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Want to Prove Content’s Success? Stop Measuring It


What are you trying to measure? What does success look like?

Too often the answers to those questions have no relation to each other.

One of my favorite books about data and measurement is The Haystack Syndrome by Eli Goldratt. It’s almost 30 years old, but it’s more relevant than ever. He proposes a method to architect a system to appreciate the difference between data and information (hint: one has context and thus impacts action) and get to true business measurement.

One of my favorite quotes from the book should resonate with content marketers:

Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way, don’t complain about illogical behavior. 

When I work with a company to evolve its measurement strategy for content marketing, two primary challenges appear. First, the company usually has no true purpose or goal for its content marketing initiative. Many businesses simply define their content marketing as producing ad hoc assets and measuring them like any campaign-focused asset. The team is usually then stuck (or resolved) to use vanity metrics on the content itself such as clicks, shares, visits, etc. In other words, it’s cool to know the blog post or infographic was found and read, but what behavior did it change? You don’t know.

It’s cool to know a blog post was read, but what behavior did it change, asks @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

The second challenge, related to the first, is that if businesses have an owned media initiative that collects and builds audiences, they simply don’t know how to connect that new audience to optimized buying behavior. In other words, “It’s neat that we have 5,000 people in our content marketing email list, but when are we going to sell to them or convert them into leads. Won’t that alienate them?” You don’t know.

Wait a minute. Shouldn’t you know if the content changed the audience’s behavior? Shouldn’t you know how content can convert subscriber lists into sales?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Through CMI’s blog, books, workshops, and master classes, we talk about measuring content marketing by looking at “what do audiences do that others do not.” Look at how subscribed audiences behave differently than others you might be marketing to through other means.

But, OK, what does that mean in the context of what you should measure?

Funny enough, the second half of Eli Goldratt’s wonderful quote addresses that:

Change my measurements to new ones, that I don’t fully comprehend, nobody knows how I will behave, not even me.

See, whether you don’t understand the business goals or you don’t know how to associate content consumption metrics to the goals you do understand doesn’t matter. The fact is you don’t fully comprehend what it is you’re trying to do. Therefore, no one really understands why you’re doing what you do. Not even you.

Developing a return on your audience

You can remedy this. Yes, content marketing can – and must – be measured in multiple ways to be a viable strategy. Recognize, however, that the business value is not in creating great content. “Value” lies in the behavior change of the audience affected by the great content.

The business value is not great content. It’s how the content affected the audience’s behavior. @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

Thus, the first step is to address the question, “What does success of an engaged, subscribed audience look like?”

Break down the answer into what we (maybe too cutely) call the Four C Investment Goals of Value – competency, campaign, customer, and cash.

Though each C can be broken into subcategories with different types of objectives appropriate for different kinds of companies, let’s look at a starting point for each.

Competency value: Audiences enable smarter, more cost-effective business strategies

Investing in acquiring data an audience provides is not simply aggregating shopping or surveillance data about what “buyers” do on your digital properties. Audience data is given willingly. I talked about this recently in discussing how GDPR is the biggest gift to marketers in more than 10 years.

This value exchange means that the data gleaned from these audiences can be valuable to other parts of your organization.

Schneider Electric, a global company specializing in energy management and automation solutions with more than $25 billion in revenue, has a multitude of marketing and sales efforts across the world. One of them is an audience-building platform called Energy University, a free e-learning resource.


The platform delivers courses in 12 languages and has been endorsed by more than a dozen professional and trade organizations for continuing education credits. Over the last few years more than 180,000 learners have gone through the university. One of the biggest benefits Schneider receives from this platform is the ability to use the students’ data to understand them better and learn what products they may ultimately be looking to buy.

If you can begin to gather more valuable data from your audience, you can become a more competent company – and enable better business decisions across the sales and marketing spectrum.

Campaign value: Traditional marketing and advertising made more efficient

In classic marketing and advertising the main effort to reach audiences is to spend money on campaigns that attempt to optimize how many eyeballs can be reached. And then measure the ratio of that cost to the number of those people who do what the campaign wanted them to do.

One of the earliest benefits of content marketing and audience engagement is to make these campaigns more efficient or effective. In Joe Pulizzi’s book Epic Content Marketing, he writes about Indium, a company that refines, produces, supplies, and fabricates indium chemicals for the electronics semiconductor, solar, thin-film, and thermal management markets:

Seventeen engineers from materials supplier Indium have discovered content gold with their From One Engineer to Another blog. Through it, they produce valuable content, videos, and answer questions about a variety of engineering topics (for example, how to set up and operate the Indium sulfamate plating bath).

According to Indium’s marketing director, leads jumped 600% after the blog’s launch.

Andrew Davis, marketing thought leader and a keynote speaker at this year’s Content Marketing World, calls an audience a “pre-customer database.” I love that term, as it illuminates a core truth. Audience members receiving value from your content today may not be in the market for your product or service now, but you will be top of mind when they are.

Customer value: Create better customers

One of the best ways to measure what audiences do that others do not is to see if they buy more initially or shortly after becoming a customer. Can you teach customers to be better customers?

Can you teach customers to be better customers, asks @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

Customer events, content-driven apps, and even print magazines are used not only to make customers feel better about their purchase, but to provide separate, discrete value from the brand as well.

Consider Nike. The company began developing branded apps in 2006. Now, it has multiple apps focused on helping runners and athletes track their progress. As Ad Age recently reported: Collectively, these apps boast a user base of over 28 million people. That is 28 million people to which the brand has direct access. With this greater customer intimacy, Nike gains invaluable insights and information about its user base. With access to all this information, Nike could have used it to aggressively drive sales from the apps, but instead Nike brilliantly created an authentic athlete community by means of its apps.

Through this community Nike built, the brand fosters intense loyalty, which translates to revenue down the line.

That is the power of an aggregated audience, and it changes the remit of marketing considerably.

Cash value: Generate revenue from marketing

Cash value is squarely where my and Joe Pulizzi’s book Killing Marketing is focused. Direct revenue – marketing as a business model – is the most unorthodox value an audience can provide. By doing this, leading companies are diversifying their businesses, generating higher margins, and/or mitigating costs of other marketing activities. They are, when combined with the savings attributed to other values, marketing at a profit.

One of the best representations of this is and its Dreamforce event. The company’s flagship content platform is the second largest technology event in the United States. More than 170,000 people from more than 83 countries attend each year. According to its 2017 annual report, there are approximately 150,000 total customers to the software platform. That means, of course, that customers as well as non-customers attend Dreamforce. At an average registration fee of $1,500 (conference passes for 2018 are listed at $2,199), that’s $225 million in revenue without accounting for additional event-related revenue such as sponsorships.

There’s no app for that

The key to understanding these 4 Cs of value is that there is no dashboard application for them. Companies monetize audiences by rolling up their sleeves and using their audience asset to run tests. They experiment. They hypothesize. As Eli Goldratt would explain, they understand the difference between data and information. These marketers:

  • Retrieve a segment of their subscribed audience for a targeted advertising campaign to test whether it helps reach or conversions.
  • Poll and survey their audience members to understand them more deeply and learn how they might deliver better marketing content to them.
  • Track them across publications and use audience data to serve more optimized e-commerce catalog products to see if it lifts shopping cart value.
  • Tag them as they work through the buyer’s journey and partner with sales to deliver insight so sales can see if the content marketing leads close at a higher rate.
  • Measure organic vs. purchased traffic to see if audiences are acquired more efficiently or effectively – and/or if they are more likely to turn into leads over time.

In short, successful marketers measure their efforts by using the value of the asset – the audience – and applying it as a tool to garner multiple positive impacts on the business. And the audience value grows in two ways – in size (thus increasing the impact) and in the number of success goals it can support.

The critical thing, as Eli Goldratt might say, is to first understand what success looks like. You should have hypotheses you can test. So when someone asks, “What does success look like?” you have a clear and distinct answer. Then, when asked “What are you trying to measure?” you can specify exactly what is needed to understand your progress toward that success.

Now you know how you will behave. It’s logical. How do you measure content marketing? You don’t measure the content. You measure your audience’s impact on the business.

You don’t measure the #content. You measure your audience’s impact on the business. @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

How can you grow your audience and bring more value to your brand? Learn from the presenters at Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today using code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute