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Content Marketing Guru Michael Brenner On How To Measure Content

Michael Brenner

Today, more than ever, marketing teams are being held accountable for delivering business results.

Continuing our Measurements that Matter series, we recently chatted with Michael Brenner, a best-selling author, keynote speaker and CEO of Marketing Insider Group, to discuss why and how to measure the impact of content marketing.

Last month, we spoke with Katie Paine about what are the important measurements in PR. With our first few interviews underway, we’ve already noticed a common theme – in order to show value, what you measure must be tied to the business objectives. And we’re seeing an overlap in recommended measurement tools!

Arketi Group: From your perspective, why does measurement matter in content marketing?

Michael Brenner: Marketing is under tremendous pressure to deliver value to the C-suite and to fellow executives in sales, finance and everything else. I started my career in sales, and have always believed marketing should be able to demonstrate and measure the results of our activities.

While I appreciate the creative geniuses that develop and design logos and pick color schemes and fonts, I've always questioned the idea that marketing is an artistic endeavor that should be excused from providing business results.

I found my way into content marketing – I worked my way from sales into product marketing and then into field marketing and demand generation, digital marketing, and content marketing. I took that journey because I believe that in the digital world we live in, content marketing is the most effective way to measure marketing results.

Measurement matters in content marketing because it matters for marketing overall. Marketing is part of business enterprises, and we need to measure the value of our results. So I reject the notion that marketing needn’t demonstrate results, and I think content marketing is the best way to do that. 

What are the top three things we should be measuring in content marketing?

Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends." That’s because it's important that every marketing activity start from a business objective – the metrics or measurements you should be looking at then flow from that. Even at the awareness level, at the top of the funnel, I believe there's a way to quantify these efforts.

Marketing programs can have four different types of objective. First, reach or awareness. Second is engagement. The third is classic B2B conversion for revenue. And the fourth, which is all too often forgotten, is retention.

Any marketing program should be tied to one of these primary objectives, with a metric that measures to it. For example, I often say reach is basically traffic, and traffic doesn't have any value. However, traffic can have value if you're getting it organically versus paying for it. Content marketing offers the opportunity to attract an audience versus buying it, so you can take the value of the traffic that you're getting relative to what you would have paid to collect it.

The second objective, engagement is often measured by looking at the time spent on the website and social shares, along with other vanity metrics that executives don't really care about. A measure of engagement that I prefer is the ability of content to gain subscribers.

Subscribers are clearly and deeply engaged with your content – you know that because they're inviting you into their inbox. So subscribers are a measure of the value of the content, and more importantly, subscribers – email addresses, essentially – have value. A simple way to calculate subscriber value is to determine how much revenue you’ve ever gained from your email database; divide that by the number of people in the database, you get the value per subscriber.

For conversion, a simple measure is leads – the classic demand generation funnel metric we're all familiar with. That's pretty simple. If you get leads and multiply your average conversion rate by your average selling price, you can get a value for leads. Most marketers are familiar with that math.

Retention is the lost art of marketing, yet it’s where I see the most value. This is because you’re able to measure the upsell, cross-sell and loyalty, or the amount of loyalty you’re getting from existing customers that engage with content. For example, I’ve seen results where customers who engaged with content were two-to-three times more likely to remain as customers.

Those are four business objectives with specific measures of value for each.

If you could narrow down these four to one, what do you feel is the most important? What is the one thing that you absolutely have to measure?

I love that question! And to me the answer is extremely clear: subscribers.

Subscribers are a measure of reach, engagement, conversion, and retention. Once you have an email address, you can cross-reference it with your customer database and figure out, did these subscribers spend more and stay longer? So subscribers are really the key.

Subscribers are not just a measurement of the value of your content – what content marketing teams should use to optimize against – but subscribers have value. Meaning you can quantify, measure and report on the value of the subscribers that you add. So that would be the one metric I would recommend above all others. 

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What are the red herrings in content marketing measurements – the metrics that give marketers false hope?

The first red herring is the belief that marketing should be activity-driven, not measurement-driven. Marketers need to have business conversations with executive teams to show the business results of their efforts.

The second is you should never show an executive vanity metrics. There are good reasons to measure impressions and shares and all kinds of stuff that you might use to optimize your content marketing program, but you shouldn't show them to executives. Because executives don't care – they expect you to be constantly improving and optimizing your program, and that’s all those metrics show.

Instead, you should show executives the revenue you generated and the cost it took to generate it. Those are essentially the two components of ROI.

What are the most cost-effective measurements in content marketing?

The most cost-effective measurement again comes down to subscribers.

A practical example: I use MailChimp on my own site. I'm not an affiliate and I don't get paid for mentioning them, and there are other tools out there that do the same, which can be added to any blog, WordPress or other CMS, that automatically emails subscribers new content as you publish it.

I would say to anyone if you don’t have an email-subscription-based content marketing program, there's no excuse. You can ask your web team to add a free piece of technology that automatically manages the delivery of an email newsletter to subscribers that are interested – without spending any money – and it completely automates the process. So there's no excuse for not focusing on that key metric of subscribers.

“The only way to turn the perception around that marketing doesn’t drive value is to start having business conversations with business people about the value marketing brings.”

Michael Brenner, author and CEO of Marketing Insiders Group

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What tools do you recommend for measuring content marketing, and why do you recommend them?

There are literally hundreds of companies now in this space of marketing, content and marketing analytics. But I do think there are a few core foundational components that every platform should have. It's not news to anyone, just simple web analytics tools.

I use Google Analytics. At SAP, we used Adobe's Omniture (now a part of Adobe Marketing Cloud). There are pros and cons: web analytics can tell you what traffic you're getting, which pages of your website are getting traffic, and the sources of that traffic over time. But there is an important piece missing from web analytics, and that's metadata. What I mean by that is, Google Analytics and Omniture can’t identify the author of a web page if it's a blog post or an article; they don’t know the publish date, the category or the tags that you might have published, or even the format.

Another tool we used at SAP – again I'm not affiliated with any vendors or technology companies – was SimpleReach. We used it to identify our top authors, and published a leaderboard every week: we sent out the top five posts of the week and our top five authors. It was fascinating how it gamified the very democratic publishing process we had and helped us get new contributors. People wanted to jump to be part of the game and to be on the leaderboard. It was pretty cool.

The third tool is the email automation that we talked about. For instance, HubSpot, GetResponse, or Marketo if you're in the enterprise space – all of those tools are effective at managing email.

The fourth piece I would add is a CRM system. It can be pretty simple, but should include some key components. It should measure the objective of any marketing programs, the budget associated with the program, and include some measurement of results. That’s really the only way to get to an ROI measurement – you have to have the objective, the budget, and the measure of success. That's something that you should have in SalesForce or whatever CRM system you’re using.

Those are the four tools I would recommend. Just about every company that I've ever talked to already had the pieces in place – sometimes they just needed to be connected.

Whenever I speak to marketers I always tell them: just commit to measuring the results of marketing activities. I think marketing has a marketing problem – because most people who aren't in marketing think marketing is just advertising and promotions. They think it's some artistic endeavor that agencies do, and it doesn't drive value.

The only way to turn around the perception that marketing doesn’t drive value is to start having business conversations with business people about the value marketing brings.

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