The Content Marketing Maturity Index: How to Use the Predictive Power of Leading Indicators
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Measurement

The Content Marketing Maturity Index: How to Use the Predictive Power of Leading Indicators

by Johnny O'NeilJuly 24, 2017

The content marketing landscape is changing and forcing us to think about success in new ways.

Today, we need to show the business value of our efforts. Fortunately, with the right tools, processes, and creative talent in place, we can.

Yet, even in this new performance era of content marketing, there seems to be a disconnect between the maturity of the space and the goals of most marketing teams. Eighty-five percent of marketers still define success as upticks in traffic. Undoubtedly, traffic is an important component of any successful content marketing program. But it is not the ultimate goal for any program, especially with our new technological capabilities. 

This begs the question: Why is there a disconnect?

To try to answer that question, we turned to both customers and prospects. We found that the problem was multi-fold. Some marketers simply weren’t aware they could measure ROI and were only going as far as their goals would allow (e.g. increasing traffic to their content hubs). Others knew their goal was ultimately measuring ROI, but didn’t have the tools or processes in place. We saw this across nearly every industry.

This made us realize that there needs to be a better way for us to help content marketers continue to mature their programs alongside the amazing opportunity in the space.

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Introducing: The Content Marketing Maturity Index

We’re proud to release the NewsCred Content Marketing Maturity Index. 

It’s a tool that marketers can use to gauge their content marketing readiness. The Index is essentially a set of 14 questions that aim to get an unbiased assessment of how well you’re currently set up for content marketing success. Through the Index, you can highlight areas where your team is excelling, as well as pinpoint areas of improvement that you may not have noticed on first, second, or even third glance.

When NewsCred decided to shift our focus to “performance content marketing,” we realized that too often we were reactive in our thinking when making recommendations for improving a program.

If pageviews were down, we’d tell a client they needed to increase pageviews. If engagement was down, we’d recommend increasing engagement. This approach wasn’t necessarily wrong. But it wasn’t holistic enough and was largely based on lagging indicators rather than leading indicators.

Leading vs. Lagging Indicators

For those not familiar with leading and lagging indicators, here’s more context: Lagging indicators are normally an “output” or “outcome” of an event. In the case of content marketing, lagging indicators are often hard metrics, like pageviews or deals influenced. Typically, lagging indicators are easy to measure but hard to influence because they are not the actions that drive outcomes. They are the outcomes themselves.

Conversely, leading indicators are “input” based. They’re normally much easier to influence, but harder to measure. For instance, a question like, “How good is your distribution plan?” would be a great leading indicator for reaching your desired number of pageviews. However, the subjective term “good” is much more difficult to measure than a hard metric like actual pageviews. 

To better illustrate the concept of lagging v. leading indicators, let’s use weight loss as an example. A person’s goal may be to lose 10 pounds in a year. Behaviors like “eating healthfully” and “going to the gym” are leading indicators that the person will be successful in losing 10 pounds. The number of pounds lost during the course of that year is a lagging indicator of success, or the final result of someone’s actions.

The number of pounds lost lacks predictive power. It is simply what has happened. Just because someone lost 10 pounds last year, does not mean that they will do the same this year. That number is derived from leading indicator inputs of “eating healthfully” and “exercising.”

Because leading indicators largely determine success, decisions should be made at this stage to give people the best chances of reaching their goals.

To help all marketers get a pulse on their leading indicators, we’ve built the Content Marketing Maturity Index. Now, instead of looking at only historical metrics, we’re doing forward-looking assessments and providing recommendations that will deliver the results that actually matter. You can assess where you may have gaps and begin to fill those gaps before the time comes to measure success.

How Does the Content Marketing Maturity Index Work?

Now that we understand what the Content Marketing Maturity Index is and why it matters, let’s go into how it works.

At the center of the Content Marketing Maturity Index tool is the NewsCred Methodology, based on five distinct components: Strategy, Traffic, Engagement, Action, and Monetization. During our time as a content marketing company, we’ve learned what makes a successful program and we’ve translated that into a digestible and repeatable framework.

Think of the NewsCred Methodology as a pancake recipe. There are a few basic ingredients for making pancakes: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, eggs, butter, and milk. You can add chocolate chips or blueberries or even make it Mickey Mouse-shaped – but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pancake. Without the proper process, ingredients, and tools in place to combine those foundational ingredients the right way, your odds of getting a pancake on the table are slim.

The same goes for content marketing. If you’re missing parts of any of the key elements, those gaps will impact your chances of success. The Content Marketing Maturity Index is designed to identify those gaps for you.

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Strategy: The strategy portion of the Content Marketing Maturity Index deals with how well your organization supports content marketing and if you’re aligned around the right metrics. Ask yourself: Do you have a measurable business objective you’re trying to achieve with content marketing?

Traffic: Traffic looks at how well-resourced your team is to drive sufficient users to support your business goals. This includes identifying your target audience and having distribution plans in place to meet them where they are and build valuable traffic.

Engagement: Evaluating engagement includes understanding the traffic you’re getting. Are you attracting the right people who are likely to buy something from you? How long are they engaging with your content? Can you leverage the insights gained from your findings to create even better content in the future?

Action: The actions portion of the methodology looks at a few distinct, yet important metrics that indicate your program is working. Are you driving newsletter sign-ups or high value actions on your site? Do you know which micro-conversions to optimize to help your program? Showing that your content marketing is driving meaningful results to your organization is critical at this stage.

Monetization: This is the gold standard for any content marketing program. Are you driving actual revenue and growth for your organization with content marketing? If so, are you able to clearly articulate and prove that value with defensible hard metrics? Setting up a reporting structure and having the right tools in place to track these conversions would be some of the leading indicators of success here.

Ultimately each of these components rolls up into a single score that correlates to our Content Marketing Maturity Curve (shown above). Those with higher scores are further along the curve. The curve visualizes and brings to life how likely you are to succeed while showing some of the key milestones required to reach the next level of maturity.

The Content Marketing Maturity Index in Action

In theory, using leading indicators versus lagging indicators sounded great to us. But, it wasn’t until we began to actually test our assumptions with customers that we were truly convinced it was a great solution.

One customer, in particular, was running a program that both NewsCred and the customer thought was successful. Engagement metrics were solid, pageviews were high, and their ultimate goal was simply “create thought leadership.” On all accounts, we were surpassing that goal.

However, when we measured the customer on the Content Marketing Maturity Index, we realized quickly that there was a gap in strategy. Racking up pageviews and engagement didn’t show that they were driving any tangible business value. They needed to change their goals to reflect an outcome that was actually important for their business.

By implementing key program changes from the gaps the Index identified, we helped the customer increase its newsletter database by more than 90 percent, increase lead conversion rates by over 1,000 percent, and ultimately get people to spend almost three minutes longer on site when coming from a newsletter.

This uptick in performance across every facet of the program showed the power of leading indicators.

The Content Marketing Maturity Index forced us to look at every element of the program through an unbiased lens. From this, it pointed us in the direction of critical elements that may not have been surfaced – and did so quickly. Finally, it also set a baseline for performance in terms of the actions being taken against goals so we could track how we were progressing together once these shifts were made.

How to Measure Your Content Marketing Maturity

Now that we are confident in our methodology and the Index’s usefulness, we are releasing it to the broader market to help others looking to bridge the gap between content marketing and proving ROI.

We’re also planning to release industry benchmarks so you can learn where you may be leading or lacking relative to your peers as the data rolls in.

We’re extremely excited to share these new developments and findings with everyone and hope you find them useful.

Get Started: Find out your CMMI score now. 

Johnny O’Neil is NewsCred’s Product Marketing Manager.