How HSBC Cracked the ROI Code and Tied Their Content Back to Revenue

By Dillon Baker November 19th, 2014

For many of the companies jumping on the content marketing trend, simply creating and distributing content has been priority number one. But what about tying content back to real business results?

“Marketing has to remember that the reason why we exist is to create sales,” declared HSBC’s VP of marketing, Debra Russeth, at last week’s Contently Summit.

Russeth is of a rare breed in the content marketing world: She’s figured out how to tie the content her team was producing back to hard revenue figures. But that wasn’t always the case.

(Full disclosure: HSBC is a Contently client.)

“Like a lot of content marketers, we created this content site with virtually no sales KPIs,” said Russeth. “It was really about creating brand awareness and lift, but when you think about it that’s really soft. I don’t think that kind of soft marketing is really valuable anymore. Your stakeholders don’t respect it as much, because they don’t necessarily understand it. You have to have KPIs and prove your value.”

Faced with increasing scrutiny by a skeptical sales team, Russeth decided she needed to prove the value of the content her team was producing.

In the most basic terms, she and her team “reverse-engineered” their marketing process, going back and looking at every client that either had or had not interacted with the content HSBC had produced, and then comparing the all-important sales numbers of the two groups.

They found the vindication they were looking for. Businesses that had engaged with HSBC’s content through their marketing channels such as newsletters, LinkedIn, and their business growth publication Global Connections, saw an annual revenue that was up to 35 percent higher on average. And the encouraging numbers didn’t stop there: The time it took companies to become average revenue producers was reduced by up to four months, while the average sales cycle was reduced by up to three.

Finding these numbers were essential for “speaking the language” of the sales team and key stake holders. As a result, the relationship between marketing and sales saw a huge boost—resulting in a more robust marketing budget.

OneSpot CEO Steve Sachs joined Russeth on the panel, and explained that he approaches content measurement from a somewhat different angle. For Sachs, whose company creates software that helps a brand optimize their content distribution, measuring and tracking content engagement is key.

“There’s a whole new set of content marketing metrics that people can track to predict whether or not they’re going to get business results,” said Sachs. “In the content marketing world, what we find is the most important KPIs, the ones that drive business results, are about content engagement.”

Sachs said that he focuses on metrics such as time spent, return visits, and number of views in a visit, to measure whether content is truly helping to foster a relationship between consumer and brand—trusting that those relationships will ultimately result in sales.

It’s hard to build a relationship with a consumer if they’re not returning to your content again and again. One technique that OneSpot has found successful in driving repeat visits is content retargeting and personalization, done based on an individual’s previous content consumption habits.

One OneSpot client, Whole Foods, “got huge repeat engagement levels by targeting people at an individual level,” said Sachs. “They went from under 10 percent of people coming back more than once in a 30-day period to 60 percent.”

Ultimately, content measurement is shaping up to be a two-pronged challenge for marketers: You need to track engagement metrics, and optimize off them, to build stronger relationships. Then, you need to find ways to tie people engaging with your content back to hard revenue figures.

“We need to make sure what we’re putting out there is generating sales,” said Russeth, “and not just that it looks good or everybody likes it.”

Dig into the session more with this amazing graphic representation by artist Kelly Kingman:

Image by Aaron Amat
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