July 6th, 2016
A few years ago, marketers touted inbound marketing as if it would herald the dawn of a new age of internet advertising. According to these early descriptions of content marketing, companies simply needed to add content to their blogs, post to social media sites a few times, and then watch fat profits come rolling in. While inbound marketing can help businesses thrive, not all companies have enjoyed the great successes that they were originally promised.
Even marketers who have extensive experience with successful content marketing campaigns admit that everything's not as easy as the early promoters of this strategy made it sound. It's important to develop effective content plans and know how to tune and test campaigns in order to succeed. Most of all, companies need a way to develop content that helps support their business goals and the right metrics to figure out if the campaign worked effectively.
How to Know if Content Supports Business Goals
The truth is that competition for people's attention on the internet is pretty intense these days, so even very effective content needs to get promoted and distributed to the right audience. It might seem ironic, but many companies find that they actually need to use old-fashioned, outbound advertising to get their content seen. Poor content distribution is just one reason that content might fail. Mentioning this helps introduce the idea that content marketing campaigns can be fixed if marketers understand why they failed.
Also, not all content really helps businesses grow. Companies need to invest in effective content marketing plans to ensure that the right content gets seen by the right people. Most of all, content marketing strategies must support overall business goals in some measurable way. Without some way to measure it, there's no real way to know if an inbound marketing strategy is really working or not.
Consider these critical first steps to create effective content for inbound marketing campaigns:
- First of all, content should be crafted with the overall mission and goals of the business in mind. Goals could vary, but they might include business growth, brand recognition, or even damage control.
- After deciding which kind of content can help meet the desired goal, the second step should be to figure out how to measure its success. If the impact can't be measured, the content plan's effectiveness should be questioned.
- Even though they are easy to measure and might seem encouraging, it's important to avoid using vanity metrics as the only way to judge success. Vanity metrics might include things like the number of shares on a Facebook post or positive votes on YouTube.
Some marketers might assume that they've succeeded if their content gets read and reacted to by lots of people. Having a Facebook post shared several hundred times might seem like a positive indicator. However, there's no direct correlation between the popularity of a social post and a company's bottom line. For instance, videos of college pranks and pet tricks might draw a lot of attention, but they might not help sell 3D printers of plumbing supplies.
Measuring the Entire Inbound Marketing Sales Funnel
In a perfect marketing world, content can lead directly to a sale. This makes effectiveness very easy to judge. In the real world, marketing content often sits at the very top of a long sales funnel, so it's difficult to make a quick decision about how many sales that it actually helped to generate.
Consider a typical online sales funnel. For example, a video might promote a lead form with a free download. After the potential customer signs up for the download, he or she may also get a series of emails. Eventually, that customer could pick up the phone to get more information and then return to the company website to buy online. For some businesses, the buyer's journey is usually complex and long.
Obviously, each step in the process needs to get its own metrics. It's important to know how many downloads and leads the initial video generated. After that, the effectiveness of each email might be tracked. Phone representatives could ask customers how they learned about the company or product. While the entire sales funnel needs to be considered as a whole, the only real way to keep track of it is by measuring the effectiveness of each part.
This could sound like a lot of work, and some companies employ sophisticated customer relationship management software to keep track of prospects automatically. Smaller businesses with small budgets can still use simpler methods to record results.
Even imperfect metrics and small samples help more than having no information at all, and that might be enough to help small businesses enjoy better returns from their investment in inbound marketing. When campaigns succeed with demonstrable results, it will get easier to convince upper management that they need to invest more resources in content development and tracking.
Why Isn't Content Marketing Working For Your Company?
What's wrong with your inbound marketing campaigns? Really, there's no way to know unless you decide what overall business goals you need them to support and how to measure their success. Having a content marketing campaign fail isn't as bad as not knowing what went wrong.
If you can figure out where you're losing your audience, you can always work to fix that part of your campaign. For instance, you can attract more visitors to your content or tune the message for your target market. If you don't know why your own content plans aren't working, it's possible that you skipped a step when you planned them.