25 Feb 2016
How To Create The Best Content For ROI

How To Create The Best Content For Return On Investment

These are worrying times for content marketing. Excitement has given way to disillusionment for many marketers who set unreal expectations and failed to deliver the results they promised. Now there’s a sharper focus on budgets as a growing number of senior management teams and board members start asking the same uncomfortable question: “Where’s the ROI?”

Return on investment has always been a problem for marketers. Robert Rose, chief strategy officer at the Content Marketing Institute, says ROI is a flawed metric for traditional campaign-based marketing. These campaigns are a necessary expense but setting ROI expectations encourages underperformance, stifles innovation and breeds a culture of safe bets.

With campaign-based marketing you need to speculate to accumulate but nobody’s going to do that if everything they try is tied back to a balance sheet. Content is different. If the definition of ROI is something that has an increased value over time, your content can (and should) deliver it.

Why Your Content Is Failing

Unfortunately, Rose says most approaches to content are tactical and lack strategy. Marketing departments are still leading with the quarterly campaigns they’ve always run and asking the content team to support them with relevant assets – blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, webinars, customer videos and so on.

They repeat the same process in the next quarter, then again and again. At the end of the year there’s nothing coherent about the content that’s been produced. There are some highlights along the way but much of it is average. If this sounds familiar, you’re left with a bunch of disconnected assets loaded into a resource centre. What do they say about your business? How does that match up to what you’d like people to think?

Time For A Fresh Start

Given the time of year, let’s make a New Year’s Resolution together. Let’s commit to producing a small number of high-quality content pieces focused on what we’d like to be recognised for. Content that’s so good our audiences will want to subscribe to receive more of it.

Rose calls these ‘tent-pole pieces’. Although they’re not being led by campaign-based marketing initiatives, they still support them because they’re delivering something the audience values. Where it’s appropriate, you can even customise specific versions of assets to support a campaign without losing sight of your central vision.

Where campaign marketing delivers value in time, content does it over time. I was chatting with a client recently who asked us to produce a series of articles focused on his company’s core theme – data and analytics. There was no hidden agenda, no product push, no inserting his business into the story. Almost a year later, he’s amazed at how these articles continue to bring in new leads. A light has gone on and he’s now committed to a 12-month program of work because he’s seeing an ongoing return on his initial investment.

Now think of that example at scale – Adobe’s connection with chief marketing officers through its CMO site, how American Express has built a community of small and medium business owners through Open Forum, HubSpot’s connection with marketing, sales and agency professionals.

A 4-Step Approach To Change

Rose offers these tips for marketers who are prepared to rethink their approach to content:

  1. Stop developing collateral and create a vision
  2. Work backwards to understand what measures define your goals
  3. Develop a plan to meet those goals in order of priority with the vision in mind
  4. Think about how you can integrate with campaigns instead of being led by them
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