By Joe Pulizzi published June 1, 2013

Measuring the Impact of Your Content Marketing Strategy: The Pyramid Approach

measuring content marketing successA year from now, what’s different?

When I used to sell custom publishing services for large B2B brands, I always asked the above question before signing a contract, because the answer was the most critical element of the final agreement. The client’s response revealed everything about how they intended to measure the content project we were about to create for them.

That’s the exact question I want you to ask yourself when you think of content marketing measurement.

And whatever your answer may be, before you start on that path, keep this message from CMI lead consultant Michael Weiss in mind:

There is no magic silver bullet. Remember, this is marketing and it is organic — it takes time. Traditional advertising is very hard to measure. Content marketing is totally measurable, but it takes time to get real data. Unless you are willing to launch a program for at least 6 months, there is no reason to do anything. You need time to gather data!

Patience is key. Jodi Navta, VP of Marketing and Communications for Coyote Logistics, puts it simply: “If your timetable isn’t at least 6 months (and that’s even a stretch), just go about and buy paid media.”

Remember, once you start a content marketing strategy or program, you’ll never stop. Content is a promise to your customers — make sure you don’t break it!

What the C-level wants to know about content marketing

Never show an analytics report to your CXO (In this case, CXO refers to the senior executive in charge. This could be the CEO, COO, CMO, etc.). They don’t care about all the details, and will likely end up asking questions that will simply waste your time. When it comes to your content marketing measurement and ROI, your CXO only cares about three things:

  • Is the content driving sales?
  • Is the content saving costs?
  • Is the content making our customers happier, thus helping with retention?

If the reports you show the CXO aren’t answering these types of questions, why show them anything at all? Content marketing is all about developing content that maintains or changes a behavior. That’s your focus.

Return on objective

Sales lift, impact, and retention are just a few of the key measurements for any return-on-objective (ROO) program. (Note: I like to use ROO instead of ROI [return on investment] because it focuses content marketers on the real objectives.) Sometimes ROO can be determined with one metric, while other times four or five are needed to show an impact on your organization’s business goals.

ROO measurements come in all shapes and sizes, and usually include multiple items to give you the complete answer to your question. The important aspect to remember is you aren’t measuring just for the sake of measurement. The tools and tactics below are used to directly determine what a project’s objectives should be. If you keep that in mind, you’ll get your ROO.

Here are a few measurement initiatives to get you started:

  • Tracking sales lift of those who receive the content program vs. those who do not (my favorite)
  • Tracking conversions for online content products or email subscriptions and measuring new or increased sales from that group
  • Online readership studies to determine the impact of the content project, as well as the acquisition of customer informational needs and trends (e.g., are readers making the desired behaviors?)
  • Measuring engagement (time spent) through online research or by using analytic measures on eNewsletter or web portal products
  • Pre-/post-awareness studies to measure the overall impact of the program

The Content Marketing Pyramid

Robert Rose and I have been working on a “Content Marketing Pyramid” for measurement for quite some time (and detail it in our book, “Managing Content Marketing“). In short, our pyramid includes three separate sections:

  • Primary content indicators: Primary indicators are the types of measurements that your CXO wants to know about (e.g., sales, costs savings, retention rates).
  • Secondary content indicators: Secondary indicators are the types of measurements that help make the case for primary indicators (e.g., lead quality, lead quantity, shorter sales cycles).
  • User indicators: These are the types of measurements that the content “doers” need to look at to help drive the secondary indicators (e.g., web traffic, “likes,” page views, search rankings).

It may be easier to create an analytics pyramid for each of the goals you are trying to achieve. Everything you measure needs to start with an objective, such as:

  • Build brand awareness or reinforcement
  • Create more effective lead conversion and nurturing
  • Increase customer conversion
  • Customer upsell or cross-sell
  • Create subscribers to our content

So let’s say you’re putting together an initiative to generate more leads for your company. Here is how your pyramid might look:

pyramid approach Step 1: Segment your pyramid: Segment your pyramid into three divided lines. The bottom, widest part of the pyramid is where your user indicators belong. These are audience-based metrics that are meant to measure activity. You will slice, dice, add, subtract, and change these metrics on a frequent basis.

Your secondary indicators should be located on the second level of the pyramid. These will be metrics that you associate with team members, as well as specific processes that help you reach your goals. These are generally what we think of as “short-term goals.”

At the top of the pyramid are your primary indicators — or key performance indicators (KPIs) — of your goal. These metrics will be very few in number and will comprise the dashboard that you present to your manager or CXO. These metrics rarely change, if ever, and are fed by the insights, interpretations, and data gathered from your lower-pyramid measurements (as well as from any gut feelings you have). The goals themselves are what you should be reporting and nothing more.

Step 2: Map the segments: In this example, the goal is to “increase the number of converted leads by 10 percent without raising costs,” and you’ve created a new instructional blog to help you accomplish this goal.

There are a few ways you can get to that number. You can either improve the conversion rate of the existing number of leads by 10 percent, or you can increase the actual number of leads by a percentage so that the number of converted leads naturally goes up by 10 percent.

So to build your primary indicators, you’ll only want a handful of numbers in that top dashboard, such as:

  • Number of converted leads by week/month/quarter
  • Total cost per converted lead by week/month/quarter

Those two numbers are the only KPIs (for that particular goal) that will matter to your CXO.

For your secondary indicators, you may want to monitor a number of metrics; these will give you great insights and help your team improve the process in order to reach your goals. Examples include:

  • Email list subscribers vs. goal
  • Total number of leads by week/month/quarter
  • Incremental leads from the new blog
  • Lead source (e.g., organic search, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Lastly, you have your user indicators at the bottom. These are the day-to-day metrics that will help you understand and get the insight you need to improve the processes related to your secondary indicators — i.e., the ones you will want to show the ongoing content creators within your organization. Examples include:

  • Number of visitors to the blog
  • New visitors vs. returning visitors
  • Page views on the blog
  • Number of blog comments
  • Blog subscriptions
  • Conversion rate from subscribers to leads
  • Number of shares through social media (most shared posts)
  • SEO metrics for keywords
  • Twitter followers
  • Facebook likes
  • Social media reports (both internal and external)
  • Blog comments and responses (qualitative)
  • Most popular blog content/category
  • Persona measurement (i.e., showing if you are attracting your targeted personas)

The purpose of these metrics is to help improve your process. If you find that you’re putting a lot of time into Facebook but are not getting any visitors or subscribers out of it, you can alter your strategy and experiment with other social networks.

Bringing the levels of the pyramid together

If you spend the time to do this the right way, you will have a lot of tools to answer some extraordinarily complex questions about your content marketing, as well as your overall marketing strategy. You may find some interesting things, for example:

  • Social media channels are producing the most qualified leads
  • Email subscribers stay longer as customers than non-subscribers
  • You’re attracting way more of “Danny” (i.e., Persona One), but “Suzie” (Persona Two) makes up a much higher percentage of your qualified leads.

And this is where you’ll earn your keep. Once you can show certain trends with your content, then you can start to do more of what’s working and less of what’s not.

Portions of this post were taken from “Managing Content Marketing,” a CMI book written by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

Join Over 200,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • Chris

    Very interesting! Keep writing your articles.

  • dougkessler

    Wow. Love this. A great way to think about (and track) content marketing metrics.

  • Steve Gershik

    I’ve printed this out and keep it by my desk now, Joe. The only part about it that troubled me was the premise of the example. It always worries me when people use the phrase “… without cost” in a marketing goal.

    There’s always a cost. It may not be a hit to the expense budget, but there’s always something else you could be doing, always someone you could be hiring, always something else to pay attention to as well. And that represents a cost.

    But, wow. I really like this idea.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Steve…you are correct…I probably should have given more detail there. Nothing is ever free. There are always costs. Maybe saying something like “with current resources” would have been better.

  • Will Mitchell

    Awesome graphic, saved for future reference! Thanks for the great info.

  • Cameron Upshall

    Joe this is Awesome.You could almost flip the pyramid upside down and make it a ROI funnel. I do love my funnels. All things being equal, stronger user indicators, should lead to better secondary indicators, which should increase the primary indicators. Great Stuff, might add this idea to my next ROI presentation.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love it Cameron. Thanks!

  • Phillip Crum

    Good stuff, Joe. It’s a pleasure to read an article that has obviously been well thought through and is organized in such an orderly fashion. I’m looking forward to Cleveland in September and hope to get a little “face-time” with you, with or without the orange suit I’ve heard so much about!

    Keep the material coming, please.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Phillip…yes, looking forward to chatting at CMWorld this year. I’m quite positive I’ll have orange on.

  • Phil Sylvester

    Joe + Robert = genius. I am sending this to all my staff and may even build a 3D pyramid as a centrepiece for my office!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Sweet…if you do, take a picture for me 😉

      • Phil Sylvester

        I’ll get my kids to build one with Lego, just for you Joe.

  • Jeffrey Chew

    Great article Joe. And timely as can be. As a relative new comer to Content Marketing, one of the items I have been working out has been lead generation and conversion, and how CM drives both.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Nice Jeffrey! Thanks!

  • Naomi Garnice

    Good points, Joe. Very important details on how to present ROI and support your strategies among C Level Leadership! Thank you for sharing.

  • Kari Rippetoe

    Thanks for this helpful post, Joe! I’m reading Managing Content Marketing at the moment, and I imagine it will be very dog-eared, including this section.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Kari…appreciate that. Hope to see you at Content Marketing World in September.

  • Jessica Ann Morris

    Insightful. Big fan of ROO concept.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awesome Jessica…we love the ROO concept here as well.

  • Rebecca Bredholt

    I’m going to get this tattoo: “If your timetable isn’t at least 6 months (and that’s even a stretch), just go about and buy paid media.”

    • Joe Pulizzi

      If you do get the tat…take a picture and will put it on our Facebook page 😉

  • Doug Bratman

    This is really bedrock information, Joe. Thanks!

  • Maryam AlSheikh

    thanks Joe