Updated May 16, 2022
Have you ever heard a sales leader or business exec disparage content marketing or wonder about its business value?
They believe the myth that content marketing is some nebulous, feel-good, unmeasured thing that gets told too often. Several industry experts mentioned it when we asked about the most irritating content marketing misbeliefs last year:
- “There’s a perception that content marketing is pretty pictures and words,” said Penny Gralewski, now senior director, product and portfolio marketing, DataRobot.
- “Too many people still talk about content marketing as something that can’t be measured. That is simply not true,” offered Inbar Yagur, vice president of marketing, GrowthSpace.
- Jacqueline Loch, executive vice president, customer innovation, SJC Content, said, “There’s still a tendency for content marketing to be viewed as pretty pictures, snazzy videos, and storytelling.”
The business purpose of content marketing is written into its definition:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
So, why does this myth persist?
The talking heads of the content marketing industry shoulder some of the blame. Dale Bertrand, president of Fire&Spark, shared: “The content marketing industry does a poor job of communicating the full value of high-quality content … As an industry, we need to do a better job communicating that high-quality content should drive SEO, sales enablement, conversion, email marketing, advertising, affiliate programs, and more.”
Awareness isn’t everything
We content marketers can blame ourselves if we’re not setting (and hitting) goals business leaders care about.
We asked marketers which goals they achieved using content marketing over the past year for our B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – Insights for 2022. The one goal nearly everyone claims to have achieved? Brand awareness (88%). Among B2C marketers, brand awareness was also the top response (80%).
We see similar results year after year.
Brand awareness is a worthy endeavor. But you may struggle to explain how it ties into an outcome business leaders care about. That lack of a common understanding or language often divides marketers from other business leaders.
Marketers might consider increasing awareness as a return on the content marketing investment. But most business leaders equate the term “return” with one thing – revenue.
Simply saying, “Our content marketing increases brand awareness” isn’t going to cut it when it comes to securing, keeping, or increasing the budget.
How to align content marketing and business goals
Instead of setting brand awareness as THE goal, think of it as one step toward a business goal.
And what’s the business goal of content marketing? To drive profitable action.
Boom. Goal defined. My job here is done.
Except … you probably have questions. What counts as a profitable action? Let’s explore.
To be useful (and measurable), content marketing goals must be specific – and match a meaningful business goal your company is working toward. CMI founder Joe Pulizzi likes to say businesses care about three things:
- Sunshine (i.e., customer loyalty, retention, cross-sales, and evangelism)
Choose goals that support one of those three things, and you should have no problem communicating how content marketing contributes to the business goals.
Here are several business-related possibilities to consider when setting your content marketing goals:
Building a subscribed audience is the basis of content marketing. These are people who provide their contact information and agree to receive communication from you. That also gives you permission to subtly market to them while providing value outside your company’s products or services. In fact, CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose says the business asset created by content marketing isn’t content; it’s the audience.
When it makes sense: Set a subscriber goal when your business wants to penetrate a new market, compete with a high-profile market leader, or begin the content marketing journey.
Profitable actions to track: Measure progress by the number of subscribers to an owned channel (email newsletter, blog alerts, magazine, podcast, etc.) or the subscriber conversion rate compared with the general audience conversion rate.
Go deeper into the subscribed audience as a goal:
- How To Measure the Value of Your Subscribers
- How One Brand Grew a Massive Audience by Building a News Site [Example]
Great content can encourage consumers to become prospects by signing up for a demo, registering for an event, or requesting access to a resource center. (In some organizations, a lead could be defined as a contact.) Unlike subscribers, leads provide more than an email address. They trade more information about themselves because they see value in the content offer.
Caveat: Some leads aren’t really leads. These contacts might have wanted the piece of content, but they may not want to hear from your brand again or aren’t interested in your product or service now. Consider converting these not-really leads into opt-in subscribers who may become more valuable over time.
When it makes sense: Focus on lead-related goals if your business sees content marketing as a tool for the sales team – to help find or qualify new prospects or nurture leads through the funnel.
Profitable actions to track: Measure content’s impact with form and landing page conversion rates, downloads, and percentage of marketing- and sales-qualified leads.
To go deeper on tracking lead generation, check out:
- Make Content Integral to Your Lead Generation
- Shares Don’t Cut It: Pick Better Metrics for Demand and Lead Gen
- Your Audience Is Not the Same as Your Marketing Database
Supporting sales with content typically involves creating pieces that offer proof points to help customers decide to choose (or justify choosing) your product or service. Think testimonials and case studies that show how similar customers have solved their problems.
When it makes sense: Focus your content here when your company needs to grow sales or open up new revenue streams.
Profitable actions to track: Measure your sales support through lead-to-customer conversion rates, effect on time to close new customers, and revenue generated.
Go deeper on aligning content with sales:
- How To Make Content a More Effective Part of Your Sales Funnel
- How To Create Winning Sales-Enablement Content
- How Well Does Content and Marketing Help Sales Teams? [Research]
- 3 Easy Ways Content Marketers Can Provide Instant Value to the Sales Teams
Customer support and loyalty
Though many treat content marketing as a top-of-the-funnel play, content can work to reinforce the customer’s decision after the sale. How-to and activation content can help make sure the customer gets value from the purchase – and is likely to buy again.
When it makes sense: Focus on customer support and loyalty content when reducing support-related costs (i.e., high volumes of support calls) is a priority, when the business struggles to secure repeat business, or when upselling product options and add-ons are a priority.
Profitable actions to track: Measure the impact by the percentage of existing customers who consume content, the reduction in the number of support calls, the number of repeat customers, revenue from upselling, customer-retention rate, and changes in churn rate.
Don’t hide your goals under a barrel (or in a PowerPoint slide)
Most of us know the SMART (specific, measurable, actionable/achievable, realistic, and time-bound) framework for goal setting. Authors of an article from MIT Sloan argue it omits important elements – frequent discussions and transparency – that can help eliminate quarter or year-end surprises.
The article suggests FAST as a better acronym and framework:
- Frequently discussed, so the team stays focused on the right things and can change/correct course as needed
- Ambitious, so they promote innovative ideas
- Specific, so they include milestones and metrics
- Transparent, so teams understand and coordinate on each other’s needs and goals
The frameworks are seemingly complementary and could easily be a blended mix (SMART-FAST, FARMS-STAT?) for your content marketing goal-achieving plan.
Whichever framework you choose, do your content marketing program a favor: Set ambitious goals tied to a business outcome. Then talk about those goals in ways that make your business leaders care.
As usual, Joe nails what’s at stake:
Most content marketing programs don’t stop because of a lack of results. They don’t stop because they aren’t working … They stop because the people with the purse strings – the ones who control the budget – don’t understand content marketing, why you are doing it, and what impact it could and should make on the organization.
What goals are you working toward? How are you making sure the purse-string holders understand what content marketing is contributing to the business? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share and comment on your favorite social channel.
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Content Marketing Basics: How To Start (or Jumpstart) Your Content Practice
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute