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From AVEs to MQLs – Challenges in the hunt for ROI

Longitude co-founder and CFO James Watson discusses the challenges faced in attributing ROI to thought leadership campaigns, as well as best practice on ways to ensure success is driven by key KPIs. James takes responsibility for running the company’s finances, systems and technologies, while also overseeing a range of key client accounts.

Digital has a lot to answer for. Initially, we all saw it as a game-changer for measuring return on investment (ROI) – a way for marketers to see exactly which of their investments give them the best overall returns. Instead, it just adds to the noise.

Investment in content and thought leadership continues to rise, and business leaders – particularly in finance – are unsurprisingly keen to get more clarity on what that investment gets them.

But traditional tactics for measuring ROI fall woefully short. Returns from advertising and PR, for example, have traditionally been tracked on measures such as advertising value equivalent (AVE), a crude approximation that assesses coverage in column inches relative to the cost of buying space in those pages.

Now, digital delivery is adding more data to that equation. But while there’s more information available than ever before, not much of it is meaningful. Technology allows us to measure much more than we could previously, but it also encourages many marketers to fall into the trap of reporting reams of metrics that don’t add up to a clear picture.

Data, data everywhere, but not an insight in sight

One marketer we met a few months ago kindly showed us an internal presentation detailing the ROI metrics from a recent content campaign – all 25 slides of it. The deck was certainly very interesting and jam-packed with data points and anecdotal commentary, but it would dismay most financial directors.

Here’s a sample (I’ve amended the figures to protect the firm’s private data):

  • 23% of visitors to a content microsite spent more than 90 seconds on the home page
  • There were 514 downloads of the report
  • The content was viewed most by people from the UK, the US and Germany
  • 114 likes and 18 shares of related content posts through the organisation’s social channels

Although this data clearly shows great engagement with the campaign and its content, it also raises questions. What happened next? Did the downloads lead to new opportunities for the business? Did the social shares uncover any new leads to contact? Ultimately, do these insights show whether the project is worth doing again?

This is just one example, of course, but it reflects a common concern of many marketing leaders we meet. They’re struggling to find meaningful KPIs that reflect the true value of the content they’re investing in, and we all need to get smarter about how we demonstrate that value to the business.

So what’s a data-laden marketer to do? In our experience, one tactic stands out: be crystal clear about the strategic goals of any campaign. At Longitude, we swear by what we call the 3Rs: reputation, relationships and revenue. These help you to align your company’s strategic intent with your marketing objectives. Only then can you identify the relevant KPIs.

Strategic simplicity: three examples from the field

The topic of ROI came up repeatedly in my recent conversations with marketing leaders from three different companies. What was striking was that all three had specific organisational goals and related metrics to track.

  1. The first, a technology company, has just one KPI: the number of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) its campaign generates. Everything else is secondary. Despite being a tech firm, the company’s biggest challenge is getting the technology right to support that goal. Part of the process for assigning a score to an MQL involves tracking that lead’s interaction with content at various stages of the funnel, and a mixture of platforms and technologies made it painful. It can be tricky to correctly connect a website viewer with someone who clicked on a LinkedIn post and also viewed the company’s YouTube demo, but once that’s solved, the core metric is black and white. Then, the only thing left to debate is how high the target should be scored relative to the overall budget.
  2. My second conversation was with a professional services firm, which has a completely different objective: to position its brand around several new mega-themes in its market. A reputational shift like this can be difficult to track and quantify, but a brand-tracking study — conducted every year — clearly shows how the company is perceived and how that perception changes. In this situation, secondary metrics, such as related incoming enquiries, can support the case.
  3. Finally, I spoke to a telecoms firm that is entirely focused on revenue, and tracks its marketing activity around two key metrics: deal volume (how many new business deals their campaigns are helping to originate), and deal value (how much those deals are worth). The numbers were very impressive: marketing could point to new business opportunities in the sales pipeline amounting to several millions of pounds. For a financial director, this is level of attribution is nirvana. However, setting up the systems and processes required for this level of traceability is arduous, and the firm still has a lot that can be improved.

While these three cases are quite different from one another, the common factor – and the key to each one’s success – is that they are looking beyond the deluge of digital metrics and focusing on one or two specific KPIs.

Depending on your business and commercial goals, the metrics you choose to focus on could range from impact on policy to degree of attention in the media. But once you’ve identified which to measure, setting a go-to metric for your campaign ensures you can pinpoint the value and trace that all-important ROI.

To discover how the most successful brands track and measure the commercial benefits from their thought leadership campaigns, download the findings of our latest research study here.

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