Your brand’s content KPIs should not be led by industry benchmarks

February 8th, 2017

In recent months, I have been fortunate to contribute to healthy debates about content measurement, effectiveness and whether there should be industry benchmarks. Our view (first published in the IAB’s greenpaper and the CMA’s paper on this matter) is that only in the absence of data linked directly to the customer journey should they be used to shape a content marketing strategy and channel level planning. My personal feeling is that there is something utterly crude about defaulting to the use of industry benchmarks to shape and measure a content marketing approach, and this view is informed by two lines of thought.

Firstly, if we start with competitor, channel, format or brand-first thinking, we are missing a huge opportunity to focus on what affects the success of our business above all else: the opinions and behaviours of our target audiences. Knowledge in industry benchmarks of ‘what good looks like’ will only mimic an approach taken by others, for purposes that suit them.

Secondly, even if you did share the same purposes, industry benchmarks by their nature are averages so provide little detail on the deviation across the market nor the marketing approach taken to achieve these figures. Knowing whether they can dynamically optimise customer journeys on their website, the maturity of their audience retargeting data, the impact of existing customers and their business model as a whole can dramatically change the meaning of these benchmarks.

So, although there will forever be the temptation to use industry benchmarks to drive decisions, the chances of your investments not seeing their potential return via this route is high.

What KPIs, therefore, matter?

It’s not all that helpful suggesting that we marketers dial down the use of industry benchmarks, without offering up an alternative option.

The primary KPI to work back from is your preferred business outcome – however you define that, for instance it could be life-time value, donations, subscribers, sales etc. Then it’s vital that you invest time in understanding what behaviours and attitudes block and/or drive audiences towards this outcome.

This is not easy, which is why so few people do it. At MEC Wavemaker we are surrounded by data that is specific to our clients’ audiences, through our planning tool ‘MEC Momentum’, which studies the purchase journey and allows us to pinpoint where comms can work hardest to accelerate consumers around a brand’s purchase journey. Then we use our supporting content planning and measurement process to measure and optimise activity. We know, for instance, from the half a million people surveyed on behalf of brands across 55 different categories and 34 countries, the importance of improving consideration in the passive stage – before consumers are even in the market to buy. This helps brands move into the shortlist of three that 49% of consumers have when they decide they want to move into market. Then we can identify the specific factors that drive consideration and purchase intent at a level that can be used to define the roles of channels.

Pairing this insight with first party and partner data (an example is referenced in my colleagues post today on the most potent video KPIs that correlate with attitudinal change), allows you to then optimise creative and channel activity in a way that continually leads to business outcomes.

A great example of this, at a strategic level, has been the ability to identify what role content, social, search, partnerships and the website can play in supporting a utility brand’s business objectives to improve loyalty and overcome some significant customer service challenges. This included what KPIs it should be optimising within the context of wider above-the-line communications.

This approach also allowed us to measure the contribution of earned audience interactions and how shareable content drives sales in the financial services sector, as well as the means by which you can use this to inform channel level KPIs (aggregated early client examples were originally shared here in partnership with the CMA).

We’ve also been able to demonstrate that a client’s website is a collection of steps, as opposed to a single step, before the audience converts, using our content attribution platform MEC Origami.

This allowed us to understand audience preference and set KPIs ahead of a programme of work to remove, repeat, refresh and reorganise the content.

This therefore points to one thing…at a strategic, campaign and channel optimisation level, there isn’t an obvious instance where industry benchmarks should be used over audience-first understanding, planning and measurement.

With ad blocking, cookie removal, heavy-lifting audience research and analytics, the selection of the right content KPIs is a process that is certainly not easy (I spent many months trying to join these dots in my last job at MoneySupermarket). But, it is possible, so with that in mind, industry benchmarks should remain a last resort in determining content KPIs.

Managing Director, MEC Wavemaker UK at MEC

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