PHOTO: Kamyar Adl

Nobody will be surprised by this but the most common New Year’s Resolution year after year is to lose weight. Of course, that also means it’s the resolution most often broken.

In a similar way, if you ask most marketers if they measure return-on-investment on their content, the answer is probably “yes, of course,” but the data suggests we are not very honest with ourselves!

A broad survey conducted by LinkedIn found that almost 80% of marketers claim to be measuring ROI, but within that group, over 50% openly acknowledge that their measurement window is shorter than their real sales cycle.

The reason marketers are forcing this quick turnaround is the fear of future loss of budget. The same LinkedIn survey found that 58% of digital marketers believe they needed to prove ROI in order to justify spend and get approval for future budget ask. But there are also self-imposed errors in that almost all the marketers surveyed like to make optimization decisions within one month.

As Much as Marketers Try, KPI Does Not Mean ROI

At the root of the issue is the reporting of specific KPIs as if that is ROI. Here is a short list of common KPIs that marketers track:

  • Likes/shares/follower count

  • Open Rate / Click-thru rate

  • Cost-per-click (advertising)

  • Conversion rate

  • Leads created

  • Cost-per-lead

  • Cost-per-enrollment

  • Impressions

The list could be a lot longer but here is the point: some of these metrics are simply actions (open rate) and some of them have a level of interpretation (cost-per-lead) but none truly represent all of the return on an investment.

When your CEO or CFO asks: What is the ROI on this campaign?

Your response needs to be: We will be able to measure the ROI at X time that aligns to our average selling cycle. Until then, let me share with you the guiding metrics we are using to determine if we’re on track ….

I'm all for embracing accountability, but don’t get forced into bad habits!

Here is the other challenge with content ROI on a rolling basis: it requires a lot of tools to come together, including your financial backbone (for actual sales revenue), work management solution (planning, actual work expended), and marketing spend. Some companies have this, but it's rare. If you’re not one of the lucky few companies with the market technology in place and the resources available to do the analysis, focus instead on return-on-effort (ROE).

Related Article: How to Convince Your CFO to Invest in Customer Experience

In 2021, Start Focusing on Return-on-Effort

At this point, you might be looking for another equation that tells you how to measure ROE. However no single equation exists that is universal (Google it!) so let me tell you the thought process.

Measuring your return on effort is all about getting the quick analysis to say, "do we think this output was worth what we put into it?" It can be measured at basically any given time, but it excels for those shorter time period updates. However, there are a couple of guiding points:

  • Establish your goals for your content before you begin work.
  • Clearly set-up a process for measuring the “effort” — some examples could be hours spent on the piece, general ‘t-shirt’ sizing of projects (small effort, medium effort, big effort), money spent on external agency help.
  • Before launch, set-up the checkpoint to measure — the closer you measure your content performance to the beginning, the more accurate your analysis.

In this way, your conversation with your senior leadership can start to evolve:

When your CEO/CFO asks: What do you mean by ROE on this campaign?

Your response gets to be: We use these guiding metrics that help us know if we're on the right track and whether our effort was worth it. It gives us the tracking and transparency needed to make optimization decisions to achieve our long-term ROI objectives.

Related Story: The Challenges of Measuring Marketing ROI

How Did the ‘Genius’ Brands Become That Way?

Your content planning information likely lives in Excel sheets, email, and point solutions, requiring tremendous amounts of time to compile different datasets and create just static reports, let alone interactive ones that allow for deeper investigation. Often that means your reports are already out of date the second they’re delivered — and marketing loses credibility across the business.

There are a lot of ways to solve this problem, but if you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than Gartner’s so-called "Genius Brands" (paywall). Gartner identified these brands as being the benchmark when it comes to marketing best practices. One of the specific technologies that differentiates "Genius" brands from their "Gifted" and "Average" peers is the implementation of a digital asset management solution. If you’re unfamiliar with DAM technology, Gartner defines digital asset management as, “solutions incorporate the planning, ingestion, creation, organization, storage, publication and distribution of all types of content used by an organization.”

DAMs offer a quick and easy way for you to take back control of your 5Ws of marketing: your who, what, when, where, and why. They can be set-up to automatically pull out the content ROE insights you need for easy reporting and more importantly, dashboards can be created that make it easy to explore trends and guide your optimization efforts.

Related Article: DAM Governance Practices for the Long Haul

Make ROE Your 2021 Resolution

As you look toward a (hopefully) brighter 2021, make a resolution to break with content ROI — there are too many moving parts and you often need to present analysis before the proper time period has passed. Further, content ROI has become too much of a buzzword and its misuse has led to serious deterioration in marketing trust. Instead, take back control of your content narrative and start using content ROE.