Does this sound like a familiar story? You get some great advice about how publishing on-line content and using social media will raise the profile of your business and win you valuable new customers. You give it a go but you’re not quite sure whether you are getting a return that makes the effort worthwhile.

Content Marketing ROI

Is this ALL I have to show for all that effort?

If it is familiar, then it seems you’re not alone. A study released this week by E-Consultancy showed that only 19% of businesses rated their ability to evaluate their return on investment from social media as good. 43% said it was OK and a whopping 39% acknowledged it was poor.

With content marketing it was a similar picture: 24% good, 46 % OK and 30% poor.

You could probably dive much deeper into this with businesses that said their ability was OK. What does that mean? Either you can be sure that you’re getting an ROI or you can’t, surely.

Content Marketing ROI – 3 Simple questions that could help

Based on conversations with businesses that have struggled with evaluating ROI there’s often a fundamental issue. And it’s this: they weren’t sure what success was going to look like in the first place. There were usually measurements of activity in place, but no clear progression to what I would call a real business objective.

Unless there’s a defined business objective it’s impossible to evaluate the ROI from any marketing – on-line or off-line.

Without meaningful business objectives people tend to fall back on measuring likes and shares. And if that’s what you measure you can end up doing whatever it takes to get as many of those as possible. But a clownish or even visually impressive viral video could get thousands of shares without doing a single thing to improve the image and trust level of your business with the people who really count.

I’m not saying that shares and +1s don’t matter, but try banking them or using them to pay your staff or suppliers.

So my first ‘simple’ question that will lead to a more meaningful ROI is this:

Who are your customers?

Confession time: I only said the questions were simple, not necessarily your answers.

What sort of customers do you want? Are they the same sort of customer as you have now, or something different? Do you want customers with bigger budgets? Do they work in a specific business sector or in specific companies? Do you want to make existing customers aware of other things you could sell them?

The answers will be unique to your business and will determine the content you need to create and the networks you need to build on social media.

Your view might be influenced by analysing the profitability of the different things you sell and projecting these calculations into the future. Are your objectives focused around the areas with the highest potential for delivering a return?

Trying to please everyone is a trap. Without focus you can end up trying to cover too many topics in your content and getting attention from people who will never lead to profitable business. This is about line fishing rather than trawling.

If you have defined the type of business you want to promote and the types of customers you want, you are getting an ROI when you actually see enquiries and orders coming from these sources.

But knowing who they are is just step one. You then have to understand what sort of content is going to get their attention. So question 2 is this:

What questions are they asking?

People don’t want your sales messages or promotional content – they want help.  There’s really no substitute for research to help you understand what your potential customers want to achieve; what challenges do they have and what questions are they asking to help them get what they need?

There will potentially be dozens of practical questions and concerns that they’ll have before they accept the validity and practicality of the solutions you are offering – does your content offer those answers?

How can you identify the critical questions your customers might have? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Interview existing customers to understand how your products, service and business philosophy adds real value to their business or life. What do they find attractive about what you do and what problems have you helped them solve? Their perspective may be different from yours and getting somebody independent to do the interviewing will give you a less biased view.
  • Interview some prospects to get a deeper understanding of their challenges and potential objections to your solutions.
  • Gather intelligence from customer service and sales staff about the questions they get asked and the critical arguments that tend to close sales. These people are already experts in answering customers’ questions and helping them to solve problems.
  • Carry out active listening on relevant social media channels and forums.

It’s usually a good idea to use this research to assemble customer personas so that you feel you are creating content for a real person.

So you know who you want to reach, and you know what questions they are asking. Job done? Not quite. There’s a third and potentially more difficult question you have to ask:

Why are our answers more relevant and more helpful?

I’m not going to go on about the so-called content shock and how the internet is flooded with mediocre (or worse) articles and top 20 lists of this, that or the other. It’s enough to say that your content has to stand out from the crowd and offer a more rewarding experience for those who read it or watch it.

Part of this is about how well structured and well produced it is, but mostly it’s about how relevant and useful it is.

Here’s where you have to bring the expertise, beliefs and values of your organisation into the equation. Something magical starts to happen when you understand how these overlap with the needs of your potential customers.

The easy way out with content is to find events and news that might have an impact on your customers and just pass that on. The more challenging and valuable route is to take the time to analyse and interpret what that means for the highly specific group of people you’ve identified as your targets. This is what internet marketing guru Jay Baer refers to as the ‘And Therefore’ posts. A blunter version of the informational post might be a ‘So What?’ post.

You need:

  • A mechanism for bringing the expertise and insights of your in-house experts into your content – even if they’re not creating the finished piece.
  • Identified themes and points of view that reinforce your brand values and beliefs, and the unique value you bring to your customers.
  • A content ‘voice’ that represents who you are and what you stand for.

But you can’t answer question 3 without looking at 1 and 2 first. Relevance is not an abstract concept. Your content has to be relevant to a defined audience and it has to do a better job of answering their specific questions.  No chance of achieving that if you don’t know who they are.

Job done? Not quite.

Even from this point there’s still a lot to do. How do you turn interest and trust into leads, for example? And how do you convert a loyal audience into paying customers? But unless you are talking to the right people and delivering answers that build your reputation and trust, there’s little chance of doing any of that.

And the more trust you’ve earned, the less resistance you’ll find to converting new customers and finally getting that ROI from your on-line marketing.

Content Marketing ROI

Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger, and Content Marketing Trainer

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image credit: Creative Commons License Ken Teegardin via Compfight