By Taylor Radey published March 4, 2014

Prove Content Marketing ROI with a Performance Scorecard

clipboard-key metrics chartsROI. It’s the elephant in the room.

In spite of burgeoning internal support and increasing budget, the truth is many content teams still struggle with justifying spend through content marketing ROI, and performance is suffering as a result. 

Want proof? In December, my company released The 2014 Marketing Score Report, which compiled the results of more than 300 assessments taken by marketers, executives, and entrepreneurs. According to our data, respondents’ highest priority goals are focused on the bottom line: generating leads (86 percent) and converting leads into sales (85 percent).

However, when asked to rank overall marketing performance, scores on factors critical to leads and sales were weak. For example, on a scale from one to 10, lead volume scored an average of 3.7; lead quality, 3.1; and lead-to-sale conversion rate, 3.9.

Unfortunately, content marketing was the lowest rated among the Marketing Score’s 10 sections, with an average section score of 25 percent. Of more than 130 factors ranked, six out of the 10 lowest ranked fall under content marketing.

factor-ratings

Marketers have more tools and technology at their disposal than ever before, and digital has paved the way for measurable marketing. In spite of this, it seems that content marketers may be failing to connect their activities to desired outcomes — even if those activities actually are achieving these positive benefits.

Why? It’s because many haven’t even taken the first step. In today’s marketing landscape, creating a performance dashboard, or scorecard, is essential to aligning expectations and delivering a successful, bottom-line-focused content marketing strategy.

Your marketing performance scorecard will drive important internal conversations, including:

  • Defining your marketing objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), and goals
  • Developing an internal process for updating and reporting results
  • Analyzing performance to turn data into intelligence — and intelligence into action.

Let’s walk through the process of building this scorecard using “Social Business Unlimited” (SBU) — a hypothetical B2B company — as an example.

1. Define your objective

The single most important part of an internal goal-setting conversation is to decide on your organization’s primary objective. In general, your choices are:

  • Brand: Increase brand awareness and reach.
  • Leads: Generate and qualify sales leads.
  • Sales: Align marketing and sales to close business.
  • Loyalty: Build customer loyalty to increase recurring revenue.

While all stages of the sales process are important, choosing one as paramount will coordinate business functions and bring clarity to your content marketing strategy.

Social Business Unlimited’s sales team has a high close rate, but it needs a boost in leads to meet 2014 revenue goals. SBU’s website receives consistently high traffic, but offers few opportunities for site visitors to become leads. Creating content that supports lead generation will be marketing’s primary focus this quarter.

2. Pick the right KPIs

Once you have your objective, you need to choose the appropriate KPIs — that is, ones that suit your business objective and the specifics of your content marketing campaign. Content marketing KPIs could include:

Objective: Building your brand:

  • Website visits
  • Referring traffic
  • Social reach
  • Mobile readership
  • Time on site/ time per page
  • Pageviews
  • Video views
  • Ungated content downloads
  • Blog subscribers
  • Email newsletter subscribers
  • Inbound links
  • Blog comments

Objective: Generating leads:

  • Gated content downloads
  • Event attendees
  • Webinar registrations
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs)
  • Conversion rate
  • Average lead quality score

Objective: Converting leads into sales: 

  • New customers
  • Top-converting pages
  • Conversion rate
  • Content asset ROI
  • Cost of customer acquisition (COCA)

Objective: Increasing loyalty:

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Product/service upsells
  • Social sharing
  • Newsletter subscribers
  • Email forwards

SBU is going to focus on content downloads, marketing qualified leads, and sales qualified leads as primary KPIs for its lead generation campaign.

3. Align your marketing efforts

Now it’s time to build a strategy, including content to support campaign goals and analytics to track performance. As Paul Roetzer discussed in his recent CMI post, you need to assess the following areas in order to forecast potential and align expectations:

  • Foundation: What is the overall strength of your assets, technology, and processes?
  • Platform: How extensive is your current reach and influence among key audiences?
  • Expectations: Do business goals align with available talent, technologies and resources? Are expectations for growth realistic?
  • Potential: What is the potential for success based on your program’s current state and the effort required to improve weaknesses?

In order to generate leads, SBU will need to create a gated content asset, so marketing decides to create an eBook complete with a landing page, web form, and calls-to-action (CTAs) placed throughout the website.

SBU has a flexible content management system that allows marketing to add CTAs to the website itself, but it doesn’t have the technology to create landing pages and web forms on the fly, so the marketing team will need to enlist the help of IT. SBU’s strong brand presence and optimized website means it should receive enough website traffic to generate needed leads.

4. Build your scorecard and benchmark performance 

Now it’s time to build out a scorecard with supporting KPIs and benchmark current marketing performance. Using available analytical tools, document monthly metrics, filling in historical data if possible. Make note of any business seasonality, holidays, or other outliers that might impact marketing data.

For example, SBU was able to record its performance for the past 6 months:

CMI_SBU-Scorecard

Set up a process internally to support the monthly maintenance of the scorecard, as well as processes for reporting and sharing data.

5. Set realistic goals

Using benchmark data, available industry metrics, and your organizational assessment, set realistic goals for what you can achieve. SBU could do this one of two ways:

  • Work forwards: Calculate the average monthly percentage growth over the past six months, and use that trajectory to set monthly metric goals for the next quarter. Evaluate each metric individually to account for the strengths and weaknesses of your current marketing program, and reevaluate goals quarterly based on performance.
  • Work backwards: If you have access to sales data and a marketing service level agreement (SLA), use sales revenue targets and work backward to the sales qualified leads, marketing qualified leads, content downloads and visitors necessary to achieve business goals. This approach requires closed-loop tracking capabilities and transparency across all functions of the marketing and sales process.

Because the marketing team has access to customer relationship management (CRM) data, SBU will choose to “work backwards” towards setting its goals:

  • New monthly revenue target: $25,000
  • Percent of new revenue needed from the content campaign: 75 percent, or $18,750
  • Average revenue per client: $10,000
  • Monthly new client rate: 1.9
  • Lead-to-customer rate: 1.5 percent
  • Monthly MQLs needed: 125

(Tip: HubSpot has an easy-to-use tool to help you calculate this.)

Now the SBU marketing team knows to aim for 125 content downloads this month, and it can use the popularity of existing gated content to estimate the needed downloads for its new eBook campaign. The team could also leverage the eBook in an email marketing campaign to further qualify existing leads and potentially pass contacts on to sales.

6. Monitor performance and maximize impact

As you track monthly data, it is essential that you assess performance regularly and make adjustments across the funnel to improve. For example:

  • If visits are low, you need to focus on optimizing your website, frequently publishing ungated content (such as blog posts), and guest blogging to increase your brand reach.
  • If pageviews and time on site are low, make sure your content is informative, engaging, built around your buyer personas, and directs visitors to the next action you want them to take.
  • If you need to increase MQLs, increase gated content, add more CTAs to your gated content, and think about shortening lead forms to increase submissions.
  • If you need to increase SQLs, activate new lead nurturing programs and reevaluate lead scoring criteria.

By holding your team accountable to measurable business goals, you’ll find your content marketing strategy immediately becomes more focused, and your impact more tangible.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Taylor Radey

Taylor Radey is a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency specializing in analytics, automation, content, email, public relations, search, social, strategy and web. Follow Taylor on Twitter and read more of her posts on the PR 20/20 blog.

Other posts by Taylor Radey

  • http://hashimwarren.com/ Hashim Warren

    Taylor, the scorecard looks like it’s for the website as a whole. Do you suggest scoring down to the piece f content level, or is that mistaking the forest for the trees?

  • http://www.spinsucks.com/ Clay Morgan

    I think one of the challenges companies (and marketing professionals) have is making that measurement leap. The low hanging fruit – Facebook likes, Twitter followers, how many people visited that particular article – those are easy to measure. The challenge is how to accurately determine how many of those readers are actual leads and by extension how much revenue that content marketing program actually brought in the door for the company.

    Very good job here of connecting the dots here.

    • http://twitter.com/taylorlauren Taylor Radey

      Completely agree. Taking a “full funnel” look at marketing and measurement is more challenging, but it is immensely valuable—and arguably, essential for modern marketers to learn. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Sam Sinton

    Thanks for the amazing article – possibly one of the most useful / actionable articles I have read on the CMI website.

    I find defining objectives hard enough, but accurately analyzing performance is a nightmare – I will definitely be referring to this article again!

    • http://twitter.com/taylorlauren Taylor Radey

      Thanks Sam! Glad you found it helpful :)

  • Mike

    Great post. I find myself suggesting to clients that they need to focus on content marketing but without some way to measure results, folks are inherently reluctant to spend. This provides a good framework to build on. Thanks!

  • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

    My fave article read in I don’t know how long! I suspect most marketers do some pieces of this already, (well, one would hope) while being vague in other areas. This article succinctly defines each element in a way that makes so much sense as a process and a way of guiding the management KPI discussion that I sense I’ll be quoting and stealing from this article for many years to come… ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/taylorlauren Taylor Radey

      Ha, glad to hear it!

  • http://freelancer-plus.tumblr.com/ Zebedeerox

    Wow, I’ve just had a complaint. And I have to agree.

    As much as I think the content on CMI has merit, I can no longer endorse it.

    Would you send your followers to a page knowing that they were going to get hit with a squeeze page before they’d read word one of the content you were endorsing with that share?

    If you’re offering a whitepaper to download, there’s an argument for lead capture. But not a blog post.

    Sorry, CMI, but I’ll no longer be fetching your content into my ezine.

    I know that probably won’t perturb you, given that you’ve 70k subscribers. But for the solopreneur, subscribers can be difficult enough to retain without a third party rocking the boat. Thanks.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Are you talking about the pop-up that sometimes appears that asks someone to download our eBook on how to document a content marketing strategy and sign up for our newsletter? I don’t know of any squeeze pages that we have for blog posts.

      As much as we don’t like pop-ups, the sign ups we get from that work well — and email subscribers are key to our business model. The pop up only appears once every 90 days per device as we don’t want it to be too intrusive. And, it’s easy to simply close the box. We never require registration to view a blog post.

      We truly do care about the experience our readers have on our site, and we’re always looking for ideas on how to improve.

      • http://freelancer-plus.tumblr.com/ Zebedeerox

        Hi, Michele Linn – yeah, it’s the pop-up, lead capture, however you want to address it that caused my reader the problem.

        I’m afraid the users on G+ are getting a little sensitive to these following an extremely lively debate we had going about the amount QuickSprout uses.

        I’m sure they fit Neil Patel’s business model, too. But when people are directed to an article, they need to be able to read it first before reasoning whether or not they want to receive updates of more of the same, don’t you think?

        Sign-ups who’ve not read word one of your content are less likely to convert and perhaps make a mockery of your true subscriber figure. That’s like saying “Everyone who took a leaflet from our promo display board is going to buy a bathroom – yay, let’s rejoice!”. It’s just not so.

        • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

          I think you have a great point. We have run tests to see how the timing of the pop up affects sign ups, and we are using the timing that gives us the best results (which is 15 seconds right now). It’s really easy to close a pop up — and ours will only come up about 4 times per year (unless you are cleaning out your cookies).

          But, I completely understand what you are saying, and it’s something that we are continually talking about as a team to make sure we balance user experience and business goals. Really appreciate your perspective!

  • http://www.clarityqst.com/ Chris Slocumb

    Marketing teams need to do a better job showing how content supports all marketing channels. For example, how content pieces support organic ranking, social media and e-mail nurture efforts. Trying to prove ROI on “content marketing” seems like a silly exercise to me in this era of integrated marketing.

    • http://twitter.com/taylorlauren Taylor Radey

      Chris, I agree that it’s important to recognize (and measure) all interconnected activities within a marketing program. At PR 20/20, we expand the scorecard shown above to track metrics across search, social, blogging, email, etc.—all of which are, to your point, supported by content.

      For individuals or teams charged with running content marketing campaigns, they should be able to isolate the factors that will indicate success. Bottom line is, it’s critical for ALL marketing functions to a) tie activities to outcomes and b) constantly realign efforts in support of broader business goals.

  • http://mcgallen.com seamus

    Easy to understand scorecard model! Thanks for this article.