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On Content Measurement and Vendors: CMWorld 2017

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | September 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Conferences impressions are shaped by our biases and curiosities. Going into this years’ Content Marketing World, I was keen to hear what the best and brightest were doing – particularly when it comes to delivering ROI or at least clear business value from their content programs.  Naturally, I explored other types of sessions and surrounded myself with marketeers all refining their craft.  This years’ takeaways for me are that:

  • Content Marketing Measurement is (Still) Hard
  • Marketers Evaluate Vendors Mostly Based on Calendaring, Ignoring AI-Hype
  • The Power of Story Requires Creativity & Collaboration (future post)

Content Marketing Measurement is (Still) Hard

Content marketers are hungry to learn how to measure their results and prove the value their programs bring to the business – judging by attendance at numerous sessions about ROI/measurement and analytics & data. A number are using tried-and-true methods that get at a ‘portion’ of that value, but there’s still a gap when it comes to more comprehensive analysis.

The agency folks at PACE presented their view of how to build your very own content ROI model. What I liked most about their approach is that it explicitly recognizes three categories of business outcomes: hard ROI (sales, lead gen), soft ROI (visibility, engagement, and advocacy) and organizational efficiency. Most content programs are stuck measuring ONLY soft metrics – which is tough to justify from a budget standpoint or they are ONLY given credit for hard ROI outcomes – which provides a limited view of the value they drive.  Incorporating each type into your content models is critically important – but will require buy-in from leaders (we’ll talk about that shortly).

Content ROI Model Framework
Content ROI Model Framework by PACE

During a session on advanced measurement, Deana Goldasich suggested we are moving through an evolution in content marketing measurement – from Anecdotal, to Superficial to Formulaic (today) and we have yet to get to Advanced.

Content Marketing Measurement Evolution - Deanna Goldasich, Well Planned Web
Content Marketing Measurement Evolution – Deanna Goldasich, Well Planned Web

I agree with her first three stages, but I’d argue that less than half of marketers have even advanced to the ‘Formulaic’ stage. Her definition of Formulaic measurement includes top line metrics like Revenue from Content and LTV from content nurturing, bottom line metrics like Cost Per Lead and ROI, to evolved content performance metrics like conversion rates, engagement rates and content half-life. Her argument is that to get to advanced metrics, content marketers must align to groups outside their locus of control and map how their results tie back to the head of sales or support.  I concur – but first, I’d argue that marketers have to get the basics of ‘formulaic’ measurement right and figure out how it ladders up to top line business goals (see Use Gartner’s Hierarchy of Marketing Metrics to Link Execution to Goals – subscription required).

The net of the event can probably be best summed up by a panel on content ROI that featured content marketers from REI, GE and KeyBank. Unsurprisingly, the more B2B the use case, the more measurement gets down to leads, pipeline and revenue influenced while in B2C use cases, there’s emphasis on engagement, utility and impact across the entire customer journey.

Across the board – all agreed on the one challenge that has plagued content marketers since the dawn of time.  You can’t separate the message from the medium.  Some might say ‘our email program is killing it’ when indeed the email team is sending content marketing material.  But how do you evaluate ‘which program’ is generating the value?

My summary note to self at the end of the panel was simply: “Content marketing measurement is hard.”

The common thread that permeated the sessions on content marketing measurement and ROI is the need for alignment.  It’s a fuzzy word and concept – but it’s what will make or break any marketing program.  Until you and your boss and his or her peers all agree on what matters – what IS valuable to the brand – all the metrics in the world won’t help you to prove the ROI on your content marketing program.

Marketers Evaluate Vendors Mostly Based on Calendaring, Ignoring AI-Hype

Walking around the show floor – which any inquisitive analyst is wont to do – I’m always looking out for that new thing I haven’t seen before, listening to the conversations and types of questions that get asked and trying to keep my pulse on all things content marketing.  My observation is not that much changed since 2016 when it comes to the vendors or conversations being had.

On the ‘advanced’ side of things, 6 vendors (about 7% of all exhibitors) had ‘AI’ or ‘Machine Learning’ somewhere right on their booth copy while another ten or more implied it in their talk track.  That means a whopping 17% were saying they were AI-powered. And I write ‘saying’ AI-powered because upon deeper investigation, plenty of them are using machines to automate work, but very few are in fact using continuous machine learning to power compelling new applications.  The good news, to some, is that most marketers didn’t seem to be too lured by promises of AI-powered awesomeness and moved past the hype.

That said, the slightly disconcerting thing that is also the same, is that when I walked by and listened to conversations and observed Content Marketing Platform (clients see market guide) demos from over a shoulder, so many of them remained focused on calendaring and workflow.  Focusing too much on workflow limits marketers from thinking about strategic planning and analytics capabilities they need to be smart about what they are crafting.  Because as we all know, less is more and quality is at a premium when it comes to garnering audience attention. Each and every CMP vendor jumps to mention that they have a long or short term view calendar, Kanban-style boards and views that can be customized to various stakeholders.  Let’s not get lost in the calendar and view morass and really figure out what’s under the hood – when you craft your RFP for a CMP – please dig deep into ideation, planning and analytics, because if calendaring and workflow are all you want, there are simpler (and less costly) tools that rise to the challenge.

There’s one more thread that caught my attention during the show – how collaboration remains crucial to the creativity of our craft – but that deserves a follow on post of its own.

What did you see at CMWorld that’s inspiring you this week?

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