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.

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