This is a guest post by Stew Langille.

Content marketing is mainstream. From infographics, articles, and videos to images, whitepapers, and web experiences, 90% of marketers now use content to build their brands and help achieve their business goals, according to the CMI.

Yet, fewer than half of marketers believe their content efforts are effective. That’s quite a large confidence gap, but one that is easily explained.

Despite its widespread adoption, content marketing remains a relatively new practice. Content marketing requires experimentation – in messaging, format, and frequency–to see what resonates with a particular target audience or best achieves a specific business goal.

At Visual.ly, for example, we help some brands tell their stories through videos, others through micro-content like Vine clips and .GIFs, and still others with data visualization in the form of presentations, infographics, and web experiences.

The Startup Universe

Depending on your brand’s specific goal, the best approach may include all of the above.

Measuring Content

Beyond its relative newness, content marketing has also suffered from a lack of universal performance metrics.

Do we judge a piece of content’s success by the number of tweets, shares, likes, or some other metric entirely? Even so, we struggle to place accurate value on how much a “like”or a tweet is worth to a brand’s bottom line.

Until recently, even aggregating this information to arrive at overall counts has been a difficult task. Many marketers and PR professionals regularly cobble together data from a set of sources, including Hootsuite, Google Analytics, and good old-fashioned Google search, in order to piece together a story around their content’s performance.

And once that data is pieced together, communicating the results to internal and external stakeholders becomes similarly challenging.

We saw this issue firsthand at Visual.ly.

Clients routinely struggled to measure the return on their content investments–within a given campaign and as compared to past initiatives.

New tools like Visual.ly’s Native Analytics aim to address these challenges, helping marketers track content performance (e.g., shares, views, distribution channels) across the web, as well as provide insight into which audiences are most influential in amplifying the impact of a particular piece of content.

Native Analytics Track Your Visual Content with Visual.ly

While marketers have historically looked at absolute counts as the definitive measure of their success, at Visual.ly, we’ve seen that pockets of users can drive outsized results for brands.

By surfacing the demographics, key interests, and online behaviors of a brand’s key influencers, analytics platforms can help marketers tailor their efforts to engage these audience segments.

The Return on Content

We took this approach with Bravo and The Huffington Post last fall, when we helped create an infographic guide to New Orleans cooking to support Bravo’s premier of Top Chef New Orleans. The piece was designed to engage entertainment and food enthusiasts, and drove thousands of social shares, tweets, and likes in the process.

For Turner Media’s Bleacher Report, a sports news and entertainment site, we created a single interactive map that was flexible enough to be customized and incorporated into nearly 200 different articles – each generating deep engagement among a specific fan subgroup.

The total impact was staggering: combined, these tailored pieces drove more than 2MM pageviews.

Only once performance data is readily available in a single platform can the true work of optimization can begin. Not only can marketers tailor content to key audiences who will drive their message forward, but they can also start to examine which metrics drive their business itself.

For example, a product launch’s success may most directly correlate to social sharing rates, or it may tie to the quality and volume of press pickups. Once marketers have this knowledge at their fingertips, they can start to optimize their content campaigns to maximize the metrics that matter.

And isn’t that what really matters?

Stew LangilleAbout the author: Stew Langille is the CEO and Co-Founder of Visual.ly, the world’s marketplace for visual content, and a serial entrepreneur. Langille helped unleash the power of visual storytelling and infographics while VP of Marketing at Mint.com, and subsequently, Director of Marketing for Intuit’s Personal Finance Group. Today he is bringing the same concepts to new visual formats like video, presentations and interactives, while continuing to push the boundaries of how visual content can improve and sharpen storytelling. Visual.ly’s marketplace serves as a critical global hub matching Fortune 500 brands, startups and publishers with the world’s best creative talent. Langille was also CMO at iKobo, a pioneer in online money transfer and currently serves as an advisor to 500 Startups.

Sign up for free weekly content

Subscribe to my newsletter and get a weekly email with the latest blog post, recommended reading, quick tips and more. I respect your privacy and will never spam you.

Alternatively, click here to subscribe to the RSS feed instead.

Danny Brown
Co-author Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing. #1 marketing blog in world as per HubSpot. Husband. Father. Optimist. Pragmatist. Never says no to a good single malt. You can find me on Twitter - Google+ - LinkedIn.
15 comments
Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

Hey there Stew @slangille ,

First, thanks for guesting here and sharing how Visual.ly is aiming to help marketers get better results (or, at the very least, understand them) when it comes to content.

I have to admit, much like @PeterJ42, I'm very skeptical when it comes to the term "content marketing". For me, it's simply a spoke in the bigger hub that is marketing. Marketing is the strategy; content is the tactic.

That being said, it's important that the tactic is accountable to the strategy's metrics requirements. Looks like Visual.ly is aiming to help in that area.

One thing I'd love to see (and I'm not sure if you'll be offering this, as I've yet to dig into the platform) - will you be offering heat maps and high velocity metrics? Say I have an infographic with various data points - I'd want to know what areas have most mouse hovers/clicks, what channels induced these extra interactions, and how many transactions came from these hotspots.

Metrics around shares and channels are great; but I'd really love the ability to dig deeper and understand why Twitter sent more traffic but Google+ returned more financial value.

Cheers again for the post!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Hi Stew. This looks like a great tool. When I ran social for some clients (I hate running social I prefer being given reports for review so I can the extrapolate the important insights) I had a very hard time generating reports across social platforms. Sometimes I had to manually count things (Like Pinterest had no analytics for me), or the data provided like Facebook, Twitter etc was not what I cared about or felt was important. So any tools that can aggregate the big picture is very helpful.

BUT there is one caveat from what you presented that can be a huge mine in the field. Popular content doesn't always equal sales or results. I am actually very critical about a lot of such content. The VW Force commercial from the Superbowl was super cute, got accolades and awards yet did nothing to sell cars. A lot of Facebook posts that generate the most likes and shares because they are witty cool or funny have nothing to do with the brand and do nothing to sell product. A lot of beer commercials are hilarious and I will watch them over and over and yet never buy the beer. 

All these examples to me (I have a finance degree and a sales background so my view is the CFO) are wasted dollars and resources. While I don't believe all content and marketing needs to just sell, your business fails if you get a lot of chatter/buzz but sell no product.

To me any content that I can connect directly into sales conversions is what I want to repeat and pump more dollars into. So I might have multiple pieces of content that get a lot of activity, but I will personally go with repeating what got the most conversions vs most shares, likes etc.

That said unless you can have this presented properly in a way that analysis and decisions are possible, you get stuck. So it seems Visualy offers this so I am going t check it out. Cool stuff!

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

I just wonder how gullible we all are?

The Content Marketing Institute isn't an institute at all. It has no academic standing.

Its data is highly suspect and its definition of what is Content Marketing highly biased.

It shows how marketers use stats. No-one seems to care about how well the survey was done as long as it suits their purpose.

As a result it creates exactly the sort of bandwagon effect which CMI wanted. The one which says "everybody else is doing it, so I'll lose out if I don't".

But that is exactly the wrong way to do marketing. It is being first mover which works.

Don't measure your Content marketing. Do something different.

slangille
slangille

@Danny Brown @slangille @PeterJ42 Thanks Guys, Heat mapping on where people dig into a particular area on a piece of content is a good idea. Its not currently in the pipeline, but we will now think about it. We WILL be examining click-throughs. We also want to shed a lot of light on the demographics and profiles of viewers. One of the biggest things marketers told us was the need to know if they were reaching the right people. 

slangille
slangille

@Howie Goldfarb Definitely agree that defining the goal upfront is most important. If that goal is a direct conversion, content marketing is not your most efficient vehicle. PPC, paid ads, SEO all convert better. That being said, content can be a huge tool in your PR efforts. Key PR hits has always resulted in new users for me at several companies. 

Also, content marketing is about thinking like a journalist. Covering the story several times from slightly different articles. It results in (sometimes) a slower conversion funnel. (and can be tricky to track - hence our Native Analytics.) The upside is that it is the most effective IMO way to build brand today. Strong brand gives all your campaigns wings :)

Stew

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Howie Goldfarb I recall going through the Klout "Success Stories" on their website, where they shared case studies on the virality of some of their Perks campaigns. Funny thing was, success to Klout was social shares; to me, that's not success. Brand awareness, sure - but does Pepsi or Nike really need extra brand awareness? Show me the dollars gained from the dollars spent and we'll talk about that definition of "success".

JoePulizzi
JoePulizzi

@PeterJ42 Hi Peter...  You are fully entitled to your opinion on the value that CMI has on our industry.  Just a couple points - First, our findings are in line with Forrester, Altimeter, SiriusDecisions and many other organizations.  Second, if you've read our books or attended any of my speeches, I'm the first one to say that not all organizations should do content marketing.  Third, content marketing is nothing new and organizations have been using the essentials of content marketing for decades, long before I started in the industry in 2000.

As for the "Institute" part...yes, we are a for-profit Institute.  There are thousands of for-profit Institutes and associations in the United States alone, such as University of Phoenix and the London School of Business and Finance.  Our sole purpose is to advance the practice of content marketing and to assist marketers in becoming excellent at their profession.  

@Danny Brown re: your point on the term of content marketing - as you know, there are many terms for the practice area, but content marketing is the term that's being used in large enterprises around the world.  If they were using another term, that's probably the term we would adopt.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@PeterJ42 It's a key reason we need to take responsibility for our "actions". I'm no fan of content marketing as a term - but I do see its value and where it can help move companies in the right direction when it comes to connecting with its audience. That being said, yes, the CMI use of "institute" always make me smile - much like how some social media consultants are calling themselves scientists, having never spent a day in the field of science.... ;-)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@PeterJ42 I agree & disagree w/you Peter. 

I think you have a point about the content marketing bandwagon - this is a problem, especially in B2B. For all of the talk of informing, being useful, etc... there are a lot of blog posts, infographics, and videos about cats and bacon. And that makes the drop off to talking products & services even more mind numbing. 

To me, that's where CMI is valuable, because they are trying to help people really define and have a content strategy. In some ways it's nothing new under the sun, publishers / journos / newsrooms have been doing exactly that for years and calling it a beat, editorial section, or masthead. 

Having a vision of the stories you want to tell, executing that vision, and measuring it is HARD and it takes guts. And it's different for every org. I'd argue that what's important is not "Hey Do These 5 Things and See How Many Leads We Get" what's important is "Here is How You Can Measure Content to Better Understand Your Audience and What's Useful and Inspires Them." 

Those are the kind of metrics that are sustainable in the long term, feel ethical, and can make money. (Full disclosure: I work for Stew & Visually. But these are my regular human thoughts on the matter as a marketer =)

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@slangille interesting response Stew because my view of content marketing has changed recently because it is being sold as an SEO tool but I feel the $$$ to be successful doing it for most businesses would be better spent on AdWords/Paid Advertising which you state as well. Just took me a while to come around. Cheers!

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@JoePulizzi @PeterJ42 @Danny Brown Rather than engage piecemeal, I've covered my thinking on Content Marketing in a piece I've just written for LinkedIn - How Interactivity adds an Extra Dimension to the Internet (and journalists are killing the web). I'll be keen to hear your comments. It is here: http://linkd.in/1kHkHHS.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@JoePulizzi Some enterprises, Joe. Not all. Some. And let's be honest, they weren't using it until they were sold it. But thanks for jumping in, it is appreciated. @PeterJ42

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@JoeCardillo @PeterJ42 I have no objection to a commercial organisation promoting the value of anything. What I object to is them wrapping it up in a cloak of "an institute". That is exactly the sort of deceptive marketing we are supposed to be getting away from.

And I have a big problem with the separation of story from company. It used to be that a company was a facade which hid all sorts of corrupt practices. Advertising created a facade of "grandma's apple pie" and sales was the only point of contact between company and customer.

Now if anyone types a company into LinkedIn it shows dozens of people in all roles. And people feel they have a right to connect directly with the company, not with its frontmen any more, especially when these have been exposed as self-serving and not to be trusted (as most salespeople have).

What Content marketing trys to do is recreate that facade. But actually marketing, like sales, is getting in the way of the connection between people and the companies which they choose to supply them.

Marketers need to turn around - to be the people's champion. Change the company to match the story, not make up stories to turn bad companies into apparently good ones.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@PeterJ42 Ironically, having played with both Visual.ly and Canva as I experiment on how to tell the stories I want to via the content of this blog, I do appreciate the former's approach more. Of course, maintaining customer loyalty is always the problem - be interesting to see if the newer features (data and metrics) from Visual.ly help here and edge it over Canva, which for some inexplicable reason is the darling of many a social media pundit at the minute... @JoeCardillo

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@Danny Brown @PeterJ42 @JoeCardillo I like Canva as a way to dig into basic design / design principles, but much like your point below about scientists you won't catch me calling myself a storyteller or designer. I'm happy enough appreciating and highlighting great creative work and the stories of our customers.

Trackbacks