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What is the most dreaded phrase a marketing leader will hear in 2017?

Well based on the conversations I have had with over 700 individuals in my workshops, 100 guests I have had on my podcast, and countless interactions with marketing practitioners, my guess would have to be “What is the ROI on your marketing efforts?”

I mean seriously, you want me to calculate return on my marketing efforts?  Oh wait, you expect me to calculate the investment too?  From your executive’s position, the answer is yes.

Sure, we have all the excuses in the world to show that we don’t know how our marketing efforts are working.  Sales folks don’t ask where their leads have heard about us.  Customer Services teams can’t show how many problems were resolved by content on the website that lower the impact on their resource cost.  Oh, and those non-digital marketing campaigns, good luck tracking that data.

Nevertheless, we hold the blame when it comes to the calculation of investment.  We don’t require our teams to manage their time well, estimate their work, and keep track of their time associated with the content they produce.  We don’t even have systems in place for tracking the production of content and with each member who was involved.

What we are left with is the overhead and salary calculations divided by the amount of content we produced.  For some, that is enough, but it will only show us an average and can never provide us the detail we need to see what content provides the best return on investment.  If you plan to take that number to your boss when you ask for more budget for future efforts, you can expect a myriad of responses that will all round up to no.

Can You Calculate Your Investment?

Just like any good challenge we face, we must isolate the variables.

For instance, we know how much our marketing platforms cost, including service fees for our vendors and the training time needed to stay fresh.  We are aware how much money we put into the promotion of each piece of content.  We even know the hard costs like print, postage, and distribution if the content has a physical form.

Pull together those numbers and, if possible, group them with each item produced and put them aside.

Next, if we used an agency to help us with creative elements of the content, such as graphics, video, writing, and audio, use those costs associated with each content piece as well.

If we are allocated budget for hiring, training, and other expenses of running a team, we can calculate our overall overhead and predict the cost associated with each item produced.

Now, to get to the root of the challenge of calculating the ROI, we need to know how much time our resources are spending creating, promoting, and maintaining each piece of content.

Time Tracking for Marketing Teams

If you have ever worked for an agency, you know that tracking your time is important, it is traditionally how you get paid.  But the minute you step into a full-time role as a marketer, the burden of tracking your time becomes taboo.

During our Agile Marketing workshops, it is amazing to pair agency folks up with marketing team members in an estimating session.  The agency folks have been beaten into the mold of words per hour and what the client can afford that everything is measured by the hour, sometimes even the minute.  Marketing teams haven’t tracked their time for so long, get pulled in many different directions, and are forced to attend meetings just to attend them, they usually measure in the weeks.

Instead, we need to find a tracking increment that is finite enough that we can see when pieces are variable in size and not so limited that we should use a stopwatch to measure them.  We also need to know for the core what our definition of complete and valuable content is to find out what is required.  For most teams, I prescribe the measurement of a day.  One day is usually the minimum for creating something that has value.  There are exceptions, but so take some time to find yours.

Mix the Ingredients Together

After a few months of learning how to estimate well, you will start to see trends in your backlog. These trends might line up to the content type, for example, it might take you on average five days to produce a video.  The trends might also be in the competency of the team, such as the research-based white papers take a far longer to complete because we only have one designer.

Pull several dimensions of this data together to show you what the effectiveness of your team and the marketing efforts you want to measure.  Then look at the data you use to calculate the ROI, and you will see how much investment is made, the different types of investment, and their effectiveness to the bottom line.

This doesn’t have to stop at content marketing, it just helps to start here due to the repetitive nature of the efforts for building the rhythms and processes you will need to record the right data.  The next time your team is considering sponsoring an event and heading to the expo, measure the work that goes into the creative, the cost associated with the booth, shipping, and staff.  Then add the time spent following up leads and placing the information in our systems.  If you have the data, you can show what the return is on this event and forecast the number of sales to make the event profitable.

Reminder: ROI is Not the Only Marketing Measurement

You may be under so much pressure to perform, that reading this article has you excited to go back to your team and crack the whip.

However, before you throw everything out that isn’t performing, you must remember influence caused by your efforts and the fact that you are just present in the space can cause customers to gain or retain trust in your brand.  Seeing your name as one of the big sponsors at a conference might not cause someone to buy now, but it can have many invisible impacts on the perception of influence and health of the organization.

Take your time and make small changes to your efforts and your teams.  Let the data help you make decisions and give you a clearer understanding of your impact on the business.

tagged with: Content Marketing

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