3 Questions to help get a Return from Content and Social Marketing

Posted on Jun 11, 2014 in content marketing ROI, content strategy | 0 comments

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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Seven ‘P’s to improve your content marketing ROI

Posted on May 30, 2014 in content marketing ROI, content strategy | 0 comments

The case for content marketing makes a seductive argument: publishing the right kind of content not only improves your search rankings, it also enhances the credibility of your business – enabling you to win new customers through your experience, knowledge and expertise. Less cold calling, less hard sell and more potential customers finding you through your content.

The concept is easy enough to grasp; but the reality, and getting a genuine return on the time invested, can prove elusive. Here are 7 Ps that will help you focus your efforts more effectively and achieve a real content marketing ROI .

content marketing ROI

Content marketing – don’t leave it to chance


Or put another way: who are you creating all this content for? There is no possibility whatsoever of forcing people to view or read content against their will. However much it might matter to you, if what you’re writing about does not touch some essential need in your audience, then people will not engage.

And, of course, you don’t just want any old readership, you want to be noticed by people who are likely to become paying customers. You need to work out who is likely to need what you sell and you need to be clear about their issues, concerns and aspirations. You have to understand the questions they will want answered and you have to work out how what you offer helps them achieve what they want.

Scattering content which is about yourself, or with only a vague link to the needs of your audience won’t deliver a return.


So vital in every aspect of business, yet how often do people approach marketing, and content marketing in particular, without a plan? A rolling content plan is essential. Identifying topics in advance means that you avoid the panic to publish something (anything!) because you haven’t updated the blog for a while.

A plan also makes sure that you are covering all of your target customers with the subjects you identified as the ones that would engage them. With a plan you can ensure that you address all of your key marketing themes regularly and take every opportunity to reinforce your brand values. Planning helps you get the best value from your content creation by identifying how it can be re-purposed and publicised – critical factors in maximising your content marketing ROI.


People will judge you by the quality of what you publish. They won’t make a whole load of allowances because publishing isn’t your core business. Whatever you do, you need to do it well. A poorly lit, hand-held video isn’t going to create the image you want and badly structured blog articles with sloppy grammar will not have potential customers beating down your door. Be realistic about what you are able to do well and be prepared to hire the professional help you need.


This could also be persistence, as the two are linked. Process is the way that you keep publishing content and keep attracting new customers once the initial flush of enthusiasm is over. It doesn’t have to be complicated: it’s a question of identifying who needs to contribute what expertise and effort, and planning when they are going to do it.

Clear responsibilities and clear scheduling of when things need to happen each week and each month will help your content production withstand peaks in workload and unexpected events that can blow you off course. Content marketing doesn’t bring instant results and you won’t get a return unless you’re in it for the long haul.

Process also includes evaluation. Which types of content are generating the most interest? Are people responding in the ways you anticipated? How is it all feeding into more sales? Evaluation has to become part of your routine.


You can look on the previous 4 Ps as foundations. Anything you build without having them in place is likely to be a bit shaky. But once you have them you can get into the final 3, which is where the big returns start to happen.

Your content has to stand out. It has to be unique, so that people will look at it and feel that no other organisation could have created the same thing.  Personality means that every piece of content reinforces your brand values and interprets events and issues in a way that resonates with your audience and offers highly relevant insights that they can’t find elsewhere. This is how you build real loyalty to your content and, through that, to your brand.


Content marketing is not about overt or hard-selling – ever! But the art of gentle persuasion is critical. Each piece of content should have a purpose and you should have some action in mind that you want people to take. Actions might be subscribing to your blog, following a link to more content, following you on social media or downloading an ebook, for example.

You also need to understand the process that people go through, from becoming aware of your business to becoming a customer. You need content to help them through each stage; anticipating the questions they will ask and the information they need to take the next step.


And finally, how many people are going to find your content if you just post it and hope? Probably not that many. And will they be the people who you really want to reach?

Achieving content marketing ROI involves a clear process for identifying all of the networks and groups where your audience can be found. You need to engage with those networks so that they respect your expertise, are receptive to your content and are happy to share and reference it.

Time spent researching relevant and active groups on LinkedIn and Google+ will never be wasted.

It’s often best to get a feel for each group first by observing what people post and the topics that generate most discussion.  You might also want to establish a presence by commenting on other people’s discussions before you start posting your own content.

You also need to understand who your audience is. It is much wider than just potential customers. You need to look at influencers: people with a respected on-line presence and large and relevant networks that you can tap into. Cultivating relationships with people who have a large existing network can be quicker than building your own from scratch.

Think too about your existing customers and your team – they can all become enthusiastic promoters of your brand and your content.

Once you have all 7 Ps fully embedded in the way you do content marketing, you WILL see a return on your investment. And it’s likely to be a significantly better return than you could get with traditional methods of marketing.

Content Marketing


Richard Hussey, RSH Copywriting

Content writer and strategist. Trainer at Content Masterclass, Exeter

Read more of my thoughts on copywriting and content marketing on my blog


If you want a return from content marketing come to our next Masterclass, Exeter, July 1 2014


Eventbrite - Content Marketing Masterclass

main image: Creative Commons License Alan Cleaver via Compfight

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The Business Cost of Delaying Content Marketing

Posted on Jan 20, 2014 in content marketing ROI | 0 comments

What is the cost of delaying content marketing?

The business cost of delaying content marketing

Every week we meet with a new business that wants to transform its marketing in readiness for the “content era”. Yet, for every business like this, we meet two corresponding businesses that are “sitting on the fence”, waiting to experience the full cost of delaying content marketing in 2014!

Content marketing is strategic

Businesses that delay swing back and forth debating the pros and cons of investing a content marketing solution, trying to convince their C-level executives that a content strategy is NOT just “a-nice-to-have”, but a compulsory strategic component of today’s marketing mix.

Sitting on the fence was OK in 2010 – content marketing was in its infancy then. After that, more and more brands jumped on the bandwagon and invested in content creation and distribution, experimenting with different content formats and channels, and measuring results. In 2013 content marketing broke through, proved the naysayers wrong, and established its business case, making 2014 the critical “make or break” year for businesses that either have, or don’t have a content marketing strategy.

Short and long term content marketing goals

The cost of delaying content marketing becomes more obvious when you see the goals it delivers across the time spectrum

Content marketing goals

The short, mid-cycle and long term goals of content marketing

For any business delaying implementing a content marketing strategy in 2014, the cost will be measured across four types of metrics: consumption metrics, sharing metrics, lead generation metrics and sales metrics.

Let’s take a closer look at those losses

1. Lost traffic

The first, and most important, cost will be the loss of qualified traffic and visitors. Developing relevant and compelling content that helps prospective customers discover your brand and business proposition online is a powerful way to attract qualified audiences, but if you don’t publish any content, then you won’t attract potential customers to your business. At least not online, and we know that advertising only really works as an impulse for customers who are nearing the end of their buying journey.

2. Lost leads

As you drive qualified traffic to your site via content that answers your customers’ questions, you have a chance to convert a percentage of that traffic into leads. This is where content marketing comes into its own. Using high quality, well researched eBooks, Guides and White Papers, you can attract potential customers to your website and  convert them into leads via conversion forms, allowing you to email more content to them that will move them along the buying cycle toward purchase and advocacy.

How much lost traffic and how many leads will you lose?

Experience shows that distributing high quality content over time builds audiences, search engine results performance (SERPs), domain authority, and frequency of leads and sales.

Metrics vary from business to business, but two cases come to mind:

  1. For a small business, the Institute For Sustainability, was able to achieve the following growth in audiences over a three month period, attracting and converting customers in the home retrofit market via links on Twitter and targeted discussions and comments on “sustainable building” discussion groups on LinkedIn.
Content marketing goals

IFS traffic growth in the home retrofit market October – December 2012


To read the full success story, download the free IFS case study

2. For a larger business, deploying content marketing to attract new audiences in large volumes, the Sage Case study is a good example of what can be achieved strictly through content marketing:

sage content marketing

The sage success story demonstrates the full power of content marketing

Realistically a content marketing deployment (not campaign because it’s ongoing) can boost your search engine rankings over a sustained period of time, and if the content themes and topics are evergreen and utilitarian that content will garner more targeted visits, leads and sales.

3. Lost referrals 

The opportunity cost does not stop at pure traffic and conversions. If you delay a content creation strategy, then you will almost certainly miss out on building links, and that can directly impact the SEO strength of your website.

If you develop a strong content marketing strategy, then there’s a strong chance your content will build authority through links from referring websites. Without these inbound links your domain will not build authority.

4. Lost community

As employees of your company create and share valuable new content that attracts traffic and converts leads to your website and your social media channels, there’s a tangible uplift in energy that comes from connecting with prospects, journalists, bloggers, influencers and other like-minded people you did not know previously shared your view of the world. When those new audiences connect with you, it creates a new sense of shared purpose and achievement across the business that you can not get from any other place except from being on a busy market stall at Christmas time. Content marketing literally builds community around your brand, both within the business and outside it, effectively taking removing the traditional walls that separate the two. Without content you will never experience the benefit of community and co-creation.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence, I hope this post helped you understand the business cost of delaying content marketing. Realistically, you need to build content over time to capitalise on the benefits of increased traffic, shares, conversions, referrals and community. Your content needs to be well-researched, relevant and compelling to earn attention, and to build advocacy from customers, and increase sales, but you can’t do any of that unless you transition your marketing.

If you’re finding content marketing tough (no one said it was easy!), why not attend our Content Marketing Master Class: we use a tried, tested and trusted content marketing framework that gives you all the templates, tools and techniques you need to build a marketing blueprint for marketing success in 2014 and beyond! SEE all the benefits here


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