Two associations in two weeks. Both not measuring the ROI of their content marketing. This kills me, and it should be killing them, but it isn’t. No shame, no culpability in sharing that their web content generates no leads, their editorial content can’t be connected to any specific business goals.

Why would any business invest resources but not bother to establish the return on their investment? For associations, the explanation is a story that began a long time ago, and leads up to explaining their present day when it is OK to have content creators who are not accountable for achieving business goals with their content.

Way before Coca-Cola started it’s Journey, associations were already producing content. Before Red Bull dazzled the world with their ability to tap into the culture of their audience, associations knew the power of connecting through stories. For many decades associations have honed the craft of delivering content that their members want. They have the content creation and delivery side of content marketing down. They could school any content marketing or inbound agency on doin’ it right.

But creation and delivery are only part of it.

Connecting the content investment to a return is critical. I think it is no coincidence that the world has jumped onto the content marketing stage, where associations are long-time rock stars, just as technology has evolved to allow robust measurement and social media enabled an information-sharing economy. Associations – truly visionary in this respect – were content marketing before you could readily measure its effectiveness. But, now you can measure. And measure you must.

Are you creating a magazine to make money from advertising? No, that is not the goal, that’s a revenue strategy. We can all agree on that. So what is your goal? Delivering useful information that your audience values? Of course! And a pleasant and vague statement like that can’t be objectionable or wrong. But in it’s vagueness it is not particularly strong as a guide nor is it directly measurable. There is a more specific purpose, a business goal.

In order to close the loop on your marketing so you can connect investment to return, requires a few things:

  • First, you must expect your content assets to deliver on measurable goals.
  • That means that you need to set goals.
  • And in order to set goals, you need a strategy for your content. (This is starting to read like yet another post of mine supporting for the undebatable need for a content strategy.)

Do you want a fabulously in-demand magazine where you can connect your content to ROI, then look at how an expert content marketer does it: Chief Content Officer magazine from the Content Marketing Institute. Looking to redo your website into a machine that drives the right business to you, look at how the expert in web marketing does it: Hubspot. Want to share the expertise of your audience, look no further than American Express’ OPEN Forum, or Fast Company’s 30-Second MBA.

Do you think any of these experts lack the ability to specifically identify the ROI from their content efforts? No way! But it happens at associations because you’ve been at this a long time and the respect for content marketing runs deep. But it is time to augment that respect with current processes and close the loop.

Your content can deliver on business goals. Measurably deliver. And besides the obvious benefits of connecting content efforts to results, like knowing what works best and being able to do it again, there’s also the benefit of knowing what resources should be invested to begin with. I can think of no better way than to prove your need for that extra team member or budget increase.

Final thought, I am reading Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less. Pulizzi and friends took the Content Marketing Institute from a start up in ’07 to projected revenue of $6 million in 2014. And guess what their total marketing spend was for those 7-8 years? (Hint: a lot less than you may guess, even if you are trying to guess low.)

Under $40,000. How do you think the (hint in bold) Content Marketing Institute did it? Do you think they can measure the ROI from their publication, blog or website?