Do clicks, likes and shares tell the whole story?

In this guest blog, Clare Hill, managing director of the CMA, looks at the challenges facing brands and agencies as they seek to prove ROI for their content marketing output.

For the latest in our series of content marketing reports we have chosen to explore one of the more contentious topics in the content marketing world – measurement.

The theory runs that following the digital revolution, which began in earnest a decade or so ago, measurement became pivotal to content marketing. So marketers began to obsess over page impressions, clicks, and more recently since the arrival of social media, shares and likes. Less tangible notions of say brand awareness, became slightly devalued.


Importance of measurement

In many ways I believe the digital measurement revolution has been a very good thing for marketing. It has enabled brands and agencies to be more bullish when demonstrating the impact on consumer behaviour of the content they produce. They can show hard facts and figures that 'prove ROI.'

Yet as the years have gone by, and content marketing has matured as a discipline, a growing chorus of voices has emerged who have begun to suggest that the type of measurement that has held sway for nigh on a decade doesn't tell the whole story. They argue that in our rush to embrace the new ways of working out what success looks like we have passed up on concepts that have stood marketers in good stead for decades.

The complex, and ultimately shifting world of measurement in content marketing, is very much the theme of this report. Some commentators argue that we need to be forensic in the way we pick over the data that the content yields, while others suggest we need to look to the future and the arrival of more accurate, more emotion-driven metrics.


The measurement debate

The overwhelming pattern that emerges from our survey of content marketers is that measurement is important, yet there is still a debate about what is worth measuring, and how companies should go about doing this.

So while every single person who responded to our survey agreed that measurement is essential in content marketing strategy, only half that figure believe that it is possible to accurately measure content marketing ROI.

Also, while just under half of the other respondents stressed that an action, such as a purchase, was the most important short-term measure to gauge the effectiveness of content marketing, almost every responder agreed that content marketing effectiveness metrics can gauge long-term brand health measures, such as favourability/ likeability, trust, consideration and propensity to buy.


Getting the data

One of the bugbears of both agencies and brands at the moment is getting access to key content marketing data. As many as 65% of our respondents believe that the key challenge is actually accessing reliable data. It may also be true that companies are still working out how to harness the information that data delivers in a way that helps them optimise their content. In her report, Rhiannon Thompson, Director at Remarkable Content, stresses the importance of A-B testing in content marketing, a concept that has only really been on marketer's agenda since the rise of massive socially-driven content sites like BuzzFeed.

The question as to which type of content is being measured also yielded some fascinating results. Predictably, almost every respondent said that their brand or agency measured digital and social content. Yet print wasn't too far behind, with seemingly every company that produces printed material believing very strongly that they had a set of tools to effectively measure the performance of their magazine, brochure, leaflet or white paper.


Video – the measurement game changer

Another trend that emerges from both the reports and the survey is that we may be a long way from developing definitive measurement metrics for video content. In a fascinating article Mark Thompson, Account Director, ITN Productions looks at the metrics that might matter in the future. He argues "facial recognition software, for example, along with heart rate and GSR (galvanic skin response) measurements, can provide a specific set of data allowing us to work out if people are really saying what they feel, feeling what they say, and which of our messages are really streaming into the subconscious mind and effecting behaviour."

He isn't alone in this view either. Our survey concluded that almost 70% of our respondents believe that content marketers should seek to measure emotional engagement. Quite how they achieve this at this juncture is still very much up in the air, but it is clearly high on many marketers' agenda.

Ultimately then the debate about measurement in content marketing looks set to continue for many years. Over the pages of our report many influentials have outlined their views. From working out which metrics are most important to SEO, through to examining how to gauge the effectiveness of paid social content. You can read the full report here: CMA Effectiveness Report