Flipping Your Brand Into a Media Company: Content Marketing That Fuels Growth
Over the last 24 months, a sharp awakening has been triggered amongst marketers and operators alike. Consumer behavior and the online environment have evolved even more rapidly than usual. And just as we had adjusted to tougher privacy regulations like GDPR and CPA, the Covid-19 pandemic hit like a 100 ton mack truck.
However, the death of third-party cookies deserves a special shout out. Their ongoing removal, or requirement for users to proactively opt in under initiatives such as Apple’s ATT framework, is arguably the biggest shockwave to hit marketers yet. You may not even realize how big the impact of this is just yet. We had all gotten very comfortable depending on third-party tech giants to collect audience data and manage optimal ad targeting for us. As a result, quick lead-gen strategies are becoming more less cost efficient to execute than they were a year ago because of the steep decline in user data for ad targeting.
The widespread social and online evolutionary forces of recent years have driven several important digital marketing trends to which marketers must adapt for survival.
The defining online marketing trends for 2022 and beyond are:
1. Cautious audiences that are slower to trust, and less willing to give their attention to adverts and promotional content in oversaturated online environments. Online users are more selectively giving attention to branded content based on value, whether it’s entertaining or educational.
2. The rise of content authority, which drives search engine algorithms and SEO performance. Google ranks content according to the E.A.T. matrix, standing for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. Improved user experience is driving this trend, demanding higher value content to maintain SEO visibility.
3. More importance is placed on brand, values and mission, especially from younger stakeholders where virtue signaling is more important. Customers want brands to resonate with their values on a deeper level, whether the context is social responsibility or more personality focussed, and ideally both.
4. The emergence of community-driven markets such as crypto and NFTs are part of a growing trend that is oriented around user-generated content. Brand communities, content creators and ‘fandom’ are taking ever more precedence in shaping purchasing decisions.
5. Enforcement of greater user data privacy is reducing the quality of user data for targeted advertising, resulting in less profitable paid campaigns. Brands are being pushed to rely more heavily on organic acquisition, customer retention, and first-party data.
6. First-party data collection and utilization is increasingly required in place of third-party data in order to accurately target and convert online audiences. Brands have to take more responsibility for collecting PII data and understanding their audience in order to build relationships.
These combined forces boil down to sustained content creation being a non-negotiable for online brands in 2022. In order to survive and ideally thrive over the next decade, we all have to take more responsibility for audience development and ownership.
To quickly clarify:
- Audience development is the process of identifying, engaging, nurturing and growing an audience. That means attracting and maintaining the attention of a group of relevant people. An audience member may or may not be a customer.
- Audience ownership is having a direct relationship with your audience, achieved when they subscribe to your owned channels and share personally identifiable information (PII), giving you permission to store their data and communicate directly.
Content marketing is the linchpin for helping brands achieve both of these objectives - it's your primary online audience building tool, especially for achieving scale. The world we now live in is an attention economy and attention is the most valuable currency there is. Capturing and holding attention is necessary for creating a long term and sustainable audience.
Helping marketers is the fact that online audiences are absolutely ravenous for digital content. Internet users (globally) spend hours of their free time online literally every day, with a daily average of 144 minutes on social media alone. Where the engaging content goes, attention goes, and where attention goes, the money goes.
Take YouTube for example, which paid out $30B in ad revenue sharing in the last 3 years, incentivizing content creators to stay on their platform. Or Patreon, which in April 2021 raised $155M in a Series F funding round with a $4B valuation. Platforms like these have fueled the rapid growth of a creator economy, emerging over the last 10 years to somewhere over 50 million independent creators and community builders today. A new breed of independent content creators has emerged, defined by a deeper knowledge or passion for their niche area, creating authentic content that their audiences lap up. This is upping the ante for businesses to also consistently connect with customers using content that personally resonates, provides value and builds trust.
The title of this article, ‘Flipping your brand into a media company’, sums up the fundamental imperative for businesses that intend to grow leveraging an online audience. An effective, adequately resourced content strategy is no longer a nice-to-have. Business models need to shift to where content is recognized for being just as essential as any other product or service offering a business delivers. This may require a shift in understanding in terms of content creation as a business investment priority.
To achieve the flip you’ll need:
- A robust content strategy built on customer insights.
- A skilled and resourced team who can consistently deliver engaging content to the right people at the right place and time.
Get your content strategy right and you’ll unlock an audience of fans who want to have a direct relationship with your brand, providing you with the highest marketing ROI possible. You can also leverage an upgraded content strategy to drive down CPMs for your brand awareness campaigns thanks to improved audience targeting and engagement. In summary, you’ll be able to create a valuable and forecastable revenue stream that no third-party tech giant can take away from you.
With that said, here is your essential guide to flipping your business into a media company. Get ready for your business to become a content (and customer) generating pro!
The Business Case for Investing in Content Marketing
Building an online audience and converting them into customers is a challenge. It takes so much more than one viral meme. It’s a long term investment with upfront output required. It also usually lacks immediate feedback or incremental gains.
For marketers, I know you don’t need me to explain the benefits of content marketing. However, your C-Suite team may not quite get it yet for these very reasons. In which case, you may be in an uphill battle to secure the ongoing budget allocation that your content marketing merits.
For senior business leaders looking to understand the case for a larger content marketing investment - or for SME marketers looking for pitch inspo to secure more budget allocation - this section is for you!
Here’s a summary of the impressive benefits of content marketing:
- More website traffic and leads - According to Hubspot research, businesses that publish 16+ blog articles per month get 3.5x more traffic than those that post 4 or less. And small businesses that use content marketing get 126% more leads than those which don’t!
- Higher marketing ROI - On average, pull campaigns that generate traffic organically via optimized or shareable content cost 62% less than paid strategies. As a general rule, content marketing delivers three times more leads per dollar than traditional outbound marketing methods. There’s also a significant boost in social shares and conversions when you focus on rich, long-form content. And once you have prospects or customers opted onto your email list, you’ve hit the marketing ROI jackpot.
- Improved customer trust - Online users are increasingly discerning and slow to trust, and they trust organic content over ads every day of the week. Research found that 78% of people prefer articles to ads when getting to know a company, and 70% believe companies creating custom content are interested in building a good relationship with them. There might be multiple facets of trust you can build using your content depending on the business offering and the requests you make for customer data.
- Communication of your brand identity - A brand needs to create a personality that mirrors the needs, beliefs, values and aspirations of its audience. Before your product, it’s your content that provides the best means to connect with your audience’s needs and emotional drivers - whether that’s entertainment, knowledge, identity validation, etc. Content messaging allows you to convey that your values align with what your audience cares about. Resonating with customers on a personal level as authentically as possible will generate sales and loyalty.
- Outdo bigger brands to win fans - Content marketing is a great leveler because it’s accessible - a wealth of platforms and tools are freely available. The brands with the ‘best’ content are more successful at building engaged online audiences, creating fans and building communities. You can quickly build a competitive niche that outpaces bigger brands who don’t appeal to and engage with your audience as well as you do. Great content that engages your audience regularly is truly a powerful competitive advantage, keeping your brand front of mind.
- Gain customer insights - Once you have a decent volume of published content across your channels, you’ll be able to see very clearly which channels, topics, content formats and other variables work best for engaging and converting your audience segments. For example, which social platform or keyword brought a visitor, how long did they read, and which link did they click before making a purchase or getting in touch? You can track KPIs for the audience insights to build a well-oiled customer acquisition machine.
- Expanded customer touchpoints - The online customer journey doesn’t always go in a straight line from ad click to conversion, with multiple touchpoints required before a customer is ready to convert. Unlike ads, content that’s focused on providing value to an audience can contain lots of insights to repurpose for any number of channels and formats. It’s a cost efficient way to leverage your content investment to improve brand reach and create better customer journeys that convert and retain more customers.
Did you know?
The number of touch points required to convert a sales lead is usually somewhere between 5-20, but can be many more! It depends on the size of investment a buyer is making and the level of familiarity they require to build trust. B2B audiences tend to require more brand touch points and trust than consumer audiences who are making low-cost impulse purchases. An understanding of the typical customer journey among your successfully converted customers will help you to keep optimizing for your unique audience.
Content Marketing and the Customer Lifecycle
The process of content marketing can be distilled into three overarching objectives that span the customer lifecycle.
Objective 1 - Build Brand Awareness
Customer lifecycle phases: Awareness, Interest & Desire
Create content specifically for introducing yourself to new members of your target audience with the aim of building brand awareness.
Brand awareness is achieved when your audience not only recognizes and recalls your brand, but has built a deeper understanding of your UVP. It positions your brand as a leading solution for their needs. All of your brand elements come together so that when a purchasing need arises, the customer will come to you first.
Early brand awareness touchpoints should be more brand driven than product driven. At early stages of the customer journey, people can find a hard sell off-putting and intrusive. The best promotional content for your company won’t feel that way to a highly targeted audience that it has been specifically tailored for using data insights. Content marketing should be focused on relationship building, from first introductions to familiarity and trust.
Exert influence by holding your audience’s attention. Use inspiring creatives, aim to activate emotional responses, and appeal to customers’ psychological needs or values.
For B2B brands with longer customer buying cycles, industry news and trends is a great way to build familiarity with your brand as a leader in your niche. For B2C and DTC brands, shorter attention spans and greater potential for impulse purchasing means you can dive in sooner with featured products, but by highlighting how they serve the needs of specific audience segments.
Objective 2 - Own Your Audience
Customer lifecycle phases: Interest, Desire & Action
As your potential customers develop growing interest and desire, you can take the relationship to the next level. Your content can be more informative and detail-oriented regarding your service or product capabilities. The goal is to move users from browsers to sales leads and customers by inspiring them to take an easy action at each stage.
The process of converting leads to customers may happen immediately for businesses such as ecommerce, or could require a few stages in cases such as B2B service providers. Whichever scenario you’re in, you want to bring customers onto your owned channels such as your website, and capture their PII data.
Here's simple example for DTC. Clicking on creative content on Instagram or Google Shopping Results takes users directly to the country-specific product page. Here, they can read the product description, view more product imagery, and hopefully decide to complete a purchase. The process of completing a purchase allows the customer’s PII to be captured. They can be moved into a loyalty and retention cycle, and also encouraged to follow social channels. If the customer doesn’t convert at that point, they can be identified for inclusion in retargeting ad campaigns, assuming they have consented to advertising cookies.
For B2B, it might be an editorial piece about an industry challenge featured in an industry magazine e-newsletter. The editorial links to a landing page describing the company’s service offering in relation to the particular customer challenge. At the side of the landing page is a form-fill for either downloading a more detailed white paper, or to get in touch with the sales team. There are featured links to social media accounts and more related topical content for further reading. The user could also be retargeted with ads if they consented to advertising cookies.
- Check out our guide on how to capture accurate marketing data to better track customer journeys and conversions.
Up until now, many marketers have handed over significant parts of audience targeting and retargeting responsibilities to third-party tech giants; Google, Facebook and Apple. It means outsourcing large parts of audience insights and selection to them, which is no longer working as effectively due to enhanced data privacy.
- Read Half Past Nine’s guide to collecting and leveraging first-party data.
Objective 3 - Turn Your Audience Into a Community of Fans
Customer lifecycle phases: Loyalty & Advocacy
Once you’ve delivered a great experience to a customer, it’s time to ensure that they stay in a deepening relationship with your brand, helping to bring you more aligned customers from their own network through advocacy.
Fans are very loyal by nature, resulting in less customer churn and higher LTV. A community of fans is a powerful means of leveraging word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. This is the same as old-fashioned word of mouth except it’s shared online, and it’s highly effective.
Research has shown that 92% of people trust recommendations from family or friends over advertising and marketing, and 88% of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations from people they know.
- Discover how to create a community of fans by turning your customers into believers who are willing to spread the good word!
How Successful Brands Masterfully Use Content
Let’s take a quick look at a few great examples of influential marketing content from B2C and B2B brands.
I’ve seen countless articles where Starbucks is held up as a content master, and the evolution of their marketing content demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about.
Starbucks marketing leadership observed that a one-time promotional approach isn’t as effective as sustained relationship-building, so they changed tact with a content strategy focussed on personalization and loyalty rewards to increase the retention and LTV of customers.
The pandemic was a prime example of how they position themselves as a long-term relationship brand, creating content that fosters emotional connection. Take their 50th anniversary ‘Possible is just the beginning’ campaign, which centered on the need for human connection. Starbucks are tapping into a very deep emotional and psychological need that resonates with everyone.
In 2020, their 'Every name is a story’ campaign featured a trans person using their chosen gender-identity name for the first time, tapping into the desire to express and be accepted for who you really are.
Or simple email designs such as the fall campaign below, which encourage people to express their personality via a choice of indulgent Starbucks drinks. This sort of personalized feel is very easy to deliver en-mass.
Starbucks have adeptly kept their brand relevant by creating content which appeals to the evolving social and emotional needs of their audience.
Learnings from Starbucks’ content:
- Appeal to deep emotional needs, like connection and acceptance.
- Make your content feel personal and keep your existing customers engaged.
The ‘With Canva you can’ campaign featured users in Canva’s community, demonstrating how Canva helps people to quickly create and share professional-looking designs with user-friendly features and templates.
However, Canva elevates itself beyond the great features of its design tool. They make an association with the values that their users passionately hold and how their product can have a life-changing impact. A strong emotional connection is made between the user's need for self-actualization and the product.
Creating brand ambassadors from your customer community is a powerful tool. Customers are significantly more influenced by other customers than they are by traditional advertising. Pew Research, found that 82% of U.S. adults read customer ratings or reviews before making first-time purchases. Marketing content featuring customer testimonials can create an influential emotional connection with other potential customers, allowing you to leverage this psychological phenomenon with the addition of sleek branding. For B2B businesses, video testimonials can elevate the old-school case study format.
Learning’s from Canva’s content:
- Fulfill your customers’ desire to shine through using your offering.
- Make a values-based connection with customers, such as acting out their values to help create the world they want.
- Leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing by using authentic brand ambassadors.
Wistia offers a video marketing hosting platform with analytics and targeting capability for marketers. Today’s B2B buyers expect more of a B2C experience. I picked out Wistia because they’re a smaller brand doing a great job using a personal tone for B2B content marketing.
Wistia prominently features their own videos and insight articles as part of their offering. This helps them build topical authority by showing that they know how to leverage video marketing themselves, conveying that you can trust them to provide a good quality product with capable customer support.
Their Original Series introduces itself as ‘made for people who aren’t all business’. They demonstrate that even while selling to businesses with formal purchasing processes, you still need to sell to individual people at a human level, balancing professionalism with real-human appeal.
Hubspot is a bigger B2B brand providing an ideal example of getting this hybrid tone of voice just right.
I also like the way Wistia has provided hybrid media formatting in their case studies, featuring an interview video up top and traditional written version underneath, like this one. They also regularly share video content across a combination of professional and personally-oriented social platforms.
Learnings from Wistia’s content:
- Humanize your B2B audience with personal appeal.
- Incorporate your content as a core offering to help build topical authority and trust.
- Hybridize or diversify media formats for differing content consumption preferences.
Check out the Buzzfeed newsletter sign up page, and you’ll see a master in content personalization at work. You can choose from a stunning 38 email categories at last count!
This is an extreme example, and most businesses need nowhere near that level of segmentation. However, pick out your core audience segments, and explore what common interests, values or emotional desires they have that can be related to your offering. You may not even need to offer them topical choices at sign up - just adequately tailor targeted campaigns at your end.
Buzzfeed offers Buzzfeed Community - a forum for sharing user-generated content. Or as they describe it, ‘a hub for BuzzFeeders to create awesome quizzes and posts that people love’. If you have the resources to host and manage a user-generated content forum - even if it’s just sharing social followers’ content when they tag you - you’ll get content generated for free while providing more engagement for your fans. In a B2B context, that could act as a free advertorial space for clients. It’s a win-win.
Buzzfeed demonstrates better than anyone that quizzes are an interactive form of content that can work brilliantly for engaging audiences. Use them to provide interactive entertainment for followers while generating useful customer insights for you in one fell swoop. You could also swing it for a B2B audience if you can find the right angle. For example, promote an online survey to identify current industry trends or challenges, positioning your business as a facilitator of industry insights. Be sure to let users see the live results upon completion, and you could use the final results for a unique piece of gated research content to capture sales lead information.
Learning’s from Buzzfeed’s content:
- Leverage user-generated content to enhance audience engagement and community building.
- Allow users to personalize their content preferences, or do it for them.
- Use quizzes or surveys for interactive appeal - they’re also perfect for collecting customer insights and for your own thought leadership research.
How to Build Your Own Content Marketing Strategy
Put time and effort into building a solid content strategy and you’ll soon find your business punching above its weight for share of voice. It will help you convert and retain more customers, improving customer LTV in the process.
Create a Formal Content Strategy On Paper
A content strategy needs to be formally documented whether your business leadership team requires it or not. It’s a structured game plan that you can follow and a shared vision for your team. It defines how and why content will be used to achieve clearly defined business goals. This strategy can be a collection of supporting documents that work together under the same objectives.
Creating a strategy pushes you to think long-term so you can achieve overarching brand and marketing objectives. Becoming a prominent voice in your niche requires you to ride the crest of breaking industry developments, leveraging relevant trending topics on search and social for maximum visibility. However, you also need a longer-term vision that supports a clear brand identity with SEO goals, on-brand messaging for each business stream, and recognizable brand consistency.
The following points are what should ideally be covered within a content strategy. You might have some other additional elements you want to include too, but this is a great starting point to get you going!
Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is the foundation for everything within your content strategy.
Start off with the audience requirements for your business model. Are you operating a DTC brand that requires a big online audience? Or are you a B2B business that can thrive on word of mouth referrals, account-based marketing and personal networking? What content is required to support the development of your specific customer audience during online interactions with your business?
Spend time looking through your CRM database, website analytics, social media engagement, email reporting, and advertising data. Where did your existing customers come from, and what was their journey?
Identify any distinct audience segments you have, and their typical journey from awareness to conversion. Craft customer personas for distinct audience segments, identifying their primary pain points and motivators. This is the basic framework for identifying the corresponding content requirements for finding, converting and retaining your ideal customers.
Invest in macro insights, such as trustworthy customer research if it’s available. Do some social listening and research hashtags. Also research your competitors to help you build a differentiated market position and brand identity that’s unique to you. A competitive analysis of content marketing will be very insightful, helping you identify any market gaps, and will probably provide additional inspiration.
Define Your Brand Messaging + Tone of Voice
Your brand messaging goes beyond a simple strap line, benefits and features, or even topical authority. It’s how you express your mission, values and market positioning in a way that connects with your target audience.
As we’ve covered, you should create a brand identity that reflects customers’ needs, values and desires in a way that ties into your offering. It’s best to find a core customer need, desire or value that’s consistent across all audience segments. Be consistent with your brand personality so that you become known for it. Your tone of voice is a core part of this and should be guided by your brand messaging.
For example, are you a B2C brand that targets people who want to feel special and raise their social status? Do you help people nurture their wellbeing? Do you help them do their job better with more ease while increasing productivity? Perhaps your products help people to express themselves? Maybe you appeal most to people who shun conformity and have a specific sense of humor? Whatever your main UVP for your unique audience is, bring it to the forefront of your brand’s personality + style.
For B2B, you are still tapping into the personal needs of your audience, just in a professional context. Your product or services could be a springboard to shine glory upon an individual by allowing them to fulfill their potential; reduce stress; make their role emotionally fulfilling with more time to focus on what they care about most; help them outdo competitors and achieve better customer satisfaction; or get a raise to enjoy a better lifestyle and support their family.
There’s always a deeper emotional or psychological need behind everything that people do, which you can tactfully appeal to using your brand messaging and tone of voice. In addition to your company mission, write down a list of core brand messages using your chosen tone of voice and ask content or copy writers to take inspiration from this.
Select Your Channels
Content should find your target audience where they are. That’s usually on social media, search engines, email inboxes, or news platforms. Some kind of blog format and email marketing are a no-brainer as the foundation for your multi-channel content marketing strategy.
Focus initial efforts on the distribution platforms and content that get you most engagement and reach, which could be several platforms or just a couple. Remember that it can take time to gather momentum and see results. Focus on the highest value channels where you can maintain publishing schedule consistency given your resources.
- Social Media - Find out where your audience congregates, how they prefer to interact with brands, and what content they engage with most on that specific platform. Investigate groups, hashtags and accounts they interact with most. You may have insights from trial and error to help you eliminate tactics that haven’t been effective. Seek inspiration from other brands doing it well. Do allocate resource for interacting with your audience when they comment; liking and commenting on your audience’s posts is also good practice to boost their familiarity with and trust in your brand.
- Search Engines - Select which search platforms are most suitable for SEM campaigns based on audience demographics and search engine preference. Keyword selection is your primary tool here, along with SEO tactics to boost domain and page ranking.
- Word-of-Mouth Marketing - Consider influencers and content creators in your space, native editorial options with publications or industry organizations, and organic PR. Again, it depends on where your target audience spends time online.
Create a Content Planner
After creating customer persons for your clearly differentiated customer segments, build a content map and campaign planner that covers each of them. List out the content needs for touchpoints on a typical customer journey, from building brand awareness to customer retention.
If you don't already have landing pages for your offerings sorted out, start there! There's less value in great top of funnel content that has no where for potential customers to progress on a conversion journey.
Then detail your specific campaign topics, and the marketing channels and format, allocating them a priority level and target publishing date. You may have specialized team members who should take ownership here, such as social media managers, website content writers and email marketers. The content planner should form the basis of channel-specific monthly content planning, tying together into multi-channel campaigns.
You may only have one main customer persona, or can develop pieces of content will work across your audience segments, and that’s fine. You don’t need completely unique content for them all. However, the discipline of breaking out content plans for audience segments will help you to see where more niche personalization could help improve customer experiences and boost conversion.
Build Topical Authority with Supporting Calls To Action
Topical authority is subject matter expertise. It boosts SEO, builds trust among your audience, and can improve the ROI of advertising thanks to better audience engagement and landing page ranking.
Topical authority can be built by educating your audience, or being completely on trend in regards to what your audience cares about. Research your audiences’ needs, challenges and what they are talking about regularly - be current and interesting with your topic selection. You might even be leading the evolution of thinking within your niche if you’re really good! Just stay topically relevant to your service offering, and make sure to tie the content into what your brand can offer. Apart from brand awareness creatives, effective content should end with a call to action appropriate for the journey stage.
Google’s search algorithm puts emphasis on a website's topical authority for specific niches, so focus search efforts on topics and keywords that are core to your brand. Your overall domain authority will help your individual page authority. Use your keyword and audience research as a guide for scoping out relevant topics.
Identify the multiple angles you can utilize to build topical authority in your field depending on what your audience's needs and interests are. Talk around your core offering by pulling in related topics that matter to your customers. At mid to bottom funnel, include information that will help break down any barriers there might be to making a purchase.
Let’s take Hubspot as an example again. Their offering is marketing & sales software, and they have clearly segmented blog article categories that build deep topical authority in their niches, and is easy for users to navigate. They invest in creating valuable insights for addressing their audience’s wider goals, challenges and needs while still being relevant to their own offering.
For more technical B2B services and products, your leads or contacts are likely to sit in different job roles and may have varying levels of technical knowledge. Use segmentation to develop content according to the required level of understanding and specific role priorities.
Boost topical authority by gathering input from your own technical experts or leaders; original insights from experience will set the quality and uniqueness of your content marketing apart. Even if it is just a few bullet points that you can wrangle out of them! Ideally, you'll have experts as the authors and public face of your insights content as part of their leadership role. Encourage them to build their networks on LinkedIn especially.
For SME sized businesses and up, I recommend you invest in specialized writers for your topical niche, whether they are in-house, agency or freelance. There are suitable writers for all budgets.
Plan Integrated + Consistent Customer Journeys
Factor in omni-channel marketing practices that create a consistent customer experience across multiple touchpoints, on and offline. Focus on the customer and content quality, optimizing each potential journey. For example, if users click on an Instagram ad, make sure they are directed to the relevant product page on your website. There should always be a clear and simple flow for your customers to reach the conversion end-goal, no matter where they start. Wishlists and items in carts should be available across a user’s devices.
Long-form content should be interlinked so your readers always have somewhere to go next. Have a footer carousel or list of more related content the reader might be interested in. Each piece of content you create can be used to promote other pieces of content within your library to help maximize their value and ROI.
Consistently apply your brand style to your content marketing to build brand recognition and awareness. If you haven’t already, create branded content templates for each type of content format. This makes content creation or repurposing quick, easy, and always recognizably on brand.
Include a Mix of Content Formats
People have their preferred formats for consuming content, so it’s important to cater to these individual preferences with your key pieces on the customer journey funnel. Create repurposed versions of your content in different lengths or formats, and collect engagement KPIs to understand what format best engages or converts your audience on each platform. The channel you're publishing on will determine this too.
Tailor and repurpose your content for each channel, maximizing the number of possible touchpoints for the customer journey. If you don’t already know which content formats and topics work best for your channel-specific audiences, experiment! (Just don’t confuse your audience by going completely off-piste, or forgetting the overall brand objectives.)
Do include a mix of ‘evergreen’ content and website pillar pages that have a longer life span. These can work alongside cluster pieces, reactionary opinion pieces, seasonal or trending topical content that may have a shorter life span.
Evergreen content is best used on your owned channels in order to concentrate SEO efforts including topical authority, branded keyword and back linking. Topical or visual content works well for social or media platforms in order to direct traffic to your evergreen website pages and more expensive content resources that need to provide longevity.
Improving your ranking on search engines is a must, for both the branded and non-branded search terms that your target audience commonly use. Compile a master document of keywords that covers your branded and non-branded keywords.
Identify the keywords that you already rank for organically, and investigate where you’re missing out on other relevant keywords with a competitive gap analysis. Hunt out any long-tail keywords that you can corner the market on. People searching with long-tail and niche keywords are lower volume, but often prove to be higher-intent leads that are lower-cost to convert.
Track each selected keyword’s monthly search volume, keyword difficulty score (how much effort or competition to rank highly for it), and search intent. Your SEO tools, such as Semrush, can help you with this. These metrics can act as an invaluable guide to identifying and prioritizing top-of-funnel content topics using non-branded keywords.
I equally recommend researching hashtags for your chosen social media platforms. Your hashtags are part of your content and essential for expanding content reach. There are social media listening and analytics tools out there to help you with this research process.
Determine Your Content KPIs
Pick out KPIs for each of your channels or platforms which you can consistently measure and report overtime to track progress, use to assess ROI, and make strategic decisions with. These should tie into your overall marketing and business objectives, demonstrating how well your content is contributing to achieving them.
Allow time for consistent publishing to gather momentum. Nothing happens overnight for anyone. Platforms such as Google won’t allocate top ranking authority to your site until you have a regular track record of publishing high quality content that receives backlinks.
If you’re an ecommerce business, check out the ecommerce KPIs you should be tracking.
Review Your Tech Stack
Budget dependent, what tools can you bring in to support all of the above? Or can you find ways to better leverage the tools already available with more learning and know-how?
Content marketing tech stack requirements vary depending on your level of marketing sophistication and audience requirements, but considerations include:
- CMS for easily publishing and managing content, including website pillar pages & a blog
- CMS offering content personalization for visitors, including recommendation engines, search engines, personal portals or wishlists
- CRM integration with your publishing platforms, especially email
- Social publishing and audience analytics tools
- SEO research and analysis
- Virtual event or webinar platforms
- Interactive content tools, like quizzing, messaging and chatbots
- Integration with customer review or community platforms
- Customer data analysis, and consolidated dashboard reporting or data visualization tools
- Project management for content workflow
You might also want to consider an AI content writing tool if your marketing team is a little tight on human resources. Check out Half Past Nine’s detailed review of AI writing software!
Maintain Regular Reporting + Optimization
Test, analyze, optimize, break-up and repurpose content as an ongoing process. Define what that process is, and when it should be done.
It could mean creating Instagram quote cards from a popular blog article, rewriting a webpage with different keywords, trying a new design template, or publishing social content on a different week day or time. Assess what gets more engagement on a regular basis so you can keep up with any evolution in your audiences’ preferences or needs.
Remember that your content strategy and content calendar are live documents that should evolve with new insights, developments and changes in customer behavior. Keep your team referring to your strategy regularly, such as during content brainstorming meetings.
It’s time to move your content marketing off the sidelines and into center court.
Content marketing thrives on customer insights, requiring a strategic and methodical approach over time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and can involve multiple teams and stakeholders in your business in order to be sustained. A cohesive strategy takes some work and revision to get right, however it’s unlikely your business can afford NOT to make the investment. And it is hugely rewarding when you see those KPIs and marketing ROI starting to take off!
If you need support creating and executing your growth strategy, Half Past Nine have deep technical expertise in performance media, marketing intelligence and integrating MarTech infrastructure. We work exclusively with high-growth SMEs businesses that are ready for the next step in growth. Give us a holler anytime if you’d like to discuss a potential alignment.
Before you go, why not check out Half Past Nine’s guide to audience building via a Linear Commerce model to learn more!
Unlock Revenue Growth With Data
Knowing where to invest marketing budget to increase contribution margin and overall revenue growth is the #1 pressing challenge for any marketing or growth leader.
As multichannel complexity and media budgets grow, attribution becomes one of those topics we really can’t ignore.
To truly understand the most valuable customer journey design, relying on default attribution reporting within ad platforms or Google Analytics just doesn’t cut it. In fact, it can even do more harm than good due to misattribution and double attribution - a big problem with these uncensored (and self-serving) tools.
The trouble with free on-platform attribution reporting (like Facebook or Google Analytics) is that they are siloed walled gardens that work in isolation with their own limited data sets. Your most powerful and valuable attribution analysis needs to cover everything, directly tied back to revenue results.
Without a proactive attribution strategy that connects all your customer journey and conversion data, optimized customer journey design will remain an elusive mystery. Highly influential channels like dark social or offline interactions are often underestimated or completely missing, while non-profitable campaigns are over-indexed.
The difference in business results can easily stack up to millions of dollars in wasted budget and lost opportunities - especially where larger paid media budgets are involved.
Let’s explore how marketers can master attribution to start hitting revenue targets with much greater confidence and certainty.
The Impact of Not Using Accurate Attribution Reporting
The impact of not using attribution reporting - or using it poorly - is worth understanding. It can have multiple negative impacts on decision-making and overall business performance.
The common consequences are:
Incomplete Customer Insights Cause Poor CX
An incomplete understanding of customer preferences, motivations, and pain points hinders the ability to tailor marketing strategies to effectively engage and convert customers.
This can result in a lack of adequate content personalization and a poorer customer experience (CX), meaning your brand gets overlooked in favor of others by potential customers.
Unprofitable Resource Allocation
Struggling to accurately identify the marketing channels, campaigns, or touchpoints that are driving conversions or desired outcomes results in less effective use of resources.
For example, over-investing in underperforming channels, and underinvesting in high-impact touchpoints, wasting budget in the process.
Poor Revenue Growth and Limited Brand Equity
Incorrect assumptions about the impact of specific touchpoints or channels results in suboptimal marketing performance and missed opportunities.
If marketing efforts fail to engage and convert customers effectively over time, the business can suffer from stunted revenue growth, also putting a cap on brand equity.
Understanding the Challenges for Accurate Attribution
Marketers can’t fully rely on free attribution solutions for the insights they need to drive significant optimizations. Results can be significantly misleading when solely using free on-platform attribution reporting.
On-platform attribution issues:
- No Cross-Channel Visibility - On-platform attribution doesn't have full visibility into the performance of other channels, or wider customer journey outside of their own ecosystem, acting as walled gardens. This limited view can make it difficult to understand the true impact of each channel on conversions and ROI (or ROAS).
- Double Attribution - When using multiple platforms, there's a risk of double attribution - where more than one platform takes credit for the same conversion. This overlapping attribution may cause businesses to overestimate the performance of certain channels or campaigns, and consequent overinvestment stunts overall marketing ROI.
- Inconsistent Attribution Methods - Different platforms apply different attribution rules, leading to inconsistencies in how they assign credit to various touchpoints. This inconsistency can make it challenging to accurately compare the performance of different marketing channels or campaigns.
- Tracking Limitations - With increasing data privacy regulations, third-party platforms may face challenges in accurately tracking user behavior across channels. A custom attribution model can help overcome some of these limitations by incorporating first-party data and other tracking methods.
- Lack of Customization - On-platform attribution reporting may not be tailored to your specific needs, goals, and marketing strategy. A custom attribution model, on the other hand, can be designed to accurately reflect a business's unique customer journey, allowing for more precise insights into the performance of each marketing channel and campaign.
There is a compelling case for marketers to invest in their own customized attribution solutions. Especially when paid media investments start becoming more significant.
However, accurate attribution modeling isn’t one of the most straightforward tasks for a marketing department to tackle.
There are several hurdles to overcome to extract and benefit from the most valuable insights:
1. Tracking Data Across Complete Journeys
A typical user journey involves multiple devices, channels, platforms, and time breaks between visits, making it difficult to track a complete customer journey path from the first touchpoint to conversion. Cross-device tracking techniques are needed, such as device matching or probabilistic modeling.
2. Data Privacy
Tracking restrictions and cookie limitations can limit the ability to track customer interactions across marketing channels, sometimes requiring workarounds. Yet it's essential to adhere to data privacy regulations, maintain transparency and obtain appropriate consent from customers when collecting and utilizing their data.
3. Offline Data Tracking
Marketers may need to implement strategies such as unique identifiers, coupon codes, QR codes, or call tracking to link offline interactions to specific customers and attribute them properly. However, implementing and managing these tracking mechanisms may require additional resources and operational adjustments, including manual data entry from both customers and staff.
4. Data Quality and Completeness
Ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the data is crucial for building reliable attribution models. Marketers must establish data quality control measures, address data gaps, and perform regular data validation to maintain the integrity of the data.
5. Data Integration
Integrating data from various sources, both online and offline, can be complex. Offline data sources such as in-store purchases, call center interactions, or direct responses may not be easily captured and linked to other digital data. Marketers need to develop data integration processes to build a unified view of complete customer journeys.
6. Attribution Modeling Complexity
Choosing the best-fit modeling approach for marketing goals, and accounting for multiple touchpoints both online and offline, adds complexity to attribution modeling. Marketers need to understand statistical models that can properly attribute credit to different touchpoints based on their real impact on conversions. This requires analytical expertise, plus the budget for necessary data tools as marketing complexity grows.
Types of Attribution Data
Data attribution models are nothing without the data that you feed into them.
There are 2 main sources of attribution data.
1. Software-based Attribution Data
This utilizes digital tracking tools, such as analytics platforms or marketing automation software, to track and record user interactions and automatically attribute conversion actions to specific marketing touchpoints.
Pros - It provides objective and granular data on user interactions and conversions, and enables real-time tracking and analysis of customer journeys. The reliance on voluntary self-reporting and subjective recall is reduced.
Cons - Aside from missing touchpoints that are not digital or easily trackable by software, it can be complex to implement and require technical expertise. You’ll need the right tracking set up for accurate data and reliable insights, and the analytics tools.
2. Self-reported Attribution Data
This is data collected directly from your customers and leads, who share information about the touchpoints that influenced their decision-making process. It’s usually collected via an online form or survey but can also be collected in direct conversation with customer-facing staff and then recorded in a CRM.
Pros - It allows for qualitative data collection, using direct insights from the individuals themselves to capture subjective factors and nuances that software-reported attribution may miss, such as offline interactions or word-of-mouth referrals.
Cons - It relies on individuals' willingness to provide information, and their memory and perception which may not always be accurate or complete. This type of data can be more time-consuming and resource-intensive to collect and analyze.
Hybrid Attribution Data
Combining both self-reported and software-based data sources into attribution modeling is what is known as hybrid modeling. It’s the ideal solution to mitigate the drawbacks of each data type, providing the most fully comprehensive understanding of your customers journeys.
Next, depending on your marketing activity and data tracking sophistication, you’re going to have some of the following types of data sets to work with.
The best way to categorize your data inputs is to split it into channel data and event data.
1. Event Data (What Happened?)
Event data typically includes:
- Conversion Data - Conversion data includes information about the desired actions taken by users, such as purchases, form submissions, or sign-ups. Conversion goals need to be set for each journey stage.
- Behavioral Data – Any data related to customers' online behavior, such as organic website visits, page views, time spent on site, clicks, search queries, and interactions with specific content or features.
- Clickstream Data – This is a record of each click a consumer makes while browsing online. Tracking all these actions can help brands form an accurate understanding of the most effective consumer journey design.
- Ad Impressions and Clicks - Ad impressions combined with click data provides information on the number of times an ad was displayed to users, and the corresponding clicks made. This data helps gauge the effectiveness of specific ads.
- CRM and First-Party Data - This data provides long-term insights into customer behavior and can include survey responses, purchase history, and any interactions with the brand. CRM data is necessary to link the direct impact on revenue generation and CLV.
Note, there are two common ways to give credit to touchpoints within a conversion sequence: post-click, or post-view.
Post-click Conversion Data - If attribution is done on a post-click (not necessarily last-click) basis, clicked touchpoints will get a part of the conversion credit as long as the action happens within the defined lookback window.
Post-view (or view-through) Conversion Data – Here, the content a user viewed (impressions) within the specified lookback window also gets part credit for a conversion. Most of the advertisers who advertise on multiple channels will have video and social media as part of the conversion journey. These channels usually are not driving clicks, but still contribute to outcomes. This data is more challenging to accurately collect.
The lookback window is how far back a conversion action is included, usually measured in days. So a 7-day lookback window would only include advert impressions or clicks 7 days before the customer converted. In low-cost eCommerce transactions where the selling cycle is short, the most relevant lookback window only might be 7 – 14 days. Whereas for more complex sales like business software, a lookback window of 60 days could be used.
2. Channel Data (Where Did It Happen?)
Channel source data typically includes:
- Referral Data - This identifies the source that referred users to your website (or app). It can attribute from the high-level referral sources, such as search engines, social media or email, right down to the specific pieces of content.
- Device and Platform Data – This gives information about the devices and platforms used by users during their customer journey. It allows marketers to track cross-device interactions and attribute conversions across different devices. Device data is also helpful for providing location information.
- Offline Data - This gives information about customer interactions outside of digital channels, such as in-store purchases, phone calls, word of mouth, events, direct mail responses, etc. Offline data is typically captured through mechanisms like unique identifiers, coupon codes, or CRM systems.
An attribution model is essentially used to link these two types of data together to show which marketing touchpoints deliver the best results.
Types of Attribution Models
There are several types of attribution models to feed your data into. Applying the right modeling for the goal or KPI is key.
A model essentially joins up your event data (what happened) to your channel data (where it happened) to show you the most profitable journey connections.
The difference between attribution models is where they place most credit for achieving a desired conversion goal (like submitting a contact form, generating an MQL or closing a sale). Conversion goals should be set up for each stage of the customer journey to feed attribution analysis.
Multi-touch models attribute results to more than one touchpoint, allowing for the influence of consecutive touchpoints to be considered as part of a process that led to the final conversion.
A model either uses:
- Rule-based methodology - Analyzes data in a completely static approach.
- Data-driven modeling - Typically uses AI and machine learning to help automatically customize multi-touch attribution based on the influence of touchpoints.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common attribution models:
Last Touch (or Last Click) Attribution
This model assigns all the credit for a conversion to the last touchpoint (or channel) that the customer interacted with before making a purchase or completing the desired action.
When to use it? - To understand which touchpoints are most influential for prompting people to take the final step in completing a conversion goal (e.g., submitting a contact form or making a purchase).
Limitations? – Although easy to use and collect data for, it’s not a great stand-alone model for longer and more complex sales cycles where conversion still heavily relies on the preceding touchpoints, particularly in B2B.
First Touch (or First Click) Attribution
The first touchpoint (or channel) the customer engaged with receives 100% of the credit for the conversion.
When to use it? - To understand which early journey touchpoints are best at first reaching new audience members who will eventually convert.
Limitations? – It ignores the influence that mid to late journey touchpoints have for final conversion. Data accuracy can also be more difficult to assure depending on your data tracking methods and lookback window
Equal credit is given to each touchpoint in the customer journey, recognizing the role of all channels in driving conversions.
When to use it? – To understand how touchpoints and journey architecture work together to nurture conversions over time, including cross-departmental touchpoints between marketing and sales for B2B.
Limitations? – The data collection process is more intensive and may require cooperation with other departments to capture all touchpoints, taking time to implement fully. This may include qualitative touchpoints through manual data entry. Distributing credit evenly doesn’t account for which touchpoints have most influence.
Time Decay Attribution
More credit goes to touchpoints that occurred closer to the conversion event, with the assumption that recent interactions have a greater impact on the decision-making process.
When to use it? – For longer, more complex customer journeys where later touchpoints are most influential. Equally, it can be useful for very short sales cycles where decisions are made quickly and you want to see which touchpoints have immediate effect for impulse conversion.
Limitations? – The influence of earlier touchpoints for creating brand awareness or intent won’t be accounted for.
U-Shaped (Position-Based) Attribution
A higher percentage of credit goes to the first and last touchpoints in the customer journey, while the remaining credit is distributed evenly among the other touchpoints. It's based on the idea that the first and last interactions play a more significant role to create new leads and drive conversions.
When to use it? – When you want to understand which channels generate most new leads, and which drive most conversions.
Limitations? – Again, the influence of in-between touchpoints will not be fully understood, and it requires data collection to cover all touchpoints within the journey.
Equal credit goes to three key touchpoints: the first interaction, the lead creation event (e.g., form submission), and the final conversion event. The remaining credit is divided among the other touchpoints.
When to use it? – To highlight the key journey milestones from early journey, mid journey and late journey.
Limitations? – The influence of intermediary touchpoints is not fully understood
Data-driven models use advanced analytics, machine learning, or artificial intelligence to analyze customer journey data and assign credit to various touchpoints based on their estimated influence on conversions. This can be done by off-the-shelf software solutions specifically designed for marketing attribution. There are two widely accepted data-driven models for attribution: Shapley value model, and Markov chain model.
When to use it? – For more accurate full-journey attribution across multiple touchpoints, providing greater flexibility for integrating multichannel data silos and more balanced weighting criteria.
Limitations? - An attribution software subscription is required, some of which can be costly. How the algorithms are coded and applied is sometimes proprietary information that is not made fully clear or adaptable. Data sources still need to be set up and connected, including offline touchpoints. It can take months of work to fully set up and implement a data-driven model covering all marketing channels.
Fully Customized Attribution Modeling
Custom-built models are also data-driven, but can include as much complexity and adaptability as you’d like. They allow for full visibility and control of the combined data sets, rules and weighting in use. It allows the layering of many rules and granular data analysis so you can deeply understand and drive growth to a level that isn’t available any other way.
When to use it? - For larger media budgets where small adjustments see the $ results impacted by millions.
Limitations? - Fully customized attribution requires a specialist to implement because of the complicated algorithms and calculations, along specialized statistical software and coding. Like off-the-shelf data-driven solutions, it can take several months to fully implement.
Choosing Data and Models to Match Goals
For multichannel marketing across the customer lifecycle, marketers will have several different goals and KPIs, so there isn’t a one-size fits all when it comes to using attribution modeling.
For example, marketing goals will vary by campaign, but also business lifecycle stage. As a business matures and can afford to allocate more budget in demand creation, longer payback periods become feasible in the name of sustainable growth.
For the most accurate results, several rules and weighting criteria may need to be layered together. This requires an understanding of how to choose the most appropriate combination for each goal or data set.
Here are examples of how different goals could affect the overall approach for assessing attribution against KPIs:
Brand Awareness - The main objective is to build familiarity rather than immediate conversions, so attribution models that consider upper-funnel touchpoints using a longer lookback window are most helpful.
Conversion Rate Optimization - Last touch attribution can provide insights into the most influential touchpoints in driving conversions for any journey stage.
Customer Acquisition – With a focus on identifying marketing efforts that drive most new customers, attribution models that emphasize first touch and last touch before sale conversion are a good fit.
Customer Retention and CLV - Attribution models that consider multiple touchpoints over the customer lifecycle are best. Time-based attribution models such as linear or time-decay attribution can help identify touchpoints that contribute to CLV over time.
Cost Efficiency - Attribution modeling using cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-acquisition (CPA) data provides insights into the cost of acquiring customers through different channels.
Channel Optimization - Models like time-decay attribution or position-based attribution can help evaluate the effectiveness of various channels throughout the customer journey.
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) - Attribution that uses revenue conversion data along with position-based or data-driven models are most suitable for calculating ROAS. These models can help isolate the impact of an advertising campaign against other touchpoints.
Customer Engagement - Attribution models fed with click data are most valuable. Models like engagement-based attribution or position-based attribution can help attribute credit to touchpoints that generate higher engagement levels.
Campaign or Event Success - Campaign-based attribution or event-based attribution allow marketers to filter conversion data specifically for the corresponding campaign (or event) identifier.
Demographic Targeting - Companies that target audience segments based on demographic data, such as geography, need to be able to filter customer event data for segment-based attribution.
Social Media Influence - Models using multi-touch attribution with social media weighting can help more accurately attribute conversions or engagements specifically to social channels.
Experimentation with attribution models will help you find the most suitable approach for each reporting use case.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Custom Attribution Models
A customized approach to attribution modeling allows hybrid data usage to give the most complete and accurate view of your marketing effectiveness. (Reminder - a hybrid approach combines multiple online and offline data sources, reducing the risk of misleading insights).
With customized approaches, you can get journey clarity at the individual level. For example, you could isolate a new customer to see that their first website visit was 9 months ago, and they were exposed to 37 ads across 5 platforms. You can also use heat map tools to confirm how channels work together in order to predict where prospects will go next, targeting content messaging accordingly.
Here are the 6 steps to create custom attribution reporting that will truly allow you to start optimizing your marketing investments:
Step 1 - Clearly Define Your Goals
Identify the specific objectives that your marketing efforts aim to achieve, such as increasing conversions, driving brand awareness, or improving customer retention. They can be different for each channel or audience segment. As discussed, these goals will guide the rule options for your attribution model.
For each goal, decide what you consider to be a conversion for the journey stages, and whether you will need to include post-view data in addition to post-click data. The type of conversion is important, so you’ll want to identify the conversion events to look at for each specific goal, including the lookback window that will be most relevant.
Attributing marketing activity to revenue is the ultimate aim – this will give you the most powerful information to improve ROI and drive growth.
Step 2 - Identify All Your Data Sources
Start with accurately and consistently collecting all the data you possibly can for all customer interactions across all your active channels and platforms. You’ll need to UTM tag every link that matters, and have tracking pixels installed for all active marketing platforms.
Here’s a quick checklist of data sources:
- Social media (organic)
- Paid media campaigns
- Email marketing
- CRM system and revenue data
- Customer feedback
- Call tracking
- Offline touchpoints
- Third-party data providers
- Self-reported attribution is most valuable when free text only.
- B2B buying decisions usually involve multiple people, so it’s better to track the customer journey at the account level instead by combining individual user data.
Step 3 - Bring in the Necessary Data Capabilities
Marketers need to have a deep understanding of marketing concepts and principles to be able to set up effective attribution models and make data-driven decisions.
You will need access to strong data analysis skills to be able to set up, manage and interpret the data for customized attribution models. Some technical knowledge is required to select, set up and configure attribution software tools, integrating them with existing data sources and systems. Knowledge of statistics is also necessary to understand, interpret and communicate the results of attribution models.
If in-house attribution data specialists are not in budget (or available), It can be more economical to use specialized data agencies to support you.
Step 4 - Chose + Activate Your Data Tools
Available resources are a big part of your consideration here. You’ll need to consider what is within means for your company in terms of ease of use, data integration capabilities and subscription cost.
There are 2 options here:
- Off-the-shelf attribution software
There are several software tools available that can help marketers combine marketing attribution data from different sources.
Tools with in-built machine learning and AI are better suited to help you analyze and weigh the contribution of different touchpoints and channels in your custom hybrid attribution model. This will give you more accurate insights.
Google Analytics (or Campaign Manager 360) are the best known off-the-shelf providers. However, data integration from other sources can be much more of a challenge with GA. Some other off-the-shelf options which offer better data integration capabilities include Northbeam, Wisely, Adobe Analytics and Improvado.
However, the drawbacks are that you’re still handing over power to a platform that uses its own proprietary algorithms, not always allowing complete visibility or flexibility in how rules are applied or data is weighted.
- Build your own custom modeling
Depending on your resources, building custom modeling offers the greatest control and visibility of exactly how data is being weighted and analyzed for each scenario.
If you’re doing this independently, you’ll need a data connector/warehouse solution to import and store your data from across your multichannel data sources. Custom coding and statistical tools can be utilized for advanced capabilities, allowing for layered algorithms and models tailored to any specific need or data set, including fully customized weighting criteria for data sets such as self-reported attribution.
The benefits over any other solution is the most accurate attribution possible, with completely granular insights depending on any criteria you’d like, allowing complete flexibility as variables such as channels, campaigns and customer or market dynamic shifts, and fully aligned for any goal you set.
With customized approaches, you can get journey clarity at the individual level. For example, you could isolate a new customer to see that their first website visit was 9 months ago, and they were exposed to 37 ads across 5 platforms. You can also use heat map tools to confirm how channels work together in order to predict where prospects will go next, targeting content messaging accordingly.
Step 5 - Integrate Your Data Sources
Using your selected attribution tools, start collecting and integrating data from your multichannel sources.
This involves setting up data integrations between the attribution software and the data sources, whether through configuring API connections (recommended) or importing data files.
Automate the most relevant model-based analysis into dashboards, reporting on each of your specific marketing goals whether by revenue, channel, journey stage, customer segment, etc.
Step 6 - Test and Iterate
Continuously test and refine your attribution model, adjusting the weights and methodologies as necessary. Monitor the performance of your model and make data-driven adjustments to improve its accuracy and effectiveness over time.
For example, data capture often relies on UTM tags, which requires links to be clicked before they are reported. This means some early-journey channels that rely on impressions rather than clicks (mainly social media and display advertising) will be underrepresented without qualitative self-reported data and weighting adjustments. Lift tests need to be run to help assess weighting criteria.
To test the influence of unclicked impressions, which is common for early-journey touchpoints and channels, you can use lift tests. Lift tests use test and control groups, only showing adverts to the test group. The difference in conversions between the two groups is known as lift, indicating the channel's real impact, and providing a helpful weighting metric. (Audience sample size and segment characteristics are important for statistically valid comparisons.)
Incrementality is a complementary metric to lift.
Case Study: Introducing Custom Attribution Modeling for a 23% Increase in Closed Sales
Over the last year, Half Past Nine has supported a B2B client that wanted to better understand the impact of their marketing activities in order to optimize results.
They originally used on-platform ad attribution alongside Google Analytics to track results, however noticed some discrepancies between what customers told them during sales and onboarding conversations. They weren’t sure exactly how results were differing, or how revenue was impacted.
The goal was to integrate all data sources to better understand their cross-channel results and more impactfully optimize budget allocation. Particularly for paid media, where monthly spend exceeded $300,000.
Through the process of building customized attribution, the client was able to increase closed-won accounts by 23% within a year, resulting in an additional $26M ARR.
Here’s what achieved those results:
1. Hybrid Data Collection Set Up
The first step was to introduce hybrid data collection with a “How did you hear about us?” required free-text field on form submissions on the website (excluding newsletter sign-up). Free-text submissions were then reviewed regularly to group them into themes, allocating one or more categories depending on the number of touchpoints mentioned.
All content touchpoints were reviewed, mapped against the clients audience segments by journey stages, and UTM tagging was inserted where missing.
In addition, we utilized first-party data integration between the client’s CRM and their active advertising platforms to increase the visibility of interactions for known prospects.
2. Custom Model Reporting Set Up
Half Past Nine activated a data warehouse tool with integrations for all available data sources (including closed deal value), and built a custom model for the client that could attribute influence for specific campaign goals.
The model included weighting for missing touchpoints from self-reported responses after they had been categorized. Lift tests were also run for paid media brand awareness campaigns on social media.
3. Adjusted Budget Allocation
New attribution showed significantly more high-intent leads and conversions coming from social media after interacting with staff's individual LinkedIn profiles, and a podcast channel. These touchpoints had previously been missing from the attribution completely.
The end result was the clarity to shift budget allocation to optimize the touchpoints that resulted in most conversions:
- More support for personnel to create thought leadership content for their own LinkedIn accounts.
- Newly allocated promotional budget for the podcast channel.
- Optimization of ABM and paid social campaign performance.
- Less focus on organic SEO as a lead generation mechanism.
The Main Takeaways
Marketing attribution is critical to understand the impact of different touchpoints on customer behavior and conversions.
While various simplistic attribution models exist, building customized data-driven models provides marketers with the greatest control and insight accuracy for their attribution analysis. This is essential to ramp up marketing spend with certainty of generating the required revenue results.
Custom data-driven attribution models offer several advantages over on-platform and Google Analytics reporting:
1. Report Against Goals - Marketers can tailor custom models to their specific business goals, customer behavior patterns, and available data sources. This level of customization enables a more accurate reflection of the complexities of the customer journey and the unique dynamics of the market.
2. Understand Touchpoint Influence Across Whole Journeys - Custom data-driven models empower marketers to attribute credit to touchpoints based on their true contribution to conversions, rather than relying on predefined rules or assumptions. And by integrating multiple (hybrid) data sources that include online and offline interactions, marketers can operate with a significant competitive advantage to drive growth forwards.
3. Allow Flexibility For Refinement - Custom models also provide the flexibility to adapt and refine the attribution process as the business evolves. You can more easily incorporate new data sources, update algorithms, and fine-tune attribution rules to ensure the model remains aligned with changing market dynamics and marketing activities.
Implementing a custom data-driven attribution model requires robust data integration and advanced analytical capabilities. However, the benefits of improved accuracy, granular insights, and informed decision-making make the investment worthwhile, potentially adding millions of dollars of additional annual growth. Particularly where larger advertising budgets are involved.
By leveraging the power of custom attribution modeling, marketers can achieve industry-leading business outcomes.
If you need any support scoping, setting up or managing your attribution analytics, the team at Half Past Nine are here to help. We live and breathe marketing data! Just reach out.
What To Read Next:
- The New Era of Personalization Explained; A Guide to Building Profitable Customer Journeys With Digital Intent Signals
- Marketing Data Visualization To Fully Leverage Your Sources of Truth
- Switching to First-Party Data: It’s Time to Stop ‘Renting’ and Start Owning Customer Data
The Ultimate Attribution Playbook in 2023
A Guide to Building Profitable Customer Journeys With Digital Intent Signals
Imagine a future where paid media actually adds real and welcomed value in people’s lives.
Where the information someone needs appears at exactly the right time to help them find what they want. Or while they’re browsing, learn about something that they weren’t aware could solve a pressing need.
And in the process, brands spend less money putting content in front of people who don’t want or need it, radically driving up the profitability of media spend to deliver maximized revenue growth.
This future is possible, even without third-party cookies. It will be built on a mindset shift, where the rigid parameters of the sales funnel are no longer paramount, and dynamic customer journeys become the north star.
Where as marketers, we can cater to real people who don’t behave in linear ways, with empathetic understanding of what their goals might be and providing real value when it’s wanted.
If your goal is to improve customer engagement and fuel new revenue growth, this article is for you. Let’s explore how to build highly profitable customer journeys using digital intent signals.
Building Personalized Customer Journey Architecture
Our job as marketers is to get the right touchpoints and messaging in the right place to progress our prospects from first introduction to converted and loyal customers.
The basics of the customer journey remain the same under the tried-and-true framework of Awareness > Interest > Consideration > Decision > Retention > Advocacy.
The 3 journey stages for customer acquisition are:
- Early Journey (creating awareness)
- Mid Journey (nurturing interest and consideration)
- Late journey (prompting action)
However, customers can move through buying stages in very different timelines. They may regularly loop back to previous stages, with pauses in-between. In our digital era, journeys can be incredibly fragmented across devices and platforms, and many journeys are completely unique.
The typical customer journey today is actually a 3-dimensional process that can shift in any direction, rather than a straight line from A to B. They can resemble pyramids, diamonds, or even hourglasses, rather than a linear funnel.
A linear sales-funnel philosophy fits with the old approach of the stereotypical sales-led company. It’s not that a sales-led approach isn’t right for any business - but an overemphasis on sales goals can cause counterproductive tactics. For example, immediately jumping to harassing prospects with unwanted phone calls or emails, or running a generic sales ad to the widest audience possible and having to pay above average CPM/CPC due to poor engagement.
That’s why the most successful approach to fueling revenue growth is a dynamic and responsive customer journey framework, rather than a funnel approach.
It allows for the individual to engage with relevant content while on their own unique path, maximizing the number of conversion routes and potentials at any one point in time.
Naturally, the simplicity (or complexity) of a typical journey will vary greatly by the value and importance of the purchase being made.
For ecommerce brands, a customer could leap from awareness to an impulse purchase in the space of 5 minutes in the right circumstances. Or a B2B sale could take many months from initial touchpoint. (Learn more about the B2B customer journey and buying process.)
Regardless of journey timeframes, marketers building any type of customer journey architecture will still need to understand:
- What are the common challenges, needs, goals, and desires of each audience segment?
- What channels and platforms have best reach for the target audience at the specific journey stages?
- What corresponding messages will work best for each journey stage and platform?
- How do cross-channel and platform touchpoints work together to facilitate complete journeys for each segment?
Learning to Read Behavioral “Tells”
How can brands really get to grip with personalization across platforms?
Firstly by recognizing that the old way of building a sales funnel - assuming everyone who enters it will behave the same way - doesn’t reflect reality. We can’t assume that all people in a target market will be relevant leads, use the same platforms, automatically be ready to consider buying after showing interest, or that their consideration process will always follow the same path.
It’s the equivalent of walking up to a colleague in the middle of a phone call and expecting them to answer your question immediately. Or approaching someone perusing the vegan section of a store to offer them a promotional ham sample, then continuing to follow them around after they’ve said “No thank you”.
The need for observation, active listening and empathy applies as much to marketing and sales activity as it does anywhere else in life.
That’s where intent data comes in. Intent data is the marketers means of observing what people are doing, before we “decide” if and how to approach them.
Using intent data to target users will outperform targeting by demographics alone. Users who show intent are typically closer to making a buying decision, making them high-quality leads. By targeting these users, businesses can increase the likelihood of conversions to generate quicker and higher ROI.
And the more digital and mobile customers have become, the more helpful intent data they generate for us. Of course, it still depends on a brand’s ability to manage and analyze the data… But with a solid data strategy, brands can tap into intent data to engineer hockey-stick moments of sustainable growth.
Introducing Digital Intent Signals
Just like in life offline, the key is to observe people’s “body language” within their digital world, building a picture of what might be happening for them in the moment.
We call these digital actions “intent signals”.
Being able to read them allows us to connect with only the most relevant people, using tailored messages that are most likely to resonate in that particular moment.
The majority of buyer journeys start with some type of intent. Although…, your ideal prospects might not always start out directly looking for your type of solution or product.
For example, a person Googles healthy meal recipes. Their goal is to improve their nutrition and lose weight. They aren’t looking for complete nutrition shakes. But if we were to reach the user with content highlighting the quick and easy benefits of complete nutrition shakes to improve health and lose weight, we’re far more likely to capture their attention and create intent to buy.
These types of people with relevant but indirect intent may represent a large portion of your serviceable/addressable market.
Demand is much easier to create with the right message that talks to a pressing goal, at the exact time a person has that goal front of mind. It’s always the goal we need to understand and talk to.
And to be clear, intent signals aren’t KPIs or “vanity metrics”. We use intent signals to deduce intent, and then target or exclude people accordingly. Intent signals should actively inform real-time content targeting when used correctly.
Types of Digital Intent Signals
The intent signals we can gather spans internal and external sources. It crosses organic and paid content, to owned and third-party platforms.
- First-party Data – CRM, website, app and email data (learn more about first-party data)
- Second-party Data – Audience interaction on non-owned channels (E.g. Facebook)
- Third-party Data – Data Companies (E.g. Nielsen)
Some signals can be very overt. Especially at late journey stages, such as filling out a contact form or adding an item to the basket. Whereas other signals are less obvious, like running a Google search to learn about a related topic, or following a competitor’s social media account.
The type of intent signal can give you clues about a person's journey stage to build real-time customer segments. It’s helpful to identify which intent signals feature most prominently at each stage of your brand’s customer journey paths.
Split targeted signals up according to the campaign goals they fit with, whether that's demand capture (late journey) or demand creation (early journey) campaign goals.
For example, if a website visitor is behaving like a user that typically converts after another couple of weeks, you can target them with the right tone of nurturing content accordingly. But if you were targeting someone showing an interest in a competitor that hadn’t been included in your campaigns previously, you could show them content that introduces your brand with the comparative benefits of your brand/product/solution over the competitors.
Here are the most common intent signals that can be tracked:
- Reading or viewing content related to specific products or services.
- Downloading or sharing content.
- Commenting on or liking blog posts or social media content.
- Subscribing to a blog, newsletter, or YouTube channel.
- Searching relevant keywords.
- Searching for reviews or comparisons related to a product or service.
- Searching for the brand name or specific products.
Social Media Engagement:
- Following or liking a brand's social media pages.
- Engaging with posts by liking, commenting, or sharing.
- Mentioning the brand in posts or comments.
- Clicking on social media ads or sponsored content
- Clicking on digital ads.
- Video ads watch time.
- Clicking on retargeting ads
- Registering for webinars or online events.
- Participating in trade shows or conferences.
- Engaging in live Q&A sessions or forums.
- Traffic source
- Visiting a website multiple times (yours or competitors).
- Spending a significant amount of time on the site or on specific pages.
- Checking product pages or service descriptions.
- Downloading content such as ebooks, whitepapers, or product brochures.
- Returning to the website after a period of inactivity.
- Using online tools, calculators, or configurators.
- Completing quizzes or self-assessments.
- App downloads.
- App usage patterns and content engagement.
- Search queries.
- Abandoned carts.
- Registration or subscription.
- User reviews and ratings.
- Adding items to a shopping cart or wishlist.
- Repeatedly viewing a specific product or service.
- Starting but not completing a purchase process.
- Checking the availability or location of a product.
- Opening marketing emails.
- Clicking on email links.
- Responding to surveys or filling out forms.
- Forwarding emails.
Customer Support Interaction:
- Contacting sales.
- Using live chat or chatbots.
- Requesting a demo, quote, or more information.
How to Use Digital Intent Signals to Inform Customer Journey Architecture
The process for incorporating intent signals into real-time, personalized media targeting requires the following steps:
Data Collection and Analysis
The first step is to collect data on your audience’s behavior across your channels, including offline touchpoints where possible.
This data needs to be analyzed to identify patterns and understand what specific actions might indicate a user's intent to purchase or engage further. What are the main actions taken within journeys, and what conversion goals can help you qualify people at each stage?
Data tools such as connectors and warehouses will help you merge data from multichannel sources for more holistic understanding and analytical power, whether historical or predictive.
A note here on data collection. User tracking and targeting across multiple advertising platforms can be achieved through more than one method. This means that what a user does on one platform can be used to target them appropriately with relevant content on another platform via:
- First-party Data - Advertisers can import their customer segments into an advertising platform using Customer Match targeting. This matches identifying information that customers have shared with the advertiser, such as an email address, to target specific ads to those customers, and also other people that behave like them (look-alike audiences). This allows advertisers to narrow in on the highest intent/value customers.
- Cross-device Targeting - Also known as people-based marketing, this approach uses Device IDs or User IDs to anonymize user data while still allowing people to be targeted individually (without cookies), so advertisers can track and target a user across multiple devices. Pixels are used for this type of targeting.
A combination of these data collection methods will give brands the most precise targeting power and best results.
Once you've identified key intent signals and conversion goals, you can segment your audience based on their behavior.
For instance, users who have abandoned their shopping carts might be in one segment, while users who have spent a significant amount of time on product pages might be in another.
Each segment will have different needs and will be at different stages of the customer journey.
Create personalized paid and organic content for each segment, addressing their specific goals or challenges, guiding them towards the next step in their journey with defined conversion goals for qualifying. Content that matches keywords and the audience’s language directly performs best.
Leverage Media Technology + Automation Tools
There are a number of built in AI and automation tools within the bigger ad platforms for marketers to take advantage of.
Setting campaign goals and conversion goals allow platforms like Google and Meta to automatically optimize targeting to achieve them. Dynamic ads can use AI and machine learning to improve their targeting and optimize ad copy tailored exactly to user search terms. And machine learning already drives real-time programmatic buying, where advertising inventory is bought and sold via an instantaneous auction.
There are various independent solutions that can be used for paid media targeting, such Blueshift and 6sense, including intent data for account-based marketing (ABM) needs.
Testing and Optimization
It's important to continually split test and optimize your campaign creatives and targeting based on performance.
Look at which intent signals are most predictive of conversion, and which types of content are most effective for each segment. Use this information to refine your targeting and personalization strategies. How you use attribution modeling is also a crucial part of your media optimization process.
Case Study: Implementing Digital Intent Signals for 52% Revenue Growth
Half Past Nine recently worked with a new ecommerce client that wanted to differentiate itself by delivering more relevant and seamless customer-focused experiences across mobile apps and search.
Together, we went through the process of devising and implementing a media strategy for personalized experiences based on individual intent.
The result was a 52% increase in revenue growth within 6 months.
Here’s what achieved those results:
1. Understanding What Isn’t Working
Firstly, examining what wasn't working to fix any foundational issues that needed to be resolved.
For example, some mobile experiences needed to be optimized, and KPI analysis revealed that several of the existing paid media campaigns weren't profitable despite being within budget.
Analyzing the existing touchpoints through the lens of what customers wouldn’t want meant that the client could improve the relevance of landing pages, ad messaging, and simplify the checkout process.
The end result was:
- Improved page load times to less than one second.
- Matched advert and landing page content to users keywords.
- Implementation of Google SmartLock to streamline the login and check out process for repeat visits.
2. Work Backwards From the End Goals
The goal was for the customer to feel like the hero in their own story, building creatives that positioned the client as the sidekick to help them get to where they wanted to be.
To ensure that every interaction was relevant and memorable required an understanding of consumer intent, and capacity to respond to it in real time.
- A segmentation strategy was built using real-time behaviors. Utilizing website insights allowed visitor segmentation based on the pages and content visitors had looked at, qualifying users for mid/late journey retargeting campaigns using product-based ads.
- The use of impression pixels allowed all historic touchpoints to be tracked at the individual user level, illuminating how campaigns could be optimized for journeys most likely to convert.
- A cross-channel approach for nurturing was introduced, using search ads as the first touchpoint, followed up with a video campaign. A set of 15-second and 30-second video ads targeted users who had searched with relevant keywords and clicked, allowing the client to only target videos at qualified users.
- Combined with message/creative testing for each segment and channel, the ROAS on all campaigns became profitable, hitting new benchmark ROI targets that had been put in place.
Importantly, the use of intent signals allowed us to minimize the budget that the client would have spent on continuing to target the wrong users.
3. Look Deeper Than Third-party Ad Platform Metrics
Reassessing KPI usage and introducing dashboards for data visualization was a crucial part of evolving the client’s ability to improve campaign performance. This was supported with custom attribution modeling to really understand what was driving conversions by segment, looking beyond last-click to minimize misattribution.
A deeper understanding of customer lifetime value (CLV) by audience segment allowed the client to make more strategic campaign investments. People who ordered via the client’s app had a higher CLV, allowing a shift in campaign targeting and budget allocation to improve profitability. This helped to attract more of the right customers, maintain engagement and boost customer retention.
Recognizing and leveraging customer intent signals in the creation of personalized customer journeys is not just a valuable strategy - it's a business imperative for advertisers seeking to drive revenue growth.
As the advertising landscape becomes increasingly digital and competitive, the brands that will rise to the top are those that truly understand their customers, meeting them where they are and providing what they need at every stage of the journey. By harnessing the power of customer intent signals, marketers can enhance customer experiences, build stronger relationships, and ultimately, achieve sustainable revenue growth.
This shift towards a more customer-centric approach rooted in data insights is not just the future of advertising; it is the present.
If your team needs support gathering, analyzing and incorporating intent signal data into your media strategy, Half Past Nine would love nothing more than to help you realize their transformative power on your bottom line. It’s what we get out of bed for! Just get in touch.
What to Read Next
- Flipping Your Brand Into a Media Company: Content Marketing That Fuels Growth
- Upgrade Your Online Advertising Strategy: The Best Advertising Platforms in 2023
- Does AI Copywriting Work? We Tested ChatGPT Against 6 of The Best AI Writing Softwares So You Don't Have To