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, what is the return?

Sometimes that return is quite tactical, sometimes it’s a qualitative. Sometimes it’s near term, sometimes it’s very long term.

But thinking about, rather than when you think about why you do anything, you always have to monitor and measure it afterwards, is say, well, what’s the return on content?

And that actually then leads you to this next kind of more sophisticated stage, which is thinking about content as an asset.

You take funds from your business to create content in the same way that you would if you were going to build a factory or buy a motor vehicle. It’s an asset, it has a value.

Think of every piece of content that you create as having a value, that it costs to make. How are you going to make that more?

Rene Power:

It’s a really interesting point because you think about both strategically, and tactically, and all the different levels, and types of content that you could potentially produce.

And you could probably stop yourself five out of ten times, you start producing something and thinking, “Is it evergreen? Is it durable? What’s the purpose of doing this thing?”

Or are you just doing it because you’ve promised to do a Facebook post every day for the company, or a LinkedIn post, or whatever?
And the mystical word, value, comes up a lot, doesn’t it? Is it providing value? Is it bringing value?

But it’s really important because as we know, in marketing and particularly things like social media, there are people out there that say, “Well, you can do it for free and it doesn’t cost any money and blah, blah, blah.” But you’re paying people to do it, so there-

Geraint Holliman:

Absolutely.

Rene Power:

… there’s money involved in it, so make sure you’re doing the right thing. So yes, I think you’ve covered some really interesting things there.

And already, I think that that marketing ROI thing, that’s a soundbite that we’ll probably be using for sure because I think that was a really interesting thing.

Geraint Holliman:

Well, I hope so. And I hope anybody who listens to this says, okay, if I go to my finance director or my CFO right now and say, “marketing ROI,” and just watch their reaction. If they’re really good, they’ll hold it in and it won’t react. But if not, they’ll just laugh in your face.

They’ll say, “Okay, if marketing ROI isn’t really a thing, how might I attribute some financial value to the effects of marketing? Help me to work out what the right metrics are.”

They will be all over you like a bad suit. They really will want to help you to model that because they’ll say, “Ah, at last, a marketer who sees a direct attributable, causal relationship between marketing activity and financial success. Let me help you.”

But if you stand there and talk about marketing ROI, they’re just, they’re sniggering at you.

So yeah, but the way to get around it, is to say, let’s treat content like an asset.

By the way, the definition of an asset is an entity which costs money to buy and that you can recoup that money by selling it.

Challenging the waste of content – especially in B2B

Now, you can’t sell content, but you can think about what its value would be to recreate it or how you can make more value out of it. We’ll probably talk about atomization and repurposing a little bit later on. But that is one of my…

You had said, your question to people at the top of the show was what’s your biggest challenge? One of my biggest challenges is the amount of waste that goes on in content.

75% of B2B content is never even used, never even consumed, so much is created and never used, right?

And whether that figure is 10% now or 15%, I don’t really care.

The majority of content that gets produced, particularly in the B2B world, is just not consumed. So there’s a lot of waste out there. So why do you not think carefully about the content you create and repurpose it, reuse the stuff that works, reuse it, find another angle, find another audience for whom there would be a slightly different slant or a tilt, and do that?

Rather than just… And you said it, Rene, which is this kind of… and don’t buck me on this, but this engine of kind of like just get stuff out the door. “No, I said I’ll post something every day.” Why? Why post something every day? Is that what not customers want?

Rene Power:

Why not do something once a week that is going to stop your ideal customer in their tracks, so that they think, “I need to have that in my life.”

Yeah.

Geraint Holliman:

Absolutely right. Rather than this to continual drone of you posting on social or spitting out blogs that nobody cares about.

I would rather you do one thing a month that was really powerful, really relevant, compelling, and timely, connected with the customers and their buying journey and their needs, spoke like a human being and not a corporation, and really connected with them, and helped them make a better decision.

If you did that, I can pretty much guarantee you get a much better return and outcome from that content asset than you would by just, I’ve got to do something every day, I’ve got to do something every day, I’ve got to do something every day.

Rene Power:

I think we’ll circle back and get into the tactics of what we think work best because we’ve got to think about sales processes. We’ve got to think about the funnel and moving people through the funnels, and being aware all the way through to being a customer.

And then maybe even relationship marketing thereafter. So I think there’s some things we can kind of circle back to and talk on that.

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