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Rethinking content marketing strategy and looking at ways to achieve a return from content marketing initiatives

This outtake is from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook sees Geraint Holliman, marketing consultant, MSc in Digital Marketing trainer and published author and MMC’s Rene Power discussing how marketing ROI doesn’t really exist, achieving a return on content and challenging the problem of wasted, unused content.

It’s the first part of a series of serialisations on content marketing strategy and implementation.

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But wherever you want to start, these sessions are predominantly about strategy, thinking big, putting context to what we’re doing. And, Geraint, you already said in your opening comments there about how content is so much more than marcoms tool, as a marketing communications tool. [Offline].

And actually, if you are able to think bigger and systemize it, it can become a process that can really power the growth and the direction of a business.

Geraint Holliman:

Well, in fact, there are some people who would say that actually, content marketing really is a culture, it’s a marketing culture. I mean, it’s a way of looking at a whole market.

And to some extent might say, well, all of marketing, really, is just feeding the content engine. I mean, before lockdown, COVID I used to talk at a lot of conferences, talked about people are building their own content marketing engine.

Not just a content engine, not just kind of an engine to kind of churning out stuff, but actual engine for the whole of the kind of process for identifying what content needs creating, creating that content, processing it, promoting it, atomizing it, measuring it, refraining it, reusing it.

And the whole of that content marketing process, not just the content creation itself.

And I always kind of say, well, you can’t do something like this, unless you set it up as a discipline, as a process. You have to plan your way through this.

Again, when we were talking the other day, I would say my biggest frustrations when I talk to marketers and some pretty big marketers, sophisticated organisations that I feel should know better, content is really kind of an ad hoc kind of thing for them.

Of course there is going to be content you create to respond to events or happenings in the marketplace. That’s fine, that’s good, excellent. But also, really content should be helping you promote your brand.

And therefore, you should be planning, what are the things we should be doing to promote the brand? What are those kind of key aspects, those themes, those pillars, those topics that we should be working on?

As part of my current, strategic work, I do a lot of content audits, a lot of content marketing audits on content marketing organisations, to see how it is they go about creating content, what it is? What methods they use, how they go about measuring it, and valuate it?

And it’s really quite depressing, to be honest with you, that actually, so much money is being spent on creating content and in, frankly, booting it out the door, maybe with some paid promotion behind it and then it’s just left.

I’m sure we’ll come back to this a little bit later on, but I’ve long thought that this notion of return of investment in marketing is, and this is where a lot of people are going to drop off sort of chat because I’m going to say something now, which a lot of people will find quite difficult to accept.

“Marketing ROI doesn’t exist”

But unfortunately, it is actually true, which is, marketing ROI actually doesn’t exist, cannot exist, right?
Which is an extraordinarily provocative thing to say.

But it’s born out of the fact that from an accounting point, from a finance point of view, it is absolutely true because marketing is, in accounting terms, in the finance world, it is treated as a cost.

Yes, it’s on the balance sheet, on the profit and loss as one sort of cost under rent, rates, heat, light, salaries, blah, blah, blah. And at the bottom it says marketing.

And yet, it is the only cost in the entire world that is required to have a return. Well, what’s your return on stamps? What’s your return on investment, on insurance? Well, nothing, they’re costs. Definition of a cost is once spent, can’t be recovered.

Now I, like every other person on this call, said, well, of course marketing has to have content and content marketing have to have a return. So how do we overcome this?

Because if we stand in front of a CFO today and say the term marketing ROI, they, he, or she is laughing behind their hands at you, because they know, by virtue of the fact that you’re using that phrase, but you don’t know what you’re talking about because you can’t have a return on a cost.

Now, does that mean marketing and content shouldn’t be attributable, it shouldn’t create a return? Of course it should, absolutely, it should. But ROI is not the term to use. So what I have begun to do, is start thinking about not marketing ROI, or content ROI, but what is the return on content?

Return on content

So you create content,