A content marketer's worth is hard-earned, but in some cases, it can also be hard to prove. Despite working to do all the right things, at the end of the day, success in tracking and presenting demand generation metrics is still what seems to matter most.
But sophisticated reporting is not always in the cards for many content marketers. In fact, only 25% of content marketers report being extremely proficient in tracking content marketing metrics, to say nothing of overall demand generation investments. So, how can you leave the lingering questions about your success behind and start tracking real results with demand generation metrics?
First, be brutally honest with where you are.
Take an Inventory
Some content marketers are ready for full-on, multi-touch attribution models. They have the technology, the human bandwidth, and the process in place to extract meaning from every single interaction with every single content asset they produce, across every single channel. But you have to start somewhere, and that level of granularity and specificity is a desired destination, not a starting point.
The simplest path from engagement to revenue is your starting point.
With that in mind, you need to do an inventory of your place in the attribution space. Are you technologically rich but process poor? Or technologically poor, but with reporting skill oozing from every team member? What can you do, today, to connect the performance of an asset or actions of a contact (engagement) to revenue?
What technology is available to you for the process of making the stated connection? Oftentimes, unique and multiple integrations and APIs may be involved in the way your CRM and your marketing automation tools communicate. As a content marketer, managing the intricacies of this technology in order to achieve revenue reporting is not attainable on your own. Evaluate the technology on hand — in the context of the people who can help you set it up and manage it.
If you have a stacked team of developers and technologists within your company, you may already have what you need (both technologically and in terms of human bandwidth) to begin tracking demand generation metrics. Discover how these team members are operating today. Are they able to provide reporting metrics or create new integrations that will allow you to see new metrics? Or are you the only team member invested in initiatives where marketing contacts and engagement should be tracked?
If you're going it alone, evaluating and implementing this technology could be a long road. It's a good bet to be honest with yourself about what information you can actually track, where, and how much time you'll need to invest in doing so (human bandwidth).
As you evaluate technology and your team's ability to use it, you also must consider your reporting process. If you are operating on a baseline understanding of reporting, as most content marketers are, then connecting engagement to revenue is that simple path. So, you need to understand how a closed/won deal can be connected to an engagement with a piece of content. Do you have all of the right materials in place to capture contact information? Where does that contact information go, once captured? Does it ever connect to the opportunities your salespeople are creating?
And so, we're back to technology evaluation. The three pieces should truly be considered together, but the point is this: You need to know where your content analytics capabilities stand today in order to make decisions about what and how to track performance.
Align Your Teams
Perhaps the primary reporting challenge for demand generation marketers lies in the ability to illuminate the simple path. Through a reverse engineering endeavor, you can connect potentially disparate behaviors to an outcome. But without the data infrastructure and visibility (read: alignment) to draw the connection with ease, you'll spend far too much time manually unraveling the outcome, with no guarantee you'll be able to identify what led to it.
Here's an example of how lack of alignment can hamper your reporting efforts: Many organizations track downloads, so contacts and leads are both featured in the CRM. But an "Opportunity" might operate at the account level, rather than the individual contact level. Depending on how your infrastructure is designed, tying a human-level activity to an opportunity may never happen.
And even if you have a system that tracks end-to-end, challenges abound. Let's say you are tracking engagements on an account. You're aware of the the leads' engagements, but then a salesperson tags the Opp as "sales influenced" vs. "content influenced," negating the data's quality. Data quality is paramount to tracking effectiveness well; you can't achieve data quality without sales and marketing alignment and the correct data structure.
The challenges of reporting are many, but alignment is critical to both avoiding and overcoming them. As you build and iterate, those challenges will lessen as well.
Track The Right Kinds of Metrics
You have inventoried where you are today, and considered team alignment. It's time to understand which metrics to track, and why.
The litmus test for any metric is straightforward: Does this metric report success against a desired outcome? As an example, if your desired outcome is "increased site traffic," then "site visits" is an appropriate metric to track and assess. Great news: As long as your metric passes that litmus test, tracking it makes sense.
So-called vanity metrics, for instance, are excellent for understanding awareness. If you write a post in order to generate traffic and keep people on your site, then site visits and time-on-site are appropriate indicators of success. "Is this doing what it is supposed to do?" is an excellent jumping off point for tracking content effectiveness. If you want to gain leads of a certain persona through a given download, then knowing the count of submissions isn't enough to signify success; you would want to understand, as well, the percentage of submissions from the target persona.
In that last example, we see a lesson. What if your content created an influx of downloads — from the wrong persona? You might learn that people you didn't expect to show interest are downloading that content, and need to adjust your inroad to the buyer collective. Missing your goal, it turns out, can be a win. You either hit your goal (the original win you wanted) or you miss it, and learn something that you can use to improve in the future. All goals you design and metrics you track should be crafted with this truth in mind.
All told, there are no "right" performance metrics. A good metric is one that tracks to a desired outcome. However, if you're interested in tying your efforts to revenue (and aren't we all?) then following that simple path we outlined earlier (engagement to closed/won deal) is still a useful framework.
If someone from within an organization has interacted with your content, and that same company then purchases, you know there's a connection. Ideally, you could track this at the contact level, as opposed to only the account level, but in the early stages of tracking demand generation metrics, simply knowing that the same individual engaging with your content is a part of the greater buying collective is enough to know you're making a difference.
Stay Away from Distractions
This basic best practice of reporting is one of the most straightforward and also one of the most difficult: don't change the rules of the game while you're playing it. In other words, there is a lot going on in your prospect's lifecycle and with your content that you could examine. And because you could always use quality data to learn more later, you should never just ignore gathering data you have the capability to gather. But you should have a nice pair of blinders on, so as not to get distracted by exceptional or poor performance in the metrics that aren't relevant to your goal.
For instance, if an asset you share on social performs "does well," but does so because of a particular keyword, don't pivot away from your social sharing goals and focus on the success of search metrics as you analyze and present your reports. Instead, remain focused on what you can learn about your initial social engagement goals and about your audience's behavior relative to them. Moving the goalposts isn't the way to process insights and iterate on your goals. It just serves as a distraction.
Stand Firm, But Look Ahead
Tracking demand generation effectiveness isn't always about connecting every piece of content directly to a certain portion of revenue. Though a multi-touch, weighted attribution model may be a highly valuable capability to cultivate, it's still a massive undertaking to achieve on your own.
So instead of taking a sharp dive into the weeds, tangling yourself in evaluations, integrations and implementations, keep walking briskly along the side of the road. A great performance reporting effort should see you feeling stable where you are today, and looking ahead with a clear view of how you can use whatever you learn — even if you didn't meet your goal — to improve demand generation metrics.