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Content Marketing: What To Measure Beyond Sales & Leads

How should content be measured and analyzed? Let us count the ways (or at least begin to).

This column is intended to be an informal sounding board for ideas. Summer’s over and it’s time to get cracking on new research. Next up (in my capacity as a research analyst): content metrics.

My goal on this next project (which I’m undertaking with fellow analyst Susan Etlinger, a specialist in data and analytics) will not merely focus on how companies are measuring the most obvious content marketing goals, such as ROI, or increased sales, leads and conversions. We’re hoping to dig deeper and learn more about some of the less obvious content marketing benefits, as well as to uncover best practices for establishing content KPIs and putting processes into place to measure success.

We’re only just kicking this off, but here are some of the other, the more unexpected, areas that qualify as content marketing KPIs. Measurement practices are just beginning to emerge around these KPIs, and we’ll doubtless uncover more as we begin to research in earnest. Remember: this list deliberately does not include ROI, sales or lead-related metrics.

Customer Service

Brands have long used digital content to help customers to help themselves. Can that value be measured, e.g. the cost of solving an issue with content rather than a much more expensive call center?  Sony’s European Forum & Community Manager, Nico Henderijckx, recently shared great stats around how he calculates value. A recent how-to troubleshooting post, written by a super user on a Sony community site, was viewed by 42,000 visitors. The average call center call costs the brand €7. So the potential value of this one post was €294,000 (7 x 42,000).

Moreover, Henderijckx throws an annual offsite conference for the 45 super users of Sony’s European community to encourage their continued participation. They leverage this in-person opportunity to shoot over 300 videos of those users which are later shared with the broader community audience. More content!


Companies that have no problem understanding the value of content marketing still struggle to streamline processes, collaboration and efficiency. Great content comes at a cost – and, like all processes, efficiency is a goal. That’s why I love this recent case study (via Percolate) on how Unilever managed to save $10M annually on content production costs.  As brands become even more sophisticated, they’ll begin to measure how content saves money in a converged media environment.

Reusing, repurposing and optimizing existing content can translate into savings across paid and earned media, as well as on creative and agency services.

Employee Engagement/Advocacy

Not unrelated to efficiency is the role content can play in employee engagement and advocacy – but it goes beyond that as well. Employees who are trained and comfortable with digital content can communicate (often, far better than senior leadership) on a variety of levels and with a range of constituencies, ranging from customer care to sales to recruiting and sales.

Engagement & Amplification

Shares, comments, pass-alongs. “Engagement” is a vague word indeed, but there are many, many instances of content marketing achieving as much reach as paid media, at a fraction of the cost of a campaign that a media buy would entail.

Take the tech company that engaged influencers to create content on topics related to their products (importantly, not about the actual products or brand) and, with disclosure, promote the pieces in their networks. This resulted in 1.1 million interactions – an average 128,000 shares per piece of content. In a B2B context, that amounts to paid media reach without the cost of a paid media buy.

There are a host more potential KPIs: purchase intent, brand sentiment, customer retention, recruitment, consumer insights, feedback and product development/improvement – all of which can be fostered, nurtured and measured with content marketing underpinned by a solid strategy.

That’s what I’m going to spend this Fall season researching. Let me know if you have other examples or great case studies of the less obvious side of measuring content.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Can the Collaborative Economy Really Scale?

I’m trying hard to be cautiously optimistic, but the pessimist in me may be winning.

New York City’s bike share program launched on Memorial Day. It’s the talk of the town, and the largest such program in the world. It’s also a sterling example of the Collaborative Economy, the topic of new and important research by my colleague, Jeremiah Owyang. He defines the movement as customers sharing goods and services rather than buying them, which redefines the buyer seller relationships while simultaneously disrupting and disintermediating longstanding business models.

From banking to labor, hospitality to fashion, transportation and real estate, his research lists over 200 digital platforms that have recently emerged to get you a ride to where you’re going, a place to lay your head when you get there, and even toys for your kids to play with that will be gone before they’re outgrown.

The sector is growing rapidly, yet so are forces opposing it: regulation (e.g. AirBnB is illegal in New York City), trust issues between buyers and sellers, and other uncertainty factors. Jeremiah’s advice for businesses is, in a nutshell, you won’t be able to beat them, so join them. Neiman Marcus could, for example, launch its own version of Rent the Runway (revenue aside, such a move could be worth its weight in data collection).

Where I question the growth potential of the collaborative economy is from the perspective of a resident of midtown Manhattan. Collaboration is built on a foundation comprised of common values, community standards and trust.

I’m no sociologist, but I’ve lived and traveled abroad enough to understand that (love ’em or hate ’em), community values are radically stronger, not to mention vigorously reinforced, when the communities in question are distinct, defined and undiluted. Multi-culti certainly has its advantages – that’s why I elect to live in the middle of Manhattan – but commonly held values and community standards are not one of our defining characteristics. Anyone who’s been here knows it’s not tidy like Switzerland. We don’t wait for the light to turn red before crossing the street, like everyone does in Germany. And no way, no how could you get the entire population of the five boroughs to wear a yellow shirt every single Monday (it’s like a site gag for the first-time Bangkok visitor).

My personal experience with the collaborative economy has always been as an enthusiastic early adopter, only to see that enthusiasm quashed as something tribal grows to global proportions. I was word-of-mouth cheerleader when Zipcar launched (I was such an early member customer service later thought my membership number lacked digits, it was so low). Fast-forward five years: the service goes wide, there’s mass advertising (as opposed to a constant reinforcement of consideration-for-the-next-user oriented rules), and pretty soon I’m picking up cars with empty gas tanks, or worse,  trying to pick up cars previous renters haven’t bothered to return.

Nice that they always cheerfully refunded my money – but what about that wedding I missed when I didn’t have wheels to get there? The day Avis bought Zipcar, I cancelled my membership.

Pictured above is a shiny new Citi Bike a mere four days after the service launched in Manhattan. It’s in a station a couple of blocks from my loft, facing a fast food joint. Half the bikes at that particular station are already receptacles for discarded cups, food wrappers and napkins. Likely some have yet to take their maiden voyage.

Enterprises and large corporations will participate in the collaborative economy. Citigroup, Avis – they already are. As the movement grows, this will present new challenges internally as well as externally. How will collaboration scale in communities like New York City, LA, or Chicago that just aren’t that…communal? And how can enterprises keep alive a spirit of entrepreneurship and looking out for the other guy, not just yourself?

Consumers won’t accept “just” a refund when collaboration and community erode. Betrayal of trust and community standards run much deeper, and will require innovations in the customer service aspect of the collaborative economy.

The next couple of years will be interesting indeed.

Link to the full Collaborative Economy report.

[slideshare id=22256657&doc=collabecon-draft16-130531132802-phpapp02&type=d]

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Yes, There's Fraud Online. Deal With It.

Breaking: everything you see and read on the internet isn’t true.

Hope you were sitting down for that surprising revelation.  I know, I know, it’s not that big a surprise, but that’s why it’s constantly surprising that people are…surprised by it.

A reporter from one of this country’s leading metropolitan dailies contacted me recently about the late-summer revelation from Facebook that some 83 million (or 8.7 percent) of its user accounts are fake. Facebook is, after all, a platform based on the value proposition that its users are behind real identities.

Doesn’t this blow Facebook’s value proposition out of the water, the reporter wanted to know. Isn’t this an incredibly high number of fake accounts? How could they allow this to happen?

Relax. The problem is hardly endemic to Facebook. Fake accounts, whether malicious in nature or not (Facebook estimates only c. 1.5 percent of active accounts are, in fact, malicious – the others are mostly duplicates, users under the age of 13, your dog, etc.) come with the territory – online or off.

Facebook is working to identify and disable fake accounts just as the search engines are working to combat click fraud – for years now. As ISPs work to block oceans of spam.

Oh, and did I mention fake online reviews?  Yelp has resorted to a sting operation aimed at shaming businesses that are caught trying to game their ratings system. They’re posting “consumer alerts” on those businesses’ pages, and exposing the emails they send to hire favorable reviewers. (TripAdvisor is also participating in its own version of the walk of shame.) So widespread is the fake-review practice that Gartner estimates by 2014, 15 percent of all online reviews will be fake.

Companies running online sweepstakes often encounter fraud, fakes and undesirable metrics in short order. A few years back, I looked under the hood of several soft drink sweepstakes aimed at males aged 12 – 24 (Coke, Sprite and Mountain Dew, to name a few of the brands). I asked Hitwise (now Experian Hitwise ) to crunch the data. They clocked the overwhelming majority of entrants as low-income females…over 45. They weren’t clicking on ads, but rather on a link on contest-aggregator site Sweepstakes Advantage.

Blame the Internet – Or Human Nature?

Somehow, when fraudulent, misleading or even unintentional things happen online, “the internet” is to blame. Or Facebook. Or Google. Or the dating site that was a 14 year old girl’s first step into a bad situation – never mind that a 14 year old had no business being on the site in the first place.

No one seems to be stepping back and saying things like, “Contests are overwhelmingly popular with low-income, middle aged women. Is it wise to run a sweepstakes to reach young men? If we do elect to go that route, how can we ensure we reach the target audience?”

Just as retailers account for “shrinkage” in financial forecasts, digital marketers must account for wasted clicks and impressions. Comes with the territory. There’s always going to be clickfraud. Chihuahuas and Yorkies will continue to update their Facebook newsfeeds (or, even further violating Facebook’s TOS, allow others to do this for them.) People who aren’t 100 percent neutral (like maybe the owner’s mother-in-law) will review restaurants and hair salons – favorably or unfavorably, depending.

Offline Corollaries are Much Worse

While the media are quick to blame “the internet” for a multitude of crimes related to fraud, companies like Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all the major ISPs get little public credit or acknowledgement for their efforts to combat said fraud. Much of the knowledge we have of online misconduct was revealed by these companies themselves. It’s transparency and disclosure.

Not so their offline bretheren. A quick search of “inflated circulation” results in a veritable rogues’ gallery of news stories indicting companies like Time Inc., News Corp, Newsday and other major publishers of being caught in the act – not openly revealing they are combatting a problem.

Forbes recently indicted USA Today for padding hotel bills to the tune of $82 million annually for those unwanted, untouched copies of the newspaper in front of your door in the morning (nearly one million copies per day that you probably don’t read, and probably are billed for).

Online fraud? Yeah. It’s a problem. It will always be a problem. Just like in the real world.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Retargeting the Issue of...Retargeting

Attention is being retargeted to…retargeting. Last week, Facebook announced Facebook Exchange, a new real-time bidding platform that will replace the marketplace ads on the site with inventory that will be both more profitable for Facebook and presumably more targeted to the interests of its users. Facebook will be able to target ads to users based not only on their social graphs, but also on their recent browsing history.

Over recent years, we’ve witnessed the rapid growth of demand-side platforms (DSPs) in digital advertising, and as a result a sharp increase in the amount of tracking that’s going on out there on the web. A Krux Digital survey released this week claims the average visit to a web page (not a website, a single web page) triggers a staggering 56 instances of data collection.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Krux estimated that real-time bidding exchanges contribute to 40 percent of online data collection. Moreover, this type of real-time bidding has shot from virtually zero three years ago to an estimated 18 percent of online advertising marketing, according to a Forrester analyst quoted in the story.

There are plenty of reasons why advertisers and publishers alike have embraced the trend. RTB makes media spend more efficient while eliminating waste. It enables rapid optimization and creative testing, quickly provides deeper analytics and insights, and makes retargeting more effective and scalable. All this results — in theory at least — in better-performing ad campaigns.

Otherwise put, DSPs are closer by a mile than standard CPM-based display units to the “digital nirvana” so many advertisers aspire to: the right message to the right person at the right time. A consumer browses hotels in Baltimore for an upcoming trip and is retargeted with deals and offers that pertain to her trip while she’s still got the planning of it in mind.

That’s the promise, anyway. The reality often differs considerably. Everyone knows someone who is still being retargeted with ads for that sofa they bought six months ago. Or that time I visited a local bakery’s site to check the address so I could nip downtown and buy a cake for a party. Months later, I was still being retargeted with “order online and we’ll ship it to you” ads from one of the very few businesses I’d never buy from on the internet, because it’s a bakery, and because it’s local.

Beyond privacy concerns

When forms of digital advertising involving increased cookie collection, personal data, and targeting are in the news as they have been this week, the phrase “privacy concerns” appears frequently in headlines. Yes, privacy is always a concern, and it pays to be vigilant (and all that).

I’d argue that much of what’s raised as a “privacy” problem are the obvious Big Brother aspects of retargeting that are so apparent to users when they become obtrusive and inappropriate — when this type of targeting is used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of near surgical precision. Getting retargeted with ads for swim fins because you once accidently clicked on a pair in 2009, is far from a best practice and is not how this type of advertising is intended to work, yet it too often does. The results: irritated consumers who dump cookies and tune out or ridicule online advertising.

Turnkey, self-serve solutions come with a measure of responsibility on the part of both the advertiser and the DSP, otherwise the process becomes akin to driving without a license. It’s not helping anyone — not the consumer, the publisher, the advertiser, nor the industry in general — when hyper-targeted ads return to haunt the user again and again. Media buying agencies understand things like frequency caps. Too many small advertisers — the bakeries and the mom ‘n’ pop ecommerce sites — mean well but alarm rather than entice their audiences.

This begs the question: Should buying online advertising be so frictionless and easy when targeted and quasi-personalized ads have the potential to do as much harm as good? And if it’s to remain as turnkey as it has become (which is most likely the case), whose responsibility is it to ensure that the advertisers are educated enough to use their tools wisely.

A version of this post appeared in iMedia Connection

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Digital Advertising: One-Stop Shopping or á la Carte Services?

Sometimes, timing can be really fortuitous. Almost immediately upon returning from Adobe’s annual marketing summit, where I spent a week immersed in the world of advertising technology stacks, Advertising Age called and asked me to contribute a column on precisely that topic. Here’s the piece they published today on the advantages, and disadvantages, of all-in-one ad technology solutions:

Your Marketing Machine: What You Need to Know About Ad Tech ‘Stacks’

When you go shopping for groceries, do you prefer an array of local specialty stores (the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and the fishmonger)? Or would you rather visit a full-service market for one-stop shopping? If so, are we talking a megastore such as Costco or Walmart, or something more focused, like your basic A&P?

Advertisers shopping for digital-marketing solutions face the same kind of choice. They can shop literally hundreds of individual specialty vendors, or they can go big — to companies that offer a variety of marketing services. Whatever you call these latter players — some use “stacks,” others refer to them as an operating system or a “digital-marketing provider.” Regardless of the name, more and more of these large, software-based providers are emerging.

Who are the players in this space? Some you know: IBM, Adobe, Google, AppNexus. Others are newer on the scene: Operative, IgnitionOne and MediaOcean. None of them do exactly the same thing, but in the broadest possible terms, stacks aim to consolidate the many steps of ad buying, selling, optimization, reporting, measurement, inventory management and billing into one big, integrated software suite. Depending on the package you choose, retargeting, social media, search, even offline media can become part of the service offering.

Read the rest of the column here.

Image credit: James Steinberg for Advertising Age

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What’s Facebook Going to Do with All That Money?

Many of us grew up with Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. For the past few years the refrain has been Google, Google, Google. But this past week, it’s been all Facebook, all the time.

As we wait for the biggest IPO in tech history to shake out, the question I’m being asked most by clients and especially the mainstream media is, by far, “what’s Facebook going to do with all that money?”

I’d love it if “One Buck Zuck” would send me a check. Barring that, some reasonable conjectures can be drawn.

  1. Mobile Facebook’s S-1 filing contained all the usual risk disclaimers: changing market conditions, loss of key executives, that stuff. But there was one zinger in the boilerplate – Facebook’s statement that mobile is growing fast, and that the company can’t yet monetize it. It’s not too much of a leap from there to the conclusion that multiple millions of dollars can be applied to figuring this one out. An article published the day after the filing suggests we’ll see the first Facebook mobile ads in March. Yet mobile means different things to different users, fast as the channel is growing. Smartphones, tablets…when it comes to mobile advertising, Facebook will require more than one solution. And that’s to say nothing of Facebook Credits and other commerce opportunities on mobile platforms. There’s plenty of R&D opportunity for Facebook across the mobile spectrum.
  2. Data Data is Facebook’s core product. Not only do they have more of it every day on their users, that data is getting increasingly complex. In addition to basic demographic data, there’s friends and friends-of-friends. Groups they’re a part of, companies worked at, Likes, and soon, Actions, what they’re reading, listening to, eating and buying are only the beginning. Managing this data, parsing it, and making it useful and actionable to advertisers and marketers in ways that can help increase user engagement, create newer and more premium advertising products, extract deeper meaning and clarity from stores of data so complex it very nearly qualifies as big data is challenging, to say the least. It’s also critical to Facebook’s future. Data is what Facebook sells.
  3. Platform What’s next for Facebook’s platform? It’s currently central to a vital Facebook economy. Without that platform, companies ranging from Zynga to Buddy Media would hardly exist as we know them today. Media companies from the Wall Street Journal to Spotfiy wouldn’t be able to reach and interact with Facebook users. It’s critical to keep that platform open and to continually expand upon its scope. Is social commerce the next comer? Features that link Facebook more deeply into the real world? Without the platform, Facebook doesn’t have the data, so watch for new developments in this arena, too.
  4. Acquisitions Remember when Google was just a search engine? That was years ago, before YouTube, Blogger, Analytics and a host of other features that now seem integral to the company, but once upon a time were acquisitions. Google has largely become a roll-up, and Facebook could begin to follow that path as well (maybe by buying a search engine and finally incorporating real search into its platform?). Sure, Facebook’s made some small acquisitions in the past, but these are broadly viewed as more a bid to acquire talent, not technology. With a mind-boggling bank balance, that may well change.
  5. 5). Talent Silicon Valley engineers are high in demand, and you have to find a way to bring them to your company. In Facebook’s case, it’s not longer possible to do this with the lure of pre-IPO stock options. Facebook will soon be forced to pay a premium for new talent, particularly as some of an estimated 500 to 1,000 newly minted millionaires cash out. Sure, some will buy houses and cars. But others will yearn to get back to start-up culture. They’ll start new ventures, or even finance them. Facebook will pay more for talent in the long run, but their IPO will help to spark Silicon Valley’s economy, and that can only mean good things for innovation.
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Google's New Privacy Policy Critical to Competition with Facebook

Google has a new, 360-degree privacy policy. Take that, Facebook. The consolidation of data that creates a unified customer profile across very nearly all of Google's products and services creates a view of the customer that's very, very Facebook in nature.

Funny that with all the attention directed to the Facebook IPO lately, so few commentators have made this observation.

It's a good idea that has, understandably, creeped users out. The reality and the perception of privacy are miles apart in the mind of the public and notoriously difficult to change.

This move does make enormous sense for Google on three primary levels.

  1. Google's stated reason for making a major change. It doesn't make sense to have 70 different privacy policies. It does make sense to consolidate, and to simplify language. That's good UX.
  2. Google is increasingly a media company. Its revenue comes from ad sales. These privacy policy changes will help it deliver not only better search results (let's leave personalized search out of the equation for now), but better ads. It's a major step closer to cracking the database of intentions. What's a "Jaguar"? An "Apple"? "Bass"? The move really will help refine results.
  3. Google needs a 360 degree view of the customer now more than ever. Why? Because Facebook's already got it. Or is at least a lot closer to having it than Google is if all Google's information is separately warehoused. Facebook is currently better positioned than Google to "know" what videos you're watching on YouTube (which Google owns!), and tie that data with what you're reading in "The Wall Street Journal" or "The Washington Post," or posting on Pinterest. With Facebook about to go public, Google needs to change that equation, and change it fast.

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.


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