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3 Ways to Track the True Value, Not Just Return on Investment, of Your Content Marketing Here are a few ways to shift your thinking away from the dollars-generated-per-webinar mindset and toward a focus on how your content powers your entire sales and marketing engine.

By Justin Gray Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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When you're spending a hefty chunk of your marketing budget on creating and distributing content, it's only natural that you want to be sure you're getting a return on the time and resources you put into it. Ever since the rise of data-driven marketing a few years ago, we've been scrambling to try and pin down how to track which pieces of content close the most sales, which influence the biggest deals and how to create more like them.

I've been in the marketing technology business since the beginning, and I'm here to tell you: Trying to pin an exact return on investment (ROI) on each particular piece of content is a waste of time. You should be tracking the overall value of your campaigns instead.

Related: You Don't Need Much Cash to Implement These 5 Essential Marketing Strategies

Here are a few ways to shift your thinking away from the dollars-generated-per-webinar mindset and toward a focus on how your content powers your entire sales and marketing engine.

1. Build content that offers true education first and sales information second.

Let's face it: Today's buyer moves around like an Etch A Sketch on amphetamines. Good information is abundant. Buyers have access to everything they need to make informed decisions without ever making contact with your team. Even if they do sign up for your email list or a demo, there's less and less indication they're a qualified decision-maker. We can no longer expect to distill the driving factor behind a buyer's decision to a single action -- much less the first action.

In today's information-heavy age, buyers treat content like a learning tool. The quickest way to kill your reputation as an educational resource is to present a quiz before the first lesson. Modern-day content marketing works in the same way that a conversation does -- it builds, turns and takes root. And like you would in any good conversation, expect to give and get. So, you'll want to be able to associate those gives back with the overall lead cycle as a result of that consumption.

Don't confuse educational for boring, though. Your audience consists of real people who like things that are fun. This thinking is summed up by an awesome quote I recently heard during a presentation: "No one ever bought a pair of shoes after reading a white paper." Know that your prospects are people, and give them content that connects.

Related: 5 Ways to Capture Audience Attention and Drive Content Performance

2. Redefine what success means for a content campaign.

Content-marketing programs fall into two categories: first-touch (FT) and multi-touch (MT). The days of closing a deal with a first-touch piece of content are probably over, because buyers want a multi-touch experience. Education is a journey, and modern-day buyers want to be educated.

Because FT content often receives the credit for bringing in the lead, we continue to invest in programs that are yielding good outcomes. However, the real meat and potatoes of engaging with a prospect and building a relationship requires a more immersive approach. It happens in the engagement between acquisition and customer conversion.

A multi-touch approach examines every interaction along that line and weighs its importance in the buyer's decision, giving us insight into how each piece of content influenced the sale. Once we have these figures established, tracked and analyzed, you can extrapolate from there in planning your next initiative. It gives your team insight into key metrics like lead quality per acquisition channel (such as the value of each sale and the number of leads each channel brings in) and buyer education cycle (such as how long it takes buyers take to realize value propositions).

At LeadMD, we recently had a content campaign that wasn't connecting with a persona the way we thought. After analyzing the data, we realized that the content itself was probably a better match for a different persona. We made the switch and saw much better results. Always be learning, and don't be afraid to make adjustments.

3. Spend as much time tailoring who sees content as you do developing it.

The common marketing mentality is that a piece of content alone is going to acquire the lead. When it comes to measuring what drove a lead to take action, most marketers usually go back and mark that up as a win for the first piece of content the buyer came across. That's a setup for failure. Each piece of content will influence leads as the conversation takes place. Measuring the value in each touch, as well as what the buyer took from the interaction, is the basis for multi-touch attribution and content marketing ROI.

How do you track which content pieces influence the prospect most? Start tracking what types of content a given persona consumes at a given funnel stage, and how that effects their next step. When encountered with a similar buyer profile, you can make sure the new prospect gets content tailored to them specifically.

By building education that can stand on its own adopting a multi-touch approach and paying attention to what pieces of content most deeply affect the buyer, marketers can move beyond their motivation to track content ROI. What content marketing is really about is adding value, building influence, and using a tailored approach to build trust with the buyer before they even interact with you directly. It's not easy, but it's doable -- it just takes patience, data and a shift in thinking.

Related: 5 Free Influencer Outreach Templates for Your Content Campaigns

Justin Gray

CEO of LeadMD

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist of LeadMD. He founded the company in 2009 with the vision of transforming traditional grassroots marketing efforts through the use of cloud-based marketing solutions.

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