Does content marketing actually work?

So far, I have not found a single case study that shows content marketing is successful. I’ve searched the web; I’ve looked at dozens of “leading websites”; I’ve talked to many people, incl. heads of agencies and published authors. None of them have been able to give me an example of a content marketing campaign that showed it was financially success, i.e., profitable. Not one.

It’s very plausible that content marketing works better than PPC. The Kapost Content Marketing ROI document makes sense. Anyone with sufficient experience in web marketing can see it makes sense. But it lacks data. There is no proof that content marketing works.

What would a meaningful content marketing case study include?

  • State the campaign costs. E.g., “We spent $32,000.”
  • State the revenues that resulted directly from the campaign. “The campaign produced $240,000 in sales.”
  • Describe the tracking process. “We tagged the documents so we could see the traffic, clicks, leads, and conversions in Omniture.” (Why describe the tracking process? So we can know that the authors know what they’re doing. If they’re not using web analytics or similar, well… )
  • State the number of leads and sales. “30,000 leads converted into 10,000 sales, i.e., 33% conversion rate.” (Why state the conversion rate? It’s pointless to say the campaign got 100,000 leads. What was the sales? A dog can get 100,000 worthless leads and zero sales. Just put a contest on Facebook.)
  • State the maximum profitable cost-per-lead (maxCPL) or cost-per-action (maxCPA). “Leads at or under $120.21 CPL are profitable.” (Why a maxCPL? If the maxCPL is $120.21, but leads cost $130, then the campaign is losing money. Furthermore, by stating this, we see if the team can indeed calculate maxCPL. As much as 80% of companies have no idea what their maxCPL is, so they either radically underprice, i.e., $14 CPLs when they can afford $120.21, or they overprice. In both extremes, they lose money. In some cases, companies lose hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t know their CPLs.)
  • Use statistically meaningful numbers. If the data samples are too low, the results are too vague. “We tested 30 volunteer shoppers and 15 bought, so we have a 50% sales rate!”  (Why is a low sample bad? With only 30 samples, the margin of error is so large that the results are basically random. When they go to market, that 50% could turn into 1%. For a 3% plus/minus margin of error, you need 1,067 samples.)
  • Describe the control group. “We selected ten US cities of similar size and demographics. We ran the campaign in seven cities. There was no campaign in three cities. This chart shows the difference in response. In seven cities, results increased by X. In the three cities, results increased by Y.” (Why use a control group? Because without it, there is no proof that the campaign was responsible for the results. “The campaign produced a 12% increase in sales!” So? Did the company release a new product which increased sales? Did the company introduce a new sales bonus plan? Did the three major competitors have no new products? Worse yet: did the market and competitors grow 18% last year, so the company’s 12% is actually a massive failure?

Why do this? If you set up a content marketing  process that works, you become a money machine. Your CFO will give you an unlimited budget. Your CEO will shower you with a big bonus. VCs will fund your project. Your cat will come when you call.

This is the beauty of content marketing. All of this is trackable. It can be done.

As you can see, there are basic data requirements for a case study. In all of the content marketing case studies that I’ve seen so far, most of these elements were missing. The documents wouldn’t last a minute in front of a CFO. They’re not really case studies.

If you find a case study with solid data, please let me know.

Update: A Case Study

Mark Spanner posted a case study in the Content Marketing Group forum at LinkedIn. He concludes: “Results: 3.2 times more leads rated as “hot” provided to salesforce. Franchise sales increased by a factor of almost 11 (3 to 38).” (I.e., an 11X sales increase.) He includes screen shots and a description of how they did it. See his case study at (at bottom left of his site, click “Conversion Marketing.”)