How to decide what you want (what you really really want): Content marketing goal setting

Shocking fact of the day: Just 23 per cent of B2C organisations and 21 per cent of B2B companies consider themselves to be successful at tracking the return on investment (ROI) of content marketing, according to US-based research from the Content Marketing Institute.

This means that the majority of organisations engaged in content marketing are throwing money and resource at something they have no way of measuring for value.

For me, this is mind-boggling – especially when you think about all the results-driven CEOs out there who demand departments demonstrate instant impact or else. How in the world is this not happening when it comes to content marketing???

After asking myself this very question the other day, I stumbled across a particularly interesting fact. When companies were asked to rank their top goals for content marketing in 2015, they named several as equally important, including customer retention/loyalty, engagement and brand awareness.

Eureka! Here’s why measuring and proving ROI is just so damn hard: People don’t know what they want. Or, perhaps more accurately, people don’t know what they want the most. Consequently, when the time comes to do content marketing, everyone is spreading themselves too thin trying to achieve multiple loosely-defined goals.

The first step towards proving ROI

To be successful at content marketing you need someone who knows how to get you to tell them what you want more than anything else – strategically speaking, of course.

At its core, this is my job. I take people on a journey to find out their content wish list and then I try to make that dream a reality. I’m sort of like Father Christmas, if Father Christmas delivered content instead of gifts and was a massive fan of Taylor Swift.

This process begins at a top level, with me asking lots of questions about business strategy and what results need to come out of any content marketing efforts. It’s then possible to go away and create a SMART goal.

What’s one of these I hear you ask? Essentially, it’s an acronym for a goal that complies with the below criteria.

Specific: The goal contains nothing that is open to misinterpretation or confusion. Consequently, the focus will often be narrow. For example: Increase leads over the next six months from persona X for product Y through the contact form on the website.

Measurable: Any goal should have a series of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be put in place to demonstrate success or failure and the extent of either.

Achievable: The goal is something that can feasibly be achieved with the resources available, within the given time frame.

Relevant: There is no point in setting something as a goal if it will have minimal impact, so it’s important to always consider what the outcome might look like.

Time-bound: A good goal will always be grounded within a time frame to add a sense of urgency and improve measurement. Indeed, you can only really assess if you need to change your goal or your approach based on whether you have achieved X,Y or Z by a certain date. Without this, it becomes impossible to measure ROI.

The SMART framework allows the creation of tightly defined, entirely measurable goals. As a result, marketers have both something concrete and clear to work towards, and a set of KPIs that will tell them if they are succeeding or failing. Consequently, when you have to show ROI, there is a pool of data and examples to demonstrate just how valuable content marketing efforts are.

A journey towards discovering your goals

If the above sounds simple to you, then I have to say you’re wrong. It’s really, really, really hard. I mean, who ACTUALLY knows what they want? I certainly don’t.

The truth is that in the content marketing world you’re going to spend a lot of time locked in conversations that sound like the early Spice Girls.

Decision maker: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

Marketer: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Decision maker: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

Marketer: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Decision maker: I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha)

I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ah (read as indecision, followed by a goal that is anything but SMART)

The way to break out of this cycle is to make sure there is someone who knows how to challenge assumptions, ask the right questions and turn your desires into SMART goals.

Challenging assumptions

To get people thinking in this way, I use the nine dot exercise. Participants are told to join the nine dots, using four straight lines only. The pen isn’t allowed to leave the page and you’re not allowed to repeat any line.

To complete the task, individuals need to challenge assumptions about what they’ve been told; paying attention to what’s not been said as much as to what has.

By starting to think in this way, people start to become comfortable with looking beyond the facade of any given situation and learning how to drill deeper into instructions. It also encourages individuals to ask questions in order to seek clarification.

Asking the right questions

In my years of trying to get people to tell me what they want, I’ve discovered a series of questions that increase my chances of unearthing SMART goals. While every business is unique and should be treated as such, there is generally a line of questioning that can broadly be applied in most cases.

The trick is to start at the macro level, spending time probing into what the business at large is trying to achieve and what it wants from our services (not a specific campaign). This helps to paint a picture of organisational purpose and how everything else flows from this, including service goals.

Questions I usually use at this stage include:

  • What goals has your boss set out for you this quarter? How will you measure if they are achieved?

  • Where does the company want to be in six months or a year’s time?

  • What customer challenges are you currently facing and why?

  • What products and services are you focusing on at the moment? Will this change?

  • What is the most important result that you want to see out of our activities by the end of the quarter? Why?

From here, I begin to delve deeper, narrowing my focus to understand how online and offline marketing fit into things. Example questions are:

  • What campaigns are you working on/will you be working on? What channels are you using to do this?

  • What historic campaigns have you run? What worked well? What failed? What did you learn?

  • What devices are users coming to the site operating? Should this change?

  • Who is the target audience?

  • Where in the buyer cycle do customers normally reach out to you?

The answers to the above questions should tell me – and the person I’m speaking to – what at a macro level the business is trying to achieve, how they see our services fitting in and what base they’re currently working from.

I can then take the line of questioning very micro, focusing on specific campaign agendas. This can often be the easiest part of the process, because campaigns generally start with someone launching a new product, service or rebrand. Consequently, the desired results are generally a bit more clear.

The conversation usually begins by understanding the new development that has inspired the campaign. Why is this happening and why is it significant? What will it mean to the target audience? What gap in the market does it fill?

We can then look at where we’ll be engaging with people, what we want them to do and what current performance is like.

Sometimes, however, there won’t be a natural trigger for a campaign. When this happens, the journey to uncover what people want can become something of an educational piece. I’m not going to go through how to do this here, as each case is truly unique and will be based on things like data, UI/UX, social listening and SWOT analysis.

Turning desires into SMART goals

The answers to the above questions are useless if they can’t be turned into SMART goals. If I’ve done my job well, this should be a case of analysing the information, pulling out the most important pieces and, using the SMART criteria, creating a specific and achievable goal.

It’s important that everyone is bought into the goal, so make sure all parties working on a project agrees to it. Without this, there will be no unified commitment, which can result in an ineffective strategy. It’s crucial that everyone is pulling in the same direction if we’re going to be able to achieve results.

However, remember that goals can be changed if it emerges that it’s no longer achievable or appropriate. Of course, you’ll only know this if you are consistently reviewing and paying homage to the goals. I can never stress enough that once you have a goal in place, everything you do must be in service of its achievement. “How does this achieve the goal” should become your motto.

Goals = Satisfaction

Let’s break this down into something that’s easy to understand: Think about the times in life when you’ve felt dissatisfied. Did you have a goal or purpose? Were you able to perform and get things done? I’m guessing the answer to those questions is no.

Basically, if you don’t know what you want, you can’t have a goal. If you don’t have a goal, you can’t perform. And if you can’t perform, you can’t be satisfied. In the business world you’re in the lucky position that you can bring someone on board to help you work out what you want and then do the legwork for achieving it for you. Knowing when to loop in this individual will often be the key to performing or failing, especially in the world of content marketing.

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