Seeing the Impact & Results of Content Marketing

Evaluating a marketing strategy is always a matter of assessing two different kinds of results.

There are “soft” results that include things like cultivating good will, sustaining brand awareness and nurturing whatever warm, fuzzy feelings an audience has in response to a given product. That side of things is very much the focus of Apple’s iPhone marketing. There, technical specs get next to no attention. Style and the coolness factor rule the day. Image is everything.

Obviously, that kind of marketing has worked very well for Apple. For companies deciding on where to put their marketing resources, however, an argument based on achieving soft results can be a hard sell, and it’s a hard sell because it can be difficult to tie immediately quantifiable results to specific marketing choices.

Some marketing takes time to make an impact, a potentially fatal flaw when investors – and, of course, the managers who must answer to them – push hard for immediate gratification.

When its benefits are couched in terms of things like reputational and brand enhancement, content marketing can have a hard time getting the attention and resources it deserves. Executives won’t dismiss the role that quality content plays completely. They’ll acknowledge the importance of customer engagement. They see the value of a medium that demonstrates the company’s expertise, commitment and awareness.

When it’s time to allocate resources, however, content sometimes takes a back seat to other options. “We’ll get to it. We know that it’s important, but we’re focusing on paid search right now, and we’re rolling out a new campaign next month, and we’re trying to finalize those ad placements that we’d worked on all winter, and…”

Content is all too easy to put on the back burner, but that’s not the fault of executives alone. With pitches that lean on vague generalities, content creators and marketers have to share some blame. Specifics, especially quantitative specifics, are what’s needed.

It may come as a surprise, then, that specifics, including the numbers, are out there, ready to make the case for content on the basis of a metric dear to the heart of every company: ROI. The numbers show that content can offer a better return on investment than returns generated by competing options.

First, let’s set the stage by defining those options and their place in the marketing landscape.

In 2011, when asked 200 “lead-generation professionals” to rank the relative effectiveness of various marketing strategies, paid search was the most popular choice by far. Almost 36 percent of respondents put paid search, or pay-per-click or PPC, at the top of the effectiveness list, followed, in order of decreasing effectiveness, by online display ads, email campaigns, trade shows, direct mail and cold calling.

Content marketing, ever the afterthought, didn’t even make the list, but regardless of any changes over the past few years, PPC continues to be a favorite marketing approach and – just ask Google – one that attracts bushels of corporate spending.

Can content marketing compete when it goes toe-to-toe with PPC, the reigning champ?

Looked at in terms of ROI, it can. And it competes even if we assume a generous conversion rate of 4 percent for a PPC campaign and a 2 percent rate for content. Take a closer look in our blog post on the return on investment of PPC vs content.

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