Editor’s note: Given that ROI remains a most frequently asked topic in the industry, we updated this original Chief Content Officer piece from a few years ago to help you answer the ROI question today.
Marketing measurement and ROI. Heard of them? Yeah, I thought so. It’s kind of a thing right now.
Without fail the most common question I get at workshops or advisory days with clients is “how are we going to show return on a content marketing investment?”
That is the exact right question because content marketing is an investment – a strategic asset that builds value over time. But we usually answer the question by using classic expense measurements for marketing and advertising. And, while there are opportunities to optimizeexpenses using content marketing, it can be a limiting and frustrating way to calculate the overall content marketing ROI.
Let me explain.
We always sucked at measuring marketing
Marketing performance measurement is not a new challenge. It’s not as if we suddenly lost capability that we had in the 1960s when the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue roamed the Earth. Marketers have been talking about the struggle to measure performance for as long as the practice has been around. Mercantilist John Wannamaker was made famous by a quote he never said in the late 1800s, “I know half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Consider the last line from a 1964 article, The Concept of the Marketing Mix, by Neil Borden, then-professor emeritus of marketing and advertising at Harvard Business School. He was discussing the highly desired but unfulfilled quest for the science of marketing:
We hope for a gradual formulation of clearly defined and helpful marketing laws. Until then, and even then, marketing and the building of marketing mixes will largely lie in the realm of art.
I appreciate the “and even then” part. I suspect the professor knew that finding the “laws” would be a frustrating journey.
Skip ahead almost 25 years and consider a comment in the book Marketing Performance Assessment from 1988:
The assessment of marketing performance, often called marketing productivity analysis, remains a seductive but elusive concept for scholars and practitioners alike. It is elusive because for as long as marketers have practiced their craft they have looked unsuccessfully for clear, present, and reliable signals of performance by which marketing merit could be judged.
In other words, throughout the last 100 years, marketers have had this compelling need to tilt the scales from art toward science. We have longed for business laws that, if obeyed, would guarantee success. In the inimitable and wise words of the Spice Girls, “What we want, what we really, really want is the unbreakable algorithm for marketing.” And the truth is, we never get there.