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Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld threw reporters into a frenzy with his famous quote about “unknown unknowns,” which he defined as things we do not know that we don’t know.

Many content marketers have been operating under the “unknown unknowns” mode for too long, especially when it comes to measurement.

If content marketers are going to have a respected voice in the marketing world, they need to get better at proving their worth, and the only way to do that is by measuring the success of content marketing efforts.

Luckily, it’s not that difficult. But it does require you to measure the right things.

Bass Pro Shops uses local content to attract readers and create utility that extends beyond selling merchandise.

Content marketing and customer acquisition

The ultimate measure of success for brands is customer acquisition, and that’s where most marketing dollars are spent. Marketers need to look at content across all channels and determine if it’s being shared and engaged with, and if that engagement is converting audience into customers.

This is a key departure from the loosey-goosey measurement taking place over the past few years, in which marketers measure things that don’t matter, such as number of followers or views, but aren’t able to answer questions from the C-suite such as, “How does content marketing help grow the business?”

For example, multichannel retailer Bass Pro Shops knows that while its customers are interested in hunting, fishing and camping, the kind of information they want about these pastimes varies based on location.

So the company decided to focus on generating local content produced by its knowledgeable store associates who understand their local areas and can provide relevant advice and knowledge.

By focusing on a series of single hits instead of one home run, Bass Pro Shops reaches specific audiences with the right information, which has generated more engagement, boosted its local search traffic and increased sales.

Likewise, Indiana University has increased enrolment by engaging graduating high school students and providing them with useful information.

Indiana University’s Freshman Year Blog features posts by students, who help spread the content through their personal social networks.

The university opened up its blogging platform to first- and second-year university students who were likely to be connected to kids back home and asked them to share stories about campus life and why they chose the university.

Once these blogs are posted, Indiana University encourages the contributor to share their content on their own social media channels. This significantly increases the university’s reach to prospective students.

Both of these brands use a simple blueprint for measuring their content:

  1. Create goals that make a difference. These goals should be specific and actionable, and they should impact the bottom line. Types of goals include branding/awareness (increase in shares or views), marketing (lead generation), sales (time to sale, wins) and retention (renewals, repeat purchases).
  2. Understand your sales stages and develop content for each stage. Prospects tend to move through sales stages ranging from “Unaware” to “Customer.” It’s important to develop content that’s relevant based on their stage and share that content via the right channels. Regardless of the type of content, there should always be calls-to-action inviting the customer to learn more.
  3. Implement and track. Use the right tools to capture metrics that will help make your program stronger. These include web analytics tools, email/marketing automation tools, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools.
  4. Identify actions for all segments and goals. It’s important to measure the right actions to know if your program is effective. Map out what you’d like your prospects to do (click a link, download a white paper) and measure the success of your content in delivering on these actions.

By knowing what to measure, you’ll be able to clearly and definitively demonstrate the value of content marketing. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that?