Why Content Marketing has an ROI Problem and How to Solve It

Artificial Intelligence Content Strategy

Content marketing has a huge ROI problem which has limited its ability to command significant paid media budgets. Add to that, there’s been serious silos built since last decade between paid media and owned media. Many of them still exist today across the enterprise. On multiple speaking engagements the crowd has come up to me afterwards to complain about these silos. The good news is that this dynamic is changing.

In addition, marketers and advertisers tend to silo their work at each stage of the sales funnel – from the top to the bottom. For example, running a video campaign at the awareness stage and then running a re-targeting campaign at the bottom of the funnel. It’s quite common for the two to be completely disconnected from each other – even managed and tracked by separate teams.

While these efforts have sufficed when it comes to generic, more traditional digital marketing strategies, content marketing, strategically, should positively develop consumers’ opinions at each stage of the customer journey. This siloed buyer’s journey approach leads to a strategic marketing disconnect that does not optimize ROI across the entire funnel. Brands need a completely connected, non-siloed, full-funnel content marketing approach to drive awareness, consideration and business outcomes in order to properly deliver optimized ROI from content marketing.

Some like to blame ROI problems on lack of measurement/attribution technology. Top-funnel content mostly delivers awareness metrics like impressions and clicks in most brands’ tech stack. Unfortunately, with the funnel siloed, tracking consideration, engagement or conversion metrics becomes much more challenging. When paid media tools are used for top-funnel content the vast majority of them only optimize towards native ad unit clicks and/or impressions, not the aforementioned lower funnel metrics.

One would think upper-funnel optimization and tracking is a good thing. However, after parsing millions of dollars in paid media spend in the labs, we can unequivocally say that content engagement rates and conversion metrics have NO correlation to clicks or impressions. This means that having the top of the funnel siloed from the rest of the funnel creates major inefficiencies in ROI. What drives ROI for content marketers? Clicks on native ad units? Impressions of native ad units? Or actual content engagement and conversions of said content?

This current prevalent content marketing dynamic is partly due to brands not having the right ROI mindset when building an amplification content strategy. This is mostly no fault of content marketers. The vast majority of demand side platforms (DSPs) don’t give content marketers the option to optimize towards KPIs that really matter – content engagement and conversions. Without the tools to track and optimize content engagement and/or conversions from paid media, brands are left with a blind spot.

Definition: A demand-side platform (DSP) is a system that allows buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface. Source: Wikipedia

To fix this industry issue brands need to spend more time upfront doing the following:

  1. Map out all the content they have to their customers’ purchase journey. This includes owned, earned and sponsored content. Some brands don’t even know what content they have, let alone where that content sits in the purchase journey.
  2. Have technology that can put the right content in front of the right consumers at each stage of the buyers’ journey. Artificial intelligence (AI) makes this a reality today.
  3. Using retargeting and sequencing users who engage with the right content at each stage of the funnel as they move from awareness to consideration to conversion is definitely a best practice.
  4. Currently, most DSPs are not built for content marketing, but rather more of an interruptive native display type transaction. Most don’t optimize for content metrics such as attention and action

Brands that execute in this way are eliminating, not only paid media siloes, but the siloes of each stage of the funnel. This holistic approach engages consumers and convert them in an optimized way. For example, promoting videos/articles at the top of the funnel in order to engage consumers and then re-targeting engaged users with whitepaper downloads or product landing pages in order to convert them. This requires not only separate teams to work closely and strategically with each other, but technology that tracks and optimizes for desired results seamlessly from the top to the bottom of the funnel.

Historically, there have been no platforms that help marketers take a this connected approach to content marketing distribution. One which truly connects top of the funnel efforts with bottom of the funnel efforts. As a result, many brands are disappointed because their content campaigns only deliver soft metrics like clicks and page views without reporting on real business outcomes.

Leading content marketers are now starting to use a separate tool that drives impactful content distribution and amplification KPIs versus their run of the mill advertising DSPs and supply side partners (SSPs or individual networks alone). With the rise of AI, there is now technology that is purpose-built for driving ROI-based results to include both engagement and conversions optimization with top and mid-funnel content in marketing. In some industries bottom-funnel content is highly impacted, too. One such example is our very own (inPowered’s) programmatic content marketing platform. Here’s how we tackle this problem:

  • Our DSP deeply recognizes content the advertiser is promoting by using natural language processing technology.
  • It suggests what audiences the networks should be targeted based on the content’s actual perceived meaning. (Over 40 networks are in our system to include programmatic native advertising and social media).
  • The AI automatically figures out which content to show to each audience segment across the different stages of the buyers’ journey – i.e. a user that read a thought leadership article is then served up with a review article and then a lower-funnel download, to move them from awareness to consideration to conversion.
  • The AI is designed to optimize towards post-click metrics to deliver content marketing ROI like – engaged time with content, leads and conversions.

Marketers wanting content marketing budgets to grow should take a non-siloed approached to budgets and the funnel. This includes engagement, retargeting and convert consumers using content under one roof, to include technology. Content marketing is an ongoing engagement with a target audience up and down the funnel. Brands should continuously provide valuable content at each stage of the funnel and continue to re-target consumers with the next content that will help them in their purchase journey.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to content marketing – don’t expect people to read one article and make a purchase decision. Engage the target audiences with multiple pieces of content and be useful to them across each stage of the buyer’s journey in order to ultimately convert them. Use the right platform – such as inPowered – that has the capability to deliver a holistic content marketing strategy by automatically putting the right content in front of the right audience across each stage of the funnel with the reporting and tracking that makes this approach turnkey.

Ultimately, this boils down to brands transitioning from soft metrics like impressions and clicks for content amplified by paid media (standard DSPs) to more ROI-generating solutions with AI-optimized metrics like actual content engagement and conversions up and down the funnel. This is what we, as content marketers want, not clicks and impressions. It takes the right tools to accomplish this task and our mission is to provide the best version of this to you. Don’t minimize your ROI with the normal DSP for content amplification.

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