Getting ahead in the age of distraction
Our industry’s fixation on content marketing is keeping us from seeing the bigger picture. The power of content extends far beyond lead generation, and how to measure content marketing is more than tracking conversions and marketing ROI.
It is, perhaps, the critical ingredient of any brand and essential to the vision of any discipline involved in creativity or communication, and indicative of their healthiness and longevity.
We need to stop defining content exclusively in terms of marketing, and place it back where it belongs — at the center of all efforts to tell a brand’s history and story. We need new objectives and measures of success that apply to all forms of content, whether it be for marketing or otherwise.
When it comes to measuring content marketing effectiveness, rather than relying on traditional list of marketing metrics such as KPIs and ROI, lean on the “Four V’s”: volume, velocity, veracity and virility to visualize and take advantage of creative content’s true potential. But first, here are some definitions.
Content vs. marketing campaign effectiveness
What is content? Literally, it is anything that fills a particular container. For those in the creative and communications disciplines, these containers are channels, from social media forums and display ads, to the front pages of national newspapers. Channels bring content to the audience, and the audience ultimately determines whether that content is an epic win or fail. More on this later.
What about marketing? Merriam-Webster.com defines it pithily as “the activities that are involved in making people aware of a company’s products, making sure that the products are available to be bought, etc.” This may be a simplified definition, but it does the job.
Content is an object, marketing is an action. And content marketing is the application of content as part of the marketing process.
But content marketing isn’t the only application of content; nor, I dare say, does it always have the highest relative value. For example, you can’t generate awareness without content. In fact, PR professionals are, perhaps, the original “content experts,” since there’s few channels harder to fill than the column inches of highly cynical discerning journalists and editors. And awareness is rarely counted as a primary marketing goal, given how difficult it is to quantify or attribute its profitability.
Does that mean we shouldn’t use content to grow awareness? Of course not. But doing so isn’t content marketing, and naming it as such can confuse our goals and muddle our metrics.
Four V’s: The new content marketing success metrics
Instead of seeing content solely through the lens of marketing, we need to observe its more fundamental characteristics. It’s helpful to think of content as closely tied to storytelling, particularly because it places the focus on audiences rather than KPIs. I use four V’s — three of which are also associated with data — to assess the impact of any content strategy, tactic or individual asset on audiences:
- Volume refers to the amount of content in play. Too little, and the audience may not take note or even see it. Volume, in this regard, is especially relevant when talking about social media content such as tweets and LinkedIn long-form pieces.
- Velocity has two components: speed and direction. Whether being used for marketing purposes or otherwise, content needs to be sent to audiences in a timely fashion and via the appropriate channel. You wouldn’t announce a fashion brand’s latest product range on LinkedIn, for example (unless it’s a line of executive sportswear).
- Veracity refers to good content being not only true, but truthful. This is one area where content marketing often struggles in its push to meet the demands of volume, which can often lead to content that doesn’t appear genuine. If we frame content from an audience perspective, rather than through marketing KPIs, we’re on the right track to keeping customers engaged and trusting our brands. That, in turn, results in higher ROI further down the sales cycle.
- Virility stands out from the other V’s, doesn’t it? And that’s the hallmark of powerful content: a point of view, tone of voice, or presentation style that is strong and a little bit sexy. Regardless of whether it’s for event-driven marketing, white papers or a series of short films, content only sticks in audiences’ heads if it packs some intellectual or emotional punch.
The Four V’s aren’t contradictory to marketing goals. If anything, they’re complementary. But the Four V’s focus on the content side of the equation, rather than the marketing side. As the industry moves toward greater integration, content is the obvious common factor between these disciplines. That means we urgently need new content marketing success metrics on their own terms, not necessarily those specific to marketing, PR or advertising.
Content marketing is only one facet of a bigger revolution that we’re seeing in the creative and communications industry. Equating “content” with “content marketing” runs the risk of blindsiding us to the risks and opportunities of this change. Let’s clear up our definitions and start treating content like it should be treated — as a discipline in its own right.