Content Marketing

Is Revenue Attribution to Content Possible?

by | Aug 25, 2020

revenue attribution to content

Why Marketers Are Under Pressure to Attribute to Revenue

If you’re selling direct-to-consumer, the need for content in your marketing channels may be straightforward to management.

But in B2B, sales cycles tend to be longer and more drawn out. This makes it difficult to directly connect marketing activities to revenue. If a sales cycle takes several weeks (or even longer) and multiple touch points, how do we know which touch point or piece of content actually got the potential buyer on the phone with sales? This is where revenue attribution comes in.

From a 30,000-foot point of view, marketing gets sales people in the room with potential buyers. But if marketing and sales teams aren’t aligned or in close collaboration, sales often get the credit whenever they close the deal. Plus, sales often feel like they are keeping relationships alive in extended sales cycles.

Unfortunately, this kind of disconnect can shape management’s perception toward marketing and their value—and not in a good way.

According to a November 2018 survey by Digiday, 77% of brand marketers feel more pressure to connect marketing spend with revenue results, particularly with content marketing (Digiday, 2019).

Now here’s the good news. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated revenue attribution tools in recent years, B2B companies are now becoming more aware of the impact of marketing and thus giving marketing a seat at the table.

Why Is Attributing Content to Revenue So Difficult?

We think (or used to think) of buyer journeys and sales funnels as linear step-by-step processes where each buyer walks through from top to bottom before buying.

In reality, though, it’s usually a non-linear process where the buyer encounters multiple touch points anywhere throughout the entire funnel, in a seemingly random order, before making their buying decision. Tyler Burch, the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardActive warns against trying to force it when it comes to revenue attribution: “I think that content doesn’t always operate in a linear funnel. It can happen, but oftentimes that attribution is forced and incorrect.”

“The hardest part is deciding if the content is what convinced them to engage and then purchase. Is a particular piece of content what swayed someone to buy? Or was it one of the follow-up pieces?” says James Gilbert, the Head of Marketing at CRMNEXT. “Truly understanding the buyer journey requires being able to answer these questions,” he adds.

What makes attribution especially difficult is that one could read a piece of content, and then not take action until weeks or months later. “For instance, when 2,000 visitors read your content in a day, but didn’t become a lead until two months later, how do we attribute that to content? It’s often a tough nut to crack,” says Victor Ijidola, a B2B SaaS Content Strategist at Premium Content Shop.

If a potential buyer is new to the site and takes immediate action after reading a piece of content by opting into a mailing list, downloading a PDF, or clicking the buy button, that can be easily tracked and attributed using Google Analytics. “The problem is, this is rarely the case,” says Lydia Fayal, the Head of Marketing at Workstream. She further explains: “Content reached through organic search and social media is great for brand awareness, but it usually takes multiple posts before the passive reader becomes a lead. This makes attribution a bit more difficult.”

Although creating a perfect attribution model for every marketing activity is almost impossible, there are a lot of things we can do to fill in the gaps.

Five Ways to Improve Revenue Attribution to Content:

Marketing executives have shared their thoughts about how to drive revenue with content, and below are some steps they have taken:

1. Reverse engineer your vision of success to quarterly and weekly targets.

As with any business or personal endeavors, defining a clear vision of long-term success is the first step towards laying out a roadmap to get there. This is especially the case with marketing, which is increasingly data-driven while consumers expect a more personalized digital experience.

Once you know what success looks like, the next step is to reverse engineer that vision into long-term targets, then iteratively break them down into medium- and short-term goals.

Some aspects of marketing success may not be easily quantifiable, such as branding. However, you can connect your branding goals to revenue goals, even as you include brand awareness in your long-term vision as opposed to just attribution.

Focusing solely on data and attribution comes from a transactional mindset, when we need to be shifting our mindset to developing relationships while building a brand. However, these need not be mutually exclusive because it’s a matter of aligning 1) marketing, 2) sales, and 3) customer success to the right metrics.

2. Align sales and marketing through both content and sales enablement.

The days of marketing and sales living in separate silos are over.

In isolation, it is challenging to directly tie marketing activities to revenue growth. The Head of Marketing of BoostUp, Brandon Most, explains: “the goal of marketing is to help provide qualified leads to sales and let them take it home. It’s a team effort that involves constant and open lines of communication across sales, marketing, and product departments.”

Sales need to inform marketing why buyers are buying or not buying, what is a “qualified” lead, what questions potential buyers are asking, and what marketing can do to develop a deeper connection with them.

Marketing needs to produce content for all stages of the sales cycle to educate potential buyers, increase brand awareness, and provide transparent answers to buyer questions. Better yet, coordinating with sales enables marketing to see which pieces of content resonated with potential buyers.

“When we talk with people on sales calls and demos, we see if they have looked at our content.” says Burch. At Workstream, Fayal also does this: “We also request that the sales team ask leads how they learned about Workstream, so we can understand what stuck out to the lead,” she says. When buyers have already read your content before the sales call, it leads to more productive conversations for both sides.

The Chief Marketing Officer at ZyraTalk, Bradley Scruggs, drives home the point about needing to integrate sales and marketing:

“Marketing should constantly be getting feedback from the sales team on a weekly basis to understand how our customers describe the product, what features resonate well with them, and also how they heard about us. It’s also good to keep sales in the loop on marketing campaigns that are going out so they know how to handle conversations when certain questions come up.”

If done right, businesses would enjoy more productive sales meetings, shortening sales cycles, and achieving higher close rates with educated and qualified buyers.

3. Prioritize revenue generation, not lead generation.

Lead generation is appealing in that it is easy to measure: emails, downloads, filled forms, etc.

But here’s the problem with leads:

Lead generation does not equal revenue.

Nemanja Zivkovic, the CEO at Funky Marketing succinctly puts it this way: “When we go after leads, we get leads. When we go after revenue growth, we get revenue growth.”

Instead of chasing leads through multiple channels, focusing on revenue generation prompts you to double down on the most effective strategies that generate the most revenue. It also forces you to qualify leads and filter out the ones who aren’t a fit, particularly for high-ticket B2B solutions.

It might mean that you generate a lower number of leads, which is an uncomfortable thought for a marketer. But if those leads are higher quality, it becomes easier for sales to close them faster, and it will show in the revenue. Using the right revenue-based metrics, it becomes much easier to identify and eliminate ineffective marketing campaigns or channels.

4. Create enough content for the buyer and the customer.

It is not enough to create content to target potential buyers pre-sale, which, from an SEO perspective, seems to be the primary focus for content creators. There also needs to be content targeted towards existing customers post-sale.

To keep the potential buyer engaged at multiple touch points throughout the buyer’s journey, there needs to be enough content to support these touch points in terms of keeping interest alive and answering their questions. Not only can these build trust with potential buyers, but also help sales teams answer their questions and close more deals.

In terms of customer success after the sale, content geared for existing customers can help retain them, extending their lifetime value. Rather than being used to sell, these pieces of content are used to educate both potential buyers and existing customers.

5. Measure and attribute what you reasonably can, but don’t force it.

Content can be measured by asking whether people are sharing it, making meaningful comments on it, or tagging other people in the comments. This is understandably not easy to do, but these metrics can indicate whether people find your content insightful and valuable, and whether they are bringing your target buyers closer to your business.

As Burch says, we should be cautious about misattributing content to sales. We need to make sure the metrics make sense, are valid and reportable. One strategy is use multi-touch attribution to gain visibility throughout the entire sales cycle, rather than focusing only on the last touch. The most popular tool for this is Google Analytics, which can “track leads who consumed content up to three months before they converted,” says Ijidola.

You can get creative in Google Analytics by combining unique UTM tags with heat maps, as Gilbert has done. “I’ve been able to get really close to this with a full touch attribution model where we use every piece of content in a link with unique UTM’s. I then use other tools such as heat maps to analyze the highest performing pieces and look at which funnel stage they were engaged with,” Gilbert explains.

Content Strategist Sofie Couwenbergh, with eight years of experience with content marketing campaigns affiliate sites and her clients, also advocates for using Google Analytics. “While we’re getting better at tracking cross-device purchases, so much can happen between that first point of contact or inspiration and the actual purchase,” says Couwenbergh. Although it continues to become easier to attribute leads and sales to specific pieces of content, there are still many dots we have no way of connecting just yet, she added.

The Takeaway

Every market and every situation is different. One channel might work for you, but not for someone else. One executive may be all for investing more into a particular tactic, while another might be more reticent.

Regardless, the main takeaway is to focus on revenue generation while being cognizant of the fact that not everything can be directly attributed to revenue. Just because it’s difficult to clearly attribute to revenue doesn’t mean that there isn’t any value in doing it.

Using content and social media to build brand recognition in your industry, trust among potential buyers, and loyalty among existing customers while taking some pressure off your sales teams are all critical to the success of your business.