Attribution continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing influencer marketing.
While analytics channels from Google, Facebook, Coremetrics and elsewhere continue to develop new algorithms for mapping customer journeys, customers continue to use multiple platforms and paths before converting. The result is a corn maze of customer paths, filled with black holes where they jumped from mobile to desktop — or vice versa.
And even if content marketers have the tools to track their customers, they’re often left with complex funnels that stretch through several months and multiple channels.
As the customer journey grows more complex, so does attribution and measuring ROI. In a world where ROI is typically the main factor in budget distribution, there’s significant pressure for marketers to prove their worth or risk budget cuts.
Of course, not all marketing tactics result in direct lead generation, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.
Think of your marketing more like a morning commute in New York: You might have to make a few connections and walk a bit to get to your destination, but each leg of the journey is equally important.
Here are a few ways industry experts are using attribution models to prove the value of their content marketing efforts throughout the sales funnel.
Like social media marketing, newsletter marketing and search engine optimization, content marketing isn’t something your team can execute overnight and expect to see dramatic results. It takes time to build audiences and develop relationships with influencers.
Furthermore, brands can’t expect every piece of content to immediately drive sales, especially for big-ticket items or in B2B markets.
“On [average] 5 pieces of content account for 50% of visitor traffic,” reports Rohan Ayyar, project manager at E2M Solutions. “This means, like in the case of search marketing, content marketing has a significant long tail, too. The bulk of your visits and conversions will come from star content assets. It’s your job to identify which ones these are and promote them aggressively.”
It’s unlikely you’re going to hit a homerun on your first swing. Content publication requires consistent publishing, even if only a handful of posts generate the most revenue.
Even measuring revenue has proven to be a challenge for marketers, and many experts recommend dropping the metric as a primary measure of success.
“Marketing should [stop] chasing the unattainable goal of complete revenue attribution,” says Monu Kalsi, vice president and head of digital for Zurich North America.
“Instead, I suggest that marketers align their efforts to a ‘conversion’ metric, which could be oriented around the volume or quality of leads or the creation of sales opportunities or new customer touch points.”
However, it’s unlikely that companies will ever fully drop revenue or sales as a metric for success.
“Digital teams don’t like to be told that their specialty has less of an impact on conversions than another,” says the team behind Prototype Interactive. “They can become defensive because they want to protect their budgets and status. However, the metrics, data and reports from each digital team need to work together to show each step along the buyer’s journey and how it is developing and changing based on new strategies and campaigns.”
As long as a department’s financial future hangs on conversion value, revenue will always be a primary factor in measuring influencer marketing.
For those who are lucky enough to be able to base their success on additional factors, there are many options for measuring success in content marketing.
“Brands and agencies alike have been struggling with ROI for many years, particularly when it comes to areas such as content and social,” says Jack Simpson, digital content manager at Harvard Public Relations.
“79% of respondents cite ‘web traffic generated’ as their biggest indicator of success, for example, while 54% say ‘press coverage generated.’ These metrics might not translate easily onto the balance sheet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.”
To identify your top metrics, start at the top of the funnel and list your goals for each step of the customer journey.
“Typically the goal of content marketers is to expand the digital real estate for a website and create brand awareness,” says Amanda Disilvestro of Higher Visibility.
“Because of this, it’s common that these visitors are visiting the site for a reason that’s different from your service or product offerings. … This means they aren’t quite ‘qualified’ the first time they come to your site.”
Once you have your goals for the funnel, you can assign the proper metrics to them.
“Part of the effectiveness of our content depends on our ability to identify the correct metrics and measure our progress toward achieving those goals,” says Kelsey Meyer, president of Influence & Co. “It’s not enough to simply set those content goals.
“Without a system to track and measure them, you’ll never know whether you achieve the goals you set. Or worse, you’ll never be able to improve ineffective efforts because you won’t know what works and what doesn’t.”
Aya Fawzy, marketing manager at Captora, created a useful checklist for tracking the progress of your campaigns through the funnel, but warns about assigning different metrics for each new step.
“You most likely will have different metrics for different stages in your funnel,” Fawzy writes. “In other words, at the top of your funnel, when you are looking to attract new leads, you will mostly be looking at reach and brand awareness indicators. Your mid- and bottom-funnel metrics will be more closely related to lead generation and pipeline numbers.”
This also helps during the troubleshooting process: If you’re not generating enough leads, you can see whether the problem lies with traffic generation or conversion once that traffic hits your site.
Once you have your goals and metrics for each part of the sales funnel, it becomes easier to create content with a specific purpose.
“With email and content marketing, it is crucial that the content you distribute to your leads matches the stage they are at in order to maximize their chances of conversion,” says Michael Georgiou, co-founder of Imaginovation.
“You do not want to send beginner’s content to someone who has been on your email list for some time now, or worse, to someone who has already showed interest in your services. Similarly, you want to be careful not to push for a sale too early on with a lead, or they might just unsubscribe from your email list.”
If your company isn’t creating a path for customers to travel down the funnel, how do you expect them to naturally move from first-touch to conversion?
Brian O’Leary, founder of Magellan Media Consulting Partners, explains that 87 percent of marketers believe lead generation is an important factor in content marketing success, but struggle to identify ways to track their progress.
“Before a company can link cause (content marketing efforts) and effects (lead quality, lead quantity, conversion rates) to determine ROI, it has to develop a conversion architecture — a formal way of moving an audience from unaware, to aware, then engaged and ultimately to purchase.”
As your audience continues to engage, it’s up to your sales and marketing teams to identify traffic that’s qualified to advance to the next level, and leads that aren’t sufficiently qualified.
“A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a prospective customer who has demonstrated a particular level of engagement that leads the marketing team to conclude that real sales potential exists,” says Eric Siu, CEO of Single Grain. “The level of complexity involved in this assessment will vary based on the resources available to the team.”
Without traffic and lead-generating content, the sales team would never have access to these MQLs in the first place.
While it’s relatively easy for marketers to understand the value of first- and last-touch attribution — after all, it’s been a part of the marketing process ever since the first print ads appeared in newspapers and magazines — many advertisers struggle to define the value of middle-touch content. This is content that aids in the customer journey, but rarely leads to a direct sale.
“The goal of mid-funnel content is to guide your prospect through the buyer’s journey, providing material that will help them evaluate your brand and develop an affinity for it over your competitors,” says Erin Nelson, marketing editor at Contently. “The magic happens by deepening the connection made in the top of the funnel with content that is specific to different segments of your overall audience.”
Frank Isca at the Weidert Group admits that the middle funnel stage isn’t an easy one to follow. “Once a lead converts on an initial [top funnel] content offer, they’ll progress into the [middle funnel] stage,” he says.
“This is viewed as the most complicated funnel stage because of the broad diversity of interested leads who haven’t been fully qualified. In this stage of the funnel, your content should continue to educate but also start the process of positioning your company as the solution to the lead’s needs and challenges.”
The middle-funnel stage tends to be the most frustrating for marketers, who are baffled by the multiple touches and paths their customers take without buying. However, this is also an opportunity to learn more about qualified leads.
“By monitoring the behavior of buyers mid-funnel — including which content types and topics they engage with, how often they take valuable action, pages they visit — marketers can determine a buyer’s product and thematic needs and deliver content that addresses them,” says Anne Murphy, former director of content at Kapost.
Don’t think of the mid-funnel stage as purgatory before a conversion, but as an experimental phase to serve them exactly what they need to know.
Many marketers approach attribution with the idea of assigning credit or giving the victory to a particular channel. However, attribution requires a big-picture view of the journey, not just the finish line.
“The science of attribution enables marketers to truly understand the combined value of marketing efforts — across data silos, at every digital touch point, and throughout the customer lifecycle — to drive smarter marketing programs to yield higher ROI,” says Pelin Thorogood, CEO of Anametrix. “… Best practice attribution should enable marketers to track consumers across all engagement channels and platforms.”
Attribution helps marketers understand the customer in a more detailed way. Instead of viewing a snapshot in time, we can see the entire video of their thought processes.
“Today’s consumer has an increasingly device-agnostic buy cycle, with multiple interactions taking place across a range of mobile and desktop devices,” says Gregory Kennedy, director of content marketing at AdRoll.
“Although marketing teams use multiple channels to drive sales, the majority of marketers still employ single-touch attribution models. These increasingly outdated models aren’t up to the task of tracking which campaigns have the biggest impact on performance and which channels or tactics deserve credit for each conversion.”
This is why many experts are predicting an analytics revolution in the attribution field. Today’s metrics aren’t doing justice to the whole sales process.
“With the complexity of the customer journey increasing, taking a simplistic view of attribution does not help when you are addressing it,” says Rafael Garcia-Navarro, head of analytics for Experian Marketing Services. “The most commonly used attribution models are either click- or rules-based; the former include first click and last click, and the latter include even distribution, time decay, and positional. All these methods are subjective and have significant flaws, but their main attraction is the ease of implementation.”
For attribution to continue to evolve, analytics providers and marketers need to work together to determine smarter priorities. Without a complete picture of the marketing funnel, businesses will continue to lose business, isolate customers, and shove leads into parts of the funnel they’re not ready — or qualified — for.
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