We’re just one month into 2020, and you probably know people who have given up on their personal goals or resolutions.
In our work lives, giving up on goals after a few weeks isn’t an option. Since you’re going to be working on them all year, double check that you’re working toward the right goals – goals that matter to business leaders.
Here’s the truth. Brand awareness – everybody’s favorite – isn’t going to cut it.
Content marketing’s business purpose
Have you ever heard a sales leader or business exec disparage content marketing as “arts and crafts” or wonder about its business value? You wouldn’t be the first.
The myth that content marketing is some nebulous, feel-good, unmeasurable thing gets told from time to time.
Yet the business purpose of content marketing is literally written into the definition:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
So why does that myth of unmeasurable, nebulous content marketing benefits exist? We content marketers might have ourselves to blame. Look at this chart from CMI’s 2020 B2B research, which shows the goals content marketers say they achieved in the past year.
Check out the one goal nearly everyone claims to have achieved. Yep, brand awareness (86%). (For B2C marketers, the response rate was similar at 84%.)
Brand awareness is a fine and worthy endeavor. But if that’s your only goal, you may be pushed to explain how awareness ties into an outcome that business leaders care about.
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How to tie content to business goals and outcomes
Instead of setting awareness as THE goal, think of awareness as one step on the path toward a business goal. And what’s the business goal of content marketing? To drive profitable action.
Boom. Goal defined. My job here is done.
Except … you probably have questions. What counts as a profitable action? Let’s explore.
To be useful (and measurable), content marketing goals must be more specific – and match a meaningful business goal your company is working toward.
CMI founder Joe Pulizzi likes to say businesses care about three things:
- Sunshine (his parlance for customer loyalty, retention, cross-sales, and evangelism)
Choose goals that support one of those three things and you’ll have no problem communicating how your content marketing team contributed to the business goals. Here are several to consider.
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Building a subscribed audience is the basis of content marketing. Subscribers give you permission to communicate with them regularly. And that gives you permission to subtly market to them while giving them value outside of a product or service. In fact, Joe and CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose argue that the asset created by content marketing isn’t content at all, it’s the audience itself.
Building a subscribed audience is the basis of #contentmarketing, says @KMoutsos via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
When it makes sense: Set building a subscriber base as the goal when your business wants to penetrate a new market, compete with a high-profile market leader, or begin the content marketing journey.
Profitable actions to track: Measure your progress by the number of subscribers to an owned channel (email newsletter, blog alerts, magazine, podcast, etc.) or the subscriber conversion rate compared with general audience conversion rate.
To go deeper into subscribed audience as a goal, check out:
Great content can encourage prospects to sign up for a demo, register for an event, or request access to a resource center. (A lead could be defined as a contact in some organizations.) Unlike subscribers, leads provide more than an email address. They trade more information about themselves because they see a value in the content offer.
Caveat: Some leads really aren’t leads. These contacts might have wanted the particular piece of content, but they may not want to hear from your brand again or aren’t that interested in your product or service now. Consider getting these not-really leads to opt in as subscribers because they eventually may be more valuable over time.
When it makes sense: Focus on leads if your business sees content marketing as a tool for the sales team – to help find or qualify new prospects or to help nurture leads through the funnel.
Profitable actions to track: Measure your impact with form/landing page conversion rates, downloads, and percentage of marketing- and sales-qualified leads.
To go deeper on tracking lead generation, check out:
Supporting sales with content typically involves creating pieces that offer proof points to help customers decide to choose (or justify choosing) your product or service. Think testimonials and case studies that show how similar companies have solved their problems.
Profitable actions to track: Measure your sales support through lead-to-customer conversion rates, effect on time to close new customers, and revenue generated.
To go deeper on aligning content with sales, check out:
Customer support and loyalty
Though many think of content marketing as a top-of-the-funnel play, content can work to reinforce the customer’s decision after the sale. How-to and activation content can help make sure the customer gets value from the purchase – and is likely to buy again.
When it makes sense: Focus on customer support content when reducing support costs is a priority (i.e., high volumes of support calls), when the business is struggling to secure repeat business, or when upselling product options and add-ons is a priority.
Profitable actions to track: Measure the impact by the percentage of existing customers who consume content, reduction in the number of support calls, number of repeat customers, revenue from upsell, customer-retention rate, change-in-churn rate.
Don’t hide your goals under a barrel (or in a PowerPoint slide)
Most of us know the SMART framework (specific, measurable, actionable/achievable, realistic, and time-bound) for goal setting. Authors of an article from MIT Sloan argue the SMART framework leaves out important elements that can help eliminate quarter or year-end surprises: frequent discussions and transparency.
The article suggests FAST as a better acronym and framework:
- Frequently discussed so the team stays focused on the right things and can change/correct course as needed
- Ambitious so they promote innovative ideas
- Specific so they include milestones and metrics
- Transparent so teams understand and coordinate on each other’s needs and goals
The frameworks are seemingly complementary and could easily be a blended mix (SMART-FAST? FARMS-STAT?) for your content marketing goal-achieving plan.
Whichever framework you choose, do your content marketing program a favor. Set ambitious goals tied to a business outcome. And then talk about those goals in ways that make your business leaders care.
As usual, Joe nails what’s at stake:
Most content marketing programs don’t stop because of lack of results. They don’t stop because they aren’t working … They stop because the people with the purse strings – the ones who control the budget – don’t understand content marketing, why you are doing it, and what impact it could and should make on the organization.
Most #contentmarketing programs stop because the people who control the purse strings don’t understand content marketing & the impact it makes on the org, says @joepulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
What goals are you working toward this year? How are you making sure the purse-string holders understand what content marketing is contributing to the business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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There’s still time to set growing your content marketing skills as a professional goal for 2020. Then join us at ContentTECH Summit in San Diego this April and Content Marketing World in Cleveland this October.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute