By Robert Rose published October 20, 2021 Est Read Time: 7 min

Measuring Content Marketing Impact: How To Set Objectives That Matter

Welcome to the wonderful world of content marketing analytics.

I hear you saying, “I was told there would be no math in marketing.” The good news is that all kinds of tools will help you do all that math.

The bad news is none of these tools will help you understand what the numbers mean for your business.

In marketing, there are no standard rules for what defines success. The measurements – or metrics – that mean success at your company may indicate failure at mine.

In episode 10 of Marketing Makers, CMI’s series for those who make marketing work, I explore the evolution of marketing analytics (it’s not new) and how you can create a shared framework to use it effectively. Watch the entire show here, or read on for the highlights and watch the corresponding segments of the show.

@Robert_Rose explains how to set shared objectives in a new #MarketingMakers episode via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet

Get everyone on the same page

Shared objectives without analytics are visions without a map. And deciding on analytics without objectives is like having a map but nowhere to go.

If you start with a shared objective and a common understanding of how you’ll know if you’ve met it, then you can define it with numbers. That’s when the numbers have a purpose, and more importantly, meaning.

Start with a shared objective and understanding of how you’ll know if you achieved it, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @semrush. #MarketingMakers Click To Tweet

Think of your company as a team with the shared goal of winning the game. Everyone on the team knows you need to score more points than your opponent to win. But without a common understanding of how many points result from a field goal or a touchdown, you won’t know if you’ve scored enough points until someone’s declared the winner. If you end up losing, it’s too late to fix anything. If you somehow win, nobody understands why.

For more context on why it’s so hard to get a shared understanding of meaningful numbers in marketing (and why that’s not a new problem), watch this segment of Episode 10.

So, what’s the answer?

It’s to identify and architect your shared objectives by defining crystal clear, unambiguous measurements of success.

Then you can design the analytics and reports to give the insight you need to determine what’s working (and what isn’t) to move you along the path to that shared objective.

Too often, marketing leaders set goals and objectives for their team while sales leaders establish objectives for their teams. Meanwhile, executives set their own set of objectives for the company. But no group has communicated these goals to one another.

As a vice president of marketing recently said to me: “The sales team is measured on the value of the opportunities that turn into customers. Marketing is measured by the number of leads created. That sounds like a match – but it’s not.

“We create a huge number of leads of customers looking for introductory products – but the sales team only cares about the leads we create for enterprise products.  We’re both meeting our objectives, but we’re losing for the business.”

If you don’t have a clearly defined (and shared) vision for what success looks like, you can’t measure anything meaningful in content marketing or any other department.

Without a clearly defined and shared vision of what success means, you can’t measure anything meaningful, says @Robert_rose via @CMIContent @semrush. #MarketingMakers Click To Tweet


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How do you create shared success measures?

One useful measurement architecture that emerged in the last decade is a concept called objectives and key results (OKRs). OKRs are a fantastic method for getting to measurement that matters. They help ensure progress toward a shared destination.

I’ve written out the process here, but you can also watch it (and enjoy more of my sports metaphors) in this segment of Episode 10.

Let’s go through the three steps.

Step 1: Set objective

Ensure you create an actual and shareable objective.

Well-articulated strategic objectives capture a mix of how content will deliver value to the business. They also imply or overtly talk about a time horizon – when the success will happen.

Now, your plan may be by the quarter, a year, or multiple years to see an objective be realized (or not).  You might have long-term and short-term objectives. You can figure out the hierarchy of those things.

Setting strategic objectives doesn’t mean they don’t change as the marketplace shifts or assumptions evolve. It just means you can start to time-box them to understand how quickly you need to change.

Now that you have a shareable strategic objective, move to the next step.

Step 2: Define success

Decide what will unambiguously define success. This is where you get an indication of the key results you’ll use to measure your objectives.

Let’s walk through an OKR example. The strategic objective is to drive a 25% increase in net new sales in the next year. Now, the shareable objective for the content marketing team is to provide 10% of all net new sales opportunities in the next year.

That’s shareable, but what that success looks like is not defined. Let’s go with these three key results:

  • Increase new leads with content by 15%.
  • Increase conversion rates of free trials by 25%.
  • Decrease cost-per-thousand advertising rate by 20%.

Now, you have a shared objective and defined how it will have a direct effect on profit over cost. That’s the key.

Step 3: Design your analytics

In episode 4 of Marketing Makers, I talked about the measurement pyramid. As you decide your analytics reporting needs, the measurement pyramid can help you understand which metrics help you determine whether you’ve met the key results in your OKR.

No single tool elegantly and definitively indicates if you have achieved your key results. Instead, your analytics tools must assess several activities.

Let’s look at an example of how to design a measurement pyramid.

The top tier represents your strategic goals key results. The two supporting tiers describe the analytics you need to track to know if you’re making progress toward those goals.

The middle tier includes the key performance indicators (KPIs). To track your progress toward KPIs, you might use a dashboard that combines various metrics into a single score.

The lower tier is the litany of data and metrics that can help you improve your process to reach those KPIs.

Let’s go back to our OKR example around increasing leads and conversions and decreasing advertising costs. A content collaboration analytics tool can help evaluate internal content consumption from peer groups. A procurement team budget will tell the fulfillment costs of content. A digital asset management (DAM) solution tells the number of campaigns created with the content. A marketing automation tool indicates the number of conversions for free trials, while an SEO analytics tool helps understand new leads from organic and paid traffic.

All these tools help put the number of content pieces produced in the quarter, cost of paid and organic traffic, cost of conversions, etc., in context. Everything is shared, and everyone agrees that these metrics improve the process of meeting the KPIs. The KPIs demonstrate whether you’ve achieved the three key results that indicate the objective has been met.

What does it look like when it’s all designed? It looks a bit like an org chart – you see the overall business mission segmented into strategic objectives. Each segment connects to the OKR pyramid and source tool for each metric that goes into it.

Click to enlarge

Everything is understood by all involved groups. The game has been won, and you know why.

More than numbers

Now you’re measuring what’s meaningful and important, not just anything or everything you can.

There’s a wonderful quote about planning for your life that says, “Create a life so good that you don’t need a vacation to escape from it.”

The same is true for data, measurement, and analytics. If you take the time and the care, you can create an analytics and measurement strategy so good that you don’t have to do the math.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Robert Rose

Robert is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for The Content Marketing Institute. Robert has worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided content marketing and strategy advice for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert’s third book – Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been called the “book that rewrites the rules of marketing.” His second book – Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing is a top seller and has been called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert’s first book, Managing Content Marketing, spent two weeks as a top 10 marketing book on and is generally considered to be the “owners manual” of the content marketing process. You can follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

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