By: Benjy Boxer, Forbes Contributor & NewsCred Employee
Many predictions were made about the future of the fast growing content marketing industry at the end of 2013. Before getting too excited about the opportunity, marketers must always remember the importance of measuring their results through a return on investment calculation. If they don’t, this current iteration of content marketing could disappear as fast as prior iterations have throughout the history of advertising in the U.S. The brand to watch in content marketing is always Red Bull, and all content marketers should continue to monitor the trends Red Bull sets and the successes or failures of the Red Bull campaigns.
Brand marketers are shifting significant amounts to content marketing. In April 2013, the Custom Content Council announced that the content marketing industry had grown to a $44 billion industry. This is the result of a confluence of technologies and trends – social media, search engine optimization, and ineffective display advertising. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 93% of B2B brands and 90% of B2C brands are now using content marketing to educate consumers about their brands. Despite the overwhelming interest in content marketing, 55% of B2B content marketers think their campaigns are ineffective. Brands and content marketers need to prove the efficacy of these campaigns by measuring the effectiveness of content marketing with the web technologies available to them.
Although content marketing techniques are prescribed as a new method of telling a brand story, content marketing is really just another iteration of the soft sell advertising technique made famous by Theodore MacManus in the early 1900s. Each time the advertising world has adopted the soft sell technique, it has always reverted back to the hard sell campaigns that consumers despise because the efficacy of those hard sells could be measured; whereas, the soft sell technique produced nebulous brand value. If this iteration of content marketing is to continue to grow, a focus on the return on investment (ROI) of content marketing campaigns is essential.
Theodore MacManus kickstarted the soft selling technique with is most famous ad, “The Penalty of Leadership” for Cadillac. The only time the brand appears on the ad is in the upper-right of the copy. Similar campaigns have been repeated throughout the history of advertising. Some of the more famous ones include: “Somewhere West of Laramie” for the defunct Jordan Automobile Company, “The Man from Schweppes” by David Ogilvy, and “The Crazy Ones” ad that put Apple back on the map.
These ads all emphasize an ideal for the brand rather than the unique sales position or comparative benefit of the product. Advertisers have switched between these ads and the more direct hard selling technique almost predictably every ten years. The shift back to hard selling is typically the result of a disastrous campaign that takes the soft sell too far. The 1980s soft selling ended with an Infiniti ad campaign announcing the launch of the Q45. The ads featured shots of haystacks in a field and ripples in a pond. This campaign permanently impacted the brand versus Lexus, which launched with hard sell campaigns just three months earlier.
Creating content for social media distribution is similar to the technique advertisers used at the beginning of the radio and television eras. The original radio shows and television programs were produced by brands and advertising agencies and distributed by the television networks. Similarly, the content marketing agencies and brands producing content for social media distribution today create content and distribute it via social networks.
Web technology enables brands to measure visitors, repeat visits, lead generation, sales funnel conversion, dollars spent to acquire a new customer, and loyalty. When a marketer understands the lifetime value of a customer, she can measure the ROI of her content marketing investments by looking at the price of content creation, advertising, lead generation, and customer lifetime value.
Here’s an example ROI calculation on a white paper that reflects some of the costs a B2B marketer can expect to incur as part of a content marketing campaign.
In this example, the marketer had an ROI on her white paper of 2.3x. All of these metrics must be measured and updated throughout the campaign to ensure that the content marketing campaign is continuing to yield value to the brand.
This was a clear-cut example for demonstration purposes. It’s much more difficult to measure the success of the content marketing campaigns that many large brands are launching. For instance, Coca-Cola launched a new website and content plan to achieve marketing success through 2020. This fundamental change in its marketing plan must be continually measured to ensure that they don’t fall into the same trap that predecessors made during previous eras of soft selling.
Originally published on Jan 8, 2014 5:16 PM