shared by stakeholders outside of marketing. Sales content plays a vital role in the entire sales cycle, yet we often fail to grasp its significance in keeping buyers informed and engaged.
Therefore, you should consider not only the number of views but also the sender of the content. If a sales representative sends the content and it is being viewed, it indicates an engaged buyer progressing through your sales cycle. This engagement can be more valuable than a single person viewing the content at the top of the funnel who may only have awareness but no intention to purchase. – Randy Frisch, co-founder and chief brand officer, Uberflip
#Content viewed after a sales rep sends it indicates an engaged buyer. That’s more valuable than a person viewing it at the top of the funnel, says @randyfrisch via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld
AI tools play a role in analytics
No article on content marketing metrics would be complete without an assessment of the effect of AI tools on the process. AI’s impact will be felt in the analytics world, too.
Go beyond what you can see
The future of marketing analytics includes artificial intelligence. We have so much data, and we can use smarter technology to help us analyze data faster and surface trends a human eye may not have caught. – Cathy McPhillips, chief growth officer, Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute
Accurate data interpreted through AI tools
Generative AI will play a pivotal role in the future of marketing analytics. The tools’ ability to generate comprehensive reports based on the data, which is easily understandable by stakeholders and requires minimal time for marketing teams to produce, will shape the landscape.
However, it's crucial to recognize that the success or failure of these generated summarized reports heavily relies on the quality of the data put into the systems. Establishing a robust marketing analytics infrastructure becomes paramount. Remember, if your data is flawed or unreliable, any analysis derived from it will inevitably suffer the same fate. So, invest the necessary effort to ensure your data is accurate and of high quality to unlock the true potential of generative AI in marketing analytics. – Christopher Penn, chief data scientist, TrustInsights.ai
Get it all together
AI will help you aggregate your data in new ways so you can more easily see the big picture around content performance and discover even more actionable insights to better optimize existing content and create more effective new content. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester
Know the questions to ask
The proliferation of data coupled with quick advances in AI is providing fresh ways for marketers to access, analyze and gain even deeper insights from their marketing tech stack each day. For example, marketers can couple personalization and predictive analytics based on behavioral data with unstructured data from social media comments, customer reviews, or even call center transcripts to drive programmatic advertising or strategic planning.
The heavy lifting will be eased and accelerated with AI enabling marketers to think more strategically and act more proactively and quickly to drive desired outcomes. All we have to do is learn how to ask the right questions. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop x KMC
The heavy lifting of marketing #analytics will be eased and accelerated with #AI, says @KarenKMcFarlane via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld
Let AI solve the impact measurement dilemma
The future of marketing analytics is to fix this problem for content marketers. AI, particularly machine learning (a subset of AI), loves big data. I can see new tools being brought to market to aggregate data sets from a voice prompt that might say: “Please create a monthly content marketing report based on our business goals of increasing authority in our sector.” We live in exciting times. – Joanne Sweeney, CEO, Public Sector Marketing Institute
Heed this analytics advice
If you’re still overwhelmed by all the numbers and possibilities, consider this great counsel.
We can measure so much more than we ever could before, yet we're still on the search for the perfect, elegant, automated solution that will link a single piece of content to a purchase. In fact, you need to be considering how to measure your complex systems of marketing on purchase decisions, and you need to accept that the answer will continue to evolve. – Tiffany Grinstead, vice president, Nationwide
Don’t let measurement inhibit your marketing
Any good marketing organization should be constantly trying new things. If it does not work, you should try something else and move forward quickly. That is counter to what good KPIs and metrics would typically measure for the business because you want consistency and the ability to compare.
But for marketing to be most effective, you need to always try something new. That is how you stay ahead of the competition and drive change and deliver revenue for the business, which is usually what you are being asked to do. – Colleen Smith, senior vice president global marketing, Avid Technology Inc.
Build a better roller coaster
Unlike the previous generation of marketers, you have the power to prove value. With this guidance, you can build the tracks for a productive ride for all the stakeholders who are on the journey to assess marketing’s impact. Yes, you still will face twists and turns, hills and dips, but you’ll also know you’re on the right track.
MORE ADVICE FROM CMWORLD 2023 SPEAKERS:
- 23+ Content Marketing Skills You Need for Today and the Next Five Years
- The Future of Email Marketing: Insights From 23 Content Marketing Experts
- Update Your SEO Strategy for the AI Era With These 23 Expert Tips
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Marketers can access a volume of metrics so big it confuses, frustrates, and overwhelms even the best practitioners. How do you know what to count? Think about your executive team and follow the most relevant advice from these experts.
What metrics should you include in your marketing measurement strategy? Think about what your executive team wants, then pick the relevant expert advice.
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