Success is a personal thing – it looks different for everyone. It could be money and prestige, living a life you can feel proud of, feeling good about what you do or having the grit to get through tough times. Here’s why finding what content marketing success looks like to you is key to ever getting there.

Decided to ‘do’ content marketing? Fantastic. At this point it’s easy to get focused entirely on the how, but you need to keep the why firmly in mind too.

Producing content for the sake of content completely forgets the marketing part of content marketing – aligning the content you are producing with your marketing and broader business goals.

Before you begin, ask yourself: what outcome is your organisation looking for? What is your vision? What does success ultimately look like to you? Until you have a clear idea of what results you want, you won’t be able to meaningfully measure it, and you likely will struggle to achieve any worthwhile results.

Different programs, different goals, different end points

In 2017, the that the top goals for B2B content marketers were lead generation (80%), brand awareness (79%) and engagement (71%) – three very different things.

For instance, success for Healthcare IT News Australia, an online news site we created for the international non-profit HIMSS, is all about the publication’s profile with hospital CIOs and health tech companies. The metrics used, then, to gauge success are enewsletter sign-ups from target persona groups, as opposed to general readership ones.

On the other hand, one of the key metrics of success for the content program we run for the Australian Water Association is event attendance. We track readers’ engagement with content before they sign up to events.

Direct Advice for Dads for health insurer HBF, the measure of success was audience and engagement. We set (and surpassed) lofty goals not just for average readership but also for social engagement – think sharing and likes. But in the second year, we shifted the goals to suit HBF’s lead generation aim – migrating the large social following we’d built off ‘rented land’ and into enewsletter sign-ups.

What are your goals?

One of the biggest mistakes organisations often make is not agreeing on what the initial key performance indicators will be upfront, why these indicators are important to the business and how to track and grow them.

While success should be tied to certain metrics, those metrics have to relate to broader marketing and business objectives. For example, if your organisation is sales-led, awareness, engagement and sentiment are unlikely to cut it as measures – you’ll need leads, and to track qualified leads, marketing pipeline and actual contract value as a start. You’ll need to report on how much you are spending to convert customers and how you can optimise the buyer journey.

If you’ve set your metrics correctly, and aligned them to broader business objectives, they should help guide you to your destination, by telling you when you are straying from the course. But aligning business objectives and content marketing metrics can be a challenge. According to the CMI survey of Australian content marketers, 23% described their organisation as having poor alignment between their content metrics and broader content marketing goals. Only 15% of content marketers thought they were doing an excellent or very good job at creating alignment.

Vanity metrics such as retweets, likes and comments have some value but are rarely the whole story. Hard business metrics like sales and ROI are often what matters to an organisation. Design your content to affect those, and bring the tools on board to track them, and you’ll keep the executives happy.

Further, the goals that define your vision of success need to be quantified. Saying you want to produce engaging content or grow your audience isn’t particularly helpful. Instead create metrics that are specific (‘increase enewsletter sign-ups’), measurable (‘increase enewsletter sign-ups by 15%’) and have a deadline (‘increase enewsletter sign-ups by 15% by June’).

If you can go to your CMO and say “last year my goal was to create X dollars in marketing pipeline and X dollars in actual contract value, and I surpassed those targets with an ROI of 400%. This quarter I want to increase those targets, and I need two things to get that done: extra budget and approval of this content strategy”, that conversation is likely to go pretty well.

Of course, a few great articles or videos don’t guarantee you’ll convert a lead to a sales opportunity straight away. Give it enough time to make a difference. If your sales cycle is typically nine months, deploying a content marketing pilot for one quarter will not demonstrate the results the program can achieve.

Content marketing success takes time but knowing your destination will guide you more effectively than wandering forward chasing what could be no more than a mirage.

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