Playing the long game: Todd Wheatland on why content marketers need to start measuring the right things

The inaugural Ad:Tech New Zealand conference took place yesterday at the AUT Business School, with around 400 people in attendance. And while measurement is one of the digital realm’s major strengths, Todd Wheatland, global head of strategy at content marketing agency King Content, used his time on stage to prove the famous quote (that wasn’t actually uttered by Einstein) of ‘not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts’. 

Wheatland started his presentation with an analogy about the troubled Greek economy and how, when individual industries were measured, things actually looked pretty good. “But measured in aggregate there was something fundamentally wrong.” 

“You really can’t improve what you do not measure. But you can sure be very wrong by measuring the wrong thing.” 

Measurement is addictive and there’s no shortage of tools and technology available to marketers trying to find out what is happening right now. Many of the bigger players like Facebook and Google are attempting to link advertising to action in the real world, but Wheatland says figuring out ROI is still very hard. 

“It’s hard to put an association between the thing that I’m doing and the thing that’s actually happening. There’s a lot of fear that people aren’t going to achieve the results they think they are. A lot of concern about being accountable for hard numbers. And it take quite a lot of time and money to work out a model that demonstrates the ROI. Traditionally we measured things like brand awareness and market share, which aren’t fuzzy things. But now there are lots of places for marketers to hide.” 

Not surprisingly, given his position, he says content plays an important role, but maybe not where people expect. At present, he says lead generation or the first part of contact, is overly attributed to its association with the final result. And the lead nurturing and relationship building, “everything that happens from the first point onwards”, is generally lost in the mix. 

He’s come across hundreds of different, often very complex models to see what role content plays. But it needs to be simple. And he puts it into four buckets. 

1) How many people actually saw a piece of content. Views, downloads etc.

2) How often does the audience relate to and share that content? How sticky is your site? What’s the social layer? 

3) How often does that content lead to some form of lead? Is it a registration, a subscription, or increased brand awareness? 

4) How often does that play a role in converting to a sale, which is the holy grail and is incredibly hard to get through that many phases? 

“The first two buckets are really big. And that’s the noose for social media because it’s easy to get hung up on those two buckets. But it’s the last two buckets that most businesses really care about … Nearly every organisation has the first one figured out or can get there very easily.” 

Where there’s mystery, there’s money. So some cynics believe content is simply yet another way to fleece gullible marketers and fill the internet with yet more commercially-funded detritus. And a recent study by Forrester shows that marketers are wasting precious resources by focusing on Facebook and Twitter. But as Wheatland showed, content is about playing the long-game. 

So how can businesses get in on the act? For starters, don’t try to be a publisher. 

“Everyone’s talking about businesses being publishers. But in the blind rush to get into the publishing game it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that the business model of most businesses is very different to a digital or traditional publisher.” 

He points to Upworthy, one of the world’s fastest growing websites. Its reliance on search and social traffic has been shown to be a weakness as algorithms change, but its ‘virality’ is a big drawcard for brands. He says the only two measures it cares about are for every 100 people who see this content, how many will share it? And for every 100 people will share it, how many people will click on it (“Don’t for a minute think that someone sharing your content means they’ve done anything close to looking at it”)? Its revenue model is based on content sponsorships, native insertions and native creation. And it’s making money out of the fact that there’s a huge pipeline of traffic.

  • Check out Upworthy’s presentation here 

“If you’re a B2B professional, you make money out of selling services or products. Credibility, vanity publishing, thought leadership is a key part of the positioning for many B2B organisations and leads are important, but when it comes to content, the measures are nothing to do with gross UBs, they’re to do with important UBs.”

He says content is only meaningful if it’s trying to solve a business challenge, whether that’s a problem with awareness or moving people from trial to transaction. And content marketing has to start with a strategy “because without the strategy you don’t know what you’re trying to measure”. 

“People get very hung up on the transactional process. But increasingly a lot of the big money in content marketing is focused on loyalty; on using your existing clients, your existing community to build passion and excitement and bring new people in through the top of the funnel.” 

He points to Kraft as an example of a company that’s using content very cleverly—and up to four times more effectively than targeted advertising. It’s also throwing plenty of cash at it, and, importantly, he said it has made one person responsible for content.

“They can marry the above the line with the content and demonstrate the link. It’s an organisation that can determine that women aged between 25-42 in the Mid-West are more likely to buy Brownie Mix on wet Tuesday afternoons in September, so it can apply a content model and a distribution model for that content and direct above the line spend online to achieve what may be infinitesimal points of growth, but for a business that big, over the course of the year it can be worth millions of dollars in difference.” 

And he says in the B2C space and particularly FMCG, a lot of people are getting very aggressive about understanding how data,  traditional media and digital media and content work together and drive demand. 

He points to some other examples of content marketing approaches.

  • The show Empire augmented its traditional awareness advertising with a website that told the story of the show and drove a significant increase in conversions. 
  • Historically, the NRMA, the Australian equivalent of the AA, produced content that is “really cool for people over 50 and invisible for anyone under 50”. Young, urban folk are increasingly choosing public transport and the age of car ownership is increasing globally, so it needed to reach out to a younger audience. To do that it created a website Live4.com.au with relevant entertainment content. It also offered ticket sales and by creating a purchase relationship with that audience, over time it has built to multiple touchpoints and makes another transaction more likely.
  • 90 percent of members to Australia’s CPA will renew their membership without even thinking about it, which is very nice business model to have, he says. However, that interaction is often the only time they feel an affinity or association with the brand. So it repackaged its magazine In the Black to create a sense of pride, loyalty, professional development around the organisation. It also created The Naked CEO to try and build excitement and get people who are university aged to have a sense of pride in their profession and ultimately drive them to join CPA rather than one of the competitor associations
  • ANZ’s Blue Notes is a platform that seeks to fill a gulf in traditional financial journalism. The bank saw an opportunity to claim that space with credible journalists and frame ANZ as a relatively impartial source of knowledge and expertise around everything banking and financial.

But it’s not just enough to produce the content, even if you’ve got the financial grunt of a big bank.

“Five or ten years ago, you could start a business blog and if you were consistent and published frequently with authenticity you could be fairly assured of getting an audience. That’s not as feasible anymore. The inflation, the sheer volume of content being produced, makes it incredibly hard to differentiate and have a voice, which plays very nicely into the hands of a whole new set of organisations that can help amplify it” 

There has been a huge boom in content amplification, with the likes of Taboola and Outbrain popping up. And every social network has a paid feature to get content in front of a targeted audiences. Then you’ve got retargeting, native advertising in all its forms, influencer outreach, and any number of other ways to help get your content out.

“So when all of this is happening, when it can be curated by someone else and then you pay to promote that somewhere else, how do you measure attribution back to the original piece of content?” 

In a world where marketers crave the sugary hit of retweets, likes or shares (interestingly, the ping of an email into the inbox or a notification alert massages the same part of the brain as pokies, which may explain some of the addictive behaviours in this area). But content isn’t a short term play. And he points to Euro Disney as an example of the importance of measuring something at the right time. 

“After 20 years of meticulous planning and a very successful launch in Japan, they launched in 1992 and on opening day they were over-run with literally dozens of people.”

It reached less than six percent of its three month target. And after 18 months it was negotiating over its $300 million bank debt.

“Everyone who had anything to do with was quietly buried out the back.” 

But five years later it was one of Disney’s best assets. 

He also pointed to a worthy piece of content it worked on a few years ago about leadership. It was published on Slideshare “and the cool thing with that is if the right person happens to see it then crazy things can happen”. He says it ended up in business blogs and it was translated into eight different languages. Someone translated it into Bulgarian and it ended up on one of the country’s biggest blogs. One of the readers of that business blog took a couple of those slides and spoke at a conference in Alaska, and in the audience was someone who saw the slides and two months later signed a $50 million deal with the company he was working with.

Wheatland says it didn’t realize this for a year. It was looking at the wrong things; the superficial things. And “we were really getting excited about some kind of attribution to future activity”. 

“It’s such an imperfect world you’re trying to measure. So don’t get too caught up on the minutiae because influence factor and the bigger picture is much more important.” 

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