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3 Steps to Solve the Production vs. Performance Conundrum

production-performance-conundrum-coverI want to share with you content marketing’s biggest conundrum. Many marketers fail to truly understand what content marketing really means beyond the blog post, beyond the view, and beyond the “like.” They focus on the superficial and not the important ratio between production and performance.

production-performance-image 1Image source: Andy Betts

Yet, content marketing is reaching a production and performance plateau, where marketers must get better at measuring performance to justify continued investment. As Jake Sorofman, Research Vice President at Gartner, says:

 Today, we see marketing leaders reining in a portion of their content marketing spending until they can reliably measure its performance, point to business impact, and achieve the scale and control currently afforded by paid media.

Recent B2B research from the Content Marketing Institute illuminates the challenge:

  • Production: 86% of organizations use content marketing
  • Performance: 21% say they are successful at tracking the ROI of its content

I define this as the production vs. performance conundrum.

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How can content marketers justify spending more on content if they can’t show the return on investment?

The failure to address the production vs. performance conundrum will result in a reduction of buy-in from senior decision-makers in your organization. My theory may explain why CMI has found that the number of organizations using content marketing has declined in recent years. While the drop may be a good indicator that the industry is maturing, the change also may indicate that senior executives aren’t willing to devote resources to content if it’s not being tracked to ROI.

3-step solution

For marketers to justify and increase spending on the production of content, performance needs to be proven through measurement. Value needs to be attributed and subsequent processes for scale need to be built.

The three-step solution illustrated within this post can help solve this fundamental challenge.

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Image source: Andy Betts

Measurement: Don’t be comfortable

Marketers operate on a modern-day content battleground where companies fight for the prize of consumers’ attention, loyalty, and retention. Your content marketing efforts have to be carried out with detailed insight into what your audience wants.

Comfort statistics help identify performance marketing indicators but in reality are soft measures that do not address the key challenges of performance, attribution, and scale. Comfort statistics include:

  • Social “likes” and followers
  • Unique page views – without looking at additional factors such as bounce rate, conversion, and funnel analysis
  • Shares – without looking at the relationship “halo” effect on content or looking into the who, why, and what influencers shared

In isolation, these types of statistics can mislead. We do not want content performance viewed (pardon the pun) like page-view journalism.

Measurement is the imperative that organizations need to adhere to in order to understand demand, optimize content, and measure results.

To gauge performance you, above all, evaluate your audience to harness a rich and multi-layered understanding of what it wants. Start with identifying the personas to develop a detailed understanding of each audience segment. Breaking down your audience into personas gives you the ability to develop targeted content and measure its success with the intended audience.

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Image source: Forbes

Consider the following audience characteristics:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, education, occupation, geography, language
  • Corporate altitude: CMO vs. search marketer
  • Psychographics: Goals, tasks, motivations
  • Psychographic altitude: Strength of their beliefs

Analyze engagement

Adobe’s Loni Stark recently shared additional insight on how the “core goal of content marketing is to build engaged audiences through the information and experiences they value. It goes beyond just optimizing a single click or purchase path, to generating loyalty.”

Engaged audiences are far more likely to consume and act upon messages, which ultimately should help achieve the organization’s business goals. This case study from SnapApp and CEB shows how interactive content was used to increase audience engagement and conversion. It increased LinkedIn ad click-through rates by 54% and generated $200,000 in the pipeline within 30 days.

Do everything in your power to collect, organize, and communicate information about your audience within your organization. Connect your data from numerous sources to gain a richer understanding of how your audience engages with your content.

Consider the following:

  • Visit time of day
  • Length and depth of visit
  • Type of content consumed (e.g., video, presentations, long-form content, infographics)
  • Referral traffic sources
  • Trigger metrics (e.g., social shares, email sign-ups, commenting on content)
  • Site searches
  • Referring keywords
  • Exit pages

Ultimately, your aim should be to understand and interpret your content’s ROI and build metrics relevant to different parts of your organization.

Executives may want to view performance overall, but publishers and content creators should be more concerned about the performance of individual pieces of content. Those specific results are good indicators of what type of content (format, topic, etc.) does well (so more should be created), and what type of content doesn’t perform well and should be minimized or stopped.

Peel the layers

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Image source: Andy Betts

Performance means different things to many people. Both Contently and Smart Insights share great examples of measuring multiple characteristics of performance for individual pieces of content.

  • Brand lift – likened to brand awareness but broadly encompasses audience perception, rather than simply recognition
  • Engaged time – goes beyond time spent on page or site to actual time actively interacting with your content (For example, bounce rates are good indicators of how engaging a blog post is.)
  • Average finish – identifies how many individuals read your content, eliminating those who skip it or exit early (less than 10 seconds)
  • Audience loyalty – details the frequency or recency of returning visitors (over five times a month and you’re doing well)
  • Content longevity – speaks to how long the content reaps rewards

Operating in a closed-loop process also adds to the challenge of creation, optimization and measurement. SAP and BrightEdge highlighted some ideas on how best to do this in a recent thought-leadership paper based on the content performance cycle.

It’s important to recognize that content affects more than marketing. It plays a huge role in performance and lift for HR (recruitment), customer service, product groups, PR, and messaging. Hence, measures of content performance should be expanded throughout the organization and aligned to wider organizational goals. A recent report and research by Altimeter adds context to that conversation by discussing the framework for measuring real business impact.


Connecting the dots between your content marketing activity and your organizational objectives requires defining how to attribute the success (or failure) of your content marketing toward genuine business objectives.

For example, The Economist Group’s Missing the Mark survey states:

“Executives judge the success of content on its distinctiveness while marketers judge success on sales.”

But do marketers really judge success on sales? In your own experience, have you found opinions differ when it comes to attributing and interpreting content’s success? How do we work toward overcoming this challenge?

Attribution is not just about looking at the performance of your digital channels. It is also about how you build, create, and attribute content that feeds into these digital channels.

Content attribution involves tracking the types of content and the individuals or organizational teams responsible for the content against the content’s performance. Attribution also involves who is sharing the content and how they are doing it.

Develop your own funnel

A good way to build the bridge between content performance and organizational objectives is to identify where content fits in the sales funnel? Mapping your user journey to your content helps facilitate synergy between organizational divides.

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Image source

Looking at Google’s Zero Moment of Truth is beneficial here. Executives and non-marketers in your organization must be educated on the change in the modern dynamic – “the Internet has changed how we decide to buy” – where access to content is ubiquitous.

In combination with mapping your customer journey, the graphic and question below work well for this task: Marketers can create their own funnels and identify important content touch points that contribute to final conversions or calls to action.

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Image source

“To what degree does a ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ win advance business KPIs such as awareness, consideration, purchase intent, trial and repeat and purchase considerations?” – Google Zero Moment of Truth

Score and weigh

I have written about the challenges in attribution in 2013, 2011, and 2010. This repetition alone demonstrates the difficulty in addressing the issue. To be successful, you need to ensure that your attribution model makes sense in the context of your business and is understood throughout the organization.

Data-driven measurement enables content scoring and weighting to track how each piece of content drives leads and conversions. This Kapost infographic takes you through an example of how content scoring and weighting works.

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Every organization and every model will be different. Weighting and scoring content allows companies to answer questions such as: Does video work better than images? Companies can allocate resources accordingly and build this into their marketing mix.

Tailor attribution models to your objectives

Attribution models can vary depending on the goal (tracking ROI on a single piece of content or tracking a content mix campaign) and could include linear, multi-touch, position, or time-decay-based models.

For example, in a linear model each touch point on the conversion path – white paper, email, or blog post – would share equal credit for the conversion. In a last-interaction model, the last touch point would get 100% credit for the conversion. Google provides some good examples on the various attribution models and can be adapted to content types, not digital channels.

To implement any of these models, your CRM system is key to tracking content attribution once it is in the sales/purchase funnel.


“[Content marketing is] … a lot more like weightlifting than bowling: The results can be massive, but they manifest after time and consistency. Lucky strikes are rare.” Source: Contently

It is inevitable that the outcome of your measurement and attribution actions should create a platform to justify further investment in content and raise a question: How can you scale content marketing costs and initiatives efficiently? If the ownership of content is bestowed upon a single individual, how are you going to scale his individual efforts? If the ownership lies among several organizational silos in differing geographies, how can you conquer scaling?

Build a culture of content

Organizations need to look beneath the surface to unearth and champion those individuals behind the production of content. Only then can we host conversations about our ability to scale this activity in a rewarding manner. Scaling content is reliant on building a culture of content based around performance and attribution.

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Image source: Andy Betts

Own your content machine

You must establish who owns content in your organization. The importance here is to differentiate the content creators from the strategy and messaging creators. Strategists and messaging people drive and guide content creators – though, in some organizations, the same people wear multiple hats. The solution requires looking inwardly to identify the moving parts of your content machine.

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Image source: Convince & Convert

You can answer these questions to identify the responsible people:

  • Who owns content marketing strategy?
  • Who drives content marketing strategy?
  • Who defines messaging and outlines brand and messaging guidelines?
  • Who guides thought leadership?
  • Who distributes the content?
  • Who drives demand from the content?

Focus on your organization as a whole and identify where content filters down into other organizational activity such as demand generation.


The performance vs. production conundrum exists in every organization and this is a critical time for content marketers to adapt and innovate or fail. Resolving the challenge involves more than looking at click-and-share metrics and analyzing monetary-based ratios.

The proper ratio of performance (return and measurement against business goals) vs. production (resources, content types, costs) varies with each piece of content. A thorough analysis of both reveals a clearer picture that forms the basis for a well-informed content marketing investment.

Only a methodical and scientific understanding of the performance and attributed successes from content marketing efforts will produce an answer that will satisfy the executive levels within organizations.

Content that adds value, can be measured, and is connected to ROI has a place in every organization, from small local businesses to global blue-chip organizations. We, as marketers, should be leading from the front, driving strategy, understanding our customer journeys, creating content, facilitating dialogue and measuring success, and attributing value throughout the organization.

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Image source: Andy Betts

Yes, content measurement is part art and part science, but in order to justify continued investment content marketers need to start being more scientific in their analysis of performance and monetary value. It may be the case that no one has a perfect answer but, as performance-based marketing is the talk of 2015, we must try to work solutions that tie back to revenue and intelligent production of content.

Ready to solve many more content marketing conundrums? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015 this September. Register now and use the code CMI100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute