Ken MacFadyenKen MacFadyen

The question that inevitably faces all PR and communications professionals is how to assess and track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. To be sure, certain tactics lend themselves to quantifying ROI. The measurement capabilities of most digital platforms, for instance, help explain the growth of online advertising, which has come at the expense of traditional print or broadcast campaigns. As it relates to content, however, while marketers can certainly track the reach of specific initiatives, measuring the impact is more difficult to pin down.

In financial services, for instance, the goal of content is very often more targeted than simply creating awareness. And, arguably, traditional advertising and PR efforts are just as effective if not more so in maximizing exposure for a brand or product. Content, on the other hand, is counted on to fuel social media campaigns, but it is also a vehicle to tell a more nuanced story—one that creates differentiation against a broader peer set and resonates with prospective clients with specific needs.

O'Dwyer's Aug. '19 Financial PR/IR & Prof. Svcs. PR Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Aug. '19 Financial PR/IR & Prof. Svcs. PR Magazine.

For this reason, the most effective integrated PR programs don’t think of content solely as a “top of the funnel” tactic to create brand awareness and reach a mass audience. It’s instead created with a very specific objective in mind. Rather than solely making consumers aware of the brand, it has an important, actionable additional purpose: it’s designed to stimulate intent that either nurtures ongoing relationships or drives conversion or specific actions. The upshot is that when marketers focus on the “bottom of the funnel” in devising their content strategies, they can prioritize the topics that are most likely to influence a specific audience and then they can track and quantify the impact in delivering distinct business outcomes.

For many, their approach to content marketing has evolved over time. Given the rise of social media and automated marketing platforms—requiring a steady stream of content to fuel digital campaigns—thought leadership certainly complements efforts to create awareness. For a number of reasons, though, some forward-thinking companies are revisiting their approach, and impact is no longer defined by the size of the audience reached, but rather the actions it helps to stimulate.

Quality counts

One of the biggest factors driving marketers to rethink their content strategy relates to just how prevalent thought leadership has become. Our agency published a study that found 96 percent of the top 100 global fintech companies produce thought leadership on a regular basis. This study followed our research last year that found 88 percent of the world’s largest asset managers utilize content as part of an integrated PR and communications strategy. This has created something of a flood of thought leadership, making it more difficult to stand out just by producing content, alone. To be sure, regular and consistent thought leadership provides an important cue to show that asset managers and fintech providers are investing in their business and that they have a position or view on relevant trends in the market. In fact, the ubiquity of content marketing across asset management has also made it conspicuous when firms don’t produce thought leadership in any capacity.

At the same time, the explosion of content marketing across finance—and most industries for that matter—has raised the bar for those who expect the effort to show a material impact. For one, it’s only become that much more difficult to reach decision makers without a very targeted strategy. When just about every RIA and asset manager offers an annual and mid-year market outlook, for instance, marketers are hard pressed to reach an audience that extends beyond existing clients.

Amid this flood of content, if the topics and themes covered or the views conveyed are designed to appeal to “everyone,” it’s unlikely it will resonate with or influence anyone. Thought leaders in finance—from Howard Marks and Warren Buffett to David Rubenstein and Ben Horowitz—didn’t gain a following by parroting conventional wisdom.

Finding validation

Another consideration that has marketers rethinking their content strategy reflects the effort required to create compelling thought leadership. This generally isn’t a problem for the world’s largest asset managers, who may employ an entire “newsroom” of ex journalists to churn out new articles, videos and infographics on a weekly or even daily basis. But for smaller operators, who don’t have these resources available, content can demand a lot of time and effort from key executives, who obviously have other day-to-day responsibilities. Even firms that hire an outside content-marketing agency will generally dedicate time to brainstorm on topics, conduct interviews with ghostwriters, and then iterate new content pieces before they’re ready for publication.

Given the effort required, those who move the effort forward will want to know that the “juice is worth the squeeze.” Web analytics can track how many people accessed the article and how long they may’ve spent on a given page (the implication being they’re actually reading the content). Online forms can also be used to augment lead-generation activities and track specifically who accesses a given article. The catch, however, is that it’s difficult to measure the extent to which a content campaign actually influenced a new client conversion. This kind of feedback generally stems from anecdotal evidence, when a new client proactively tells their relationship manager that they read or accessed a particular piece. It’s just as rare, though, that this positive affirmation ever makes it back to the marketing team.

Take dead aim

Make no mistake, these are issues aren’t unique to content marketing; but it underscores why it’s so important to have a very specific objective in mind when creating a content strategy. Communications teams need to identify not just the audience they want to reach, but also the actions they hope to trigger. The more specific they can be, the easier it is to assess the results at the end of and throughout a given campaign.

Most private equity firms, for instance, raise a new fund only every four or five years. So, their goals around content may be as simple as providing a touch point to stay in regular communication with their current investors, informing them of new developments and market trends and remaining top of mind for when the firm returns to the market to fundraise for subsequent vehicles. Other PE firms, however, may use content to reach business owners in specific sectors and facilitate deal sourcing. In this case, they can develop content that speaks to a very specific niche within a given sector. They can then pinpoint the desired audience for distribution and through a targeted email campaign, gain instant feedback in tracking open rates, inbound inquiries and ultimately new investments. Most investors would agree that if content helps secure even one deal, it’s well worth the effort.

As part of a recent panel on the topic of content marketing, one participant in the venture capital industry highlighted that they’ll go so far as to create content with one specific prospect in mind. He added that generally they operate under the philosophy that the firm’s partners will be “hand delivering” content to as few as two or three prospective founders in a specific industry. The ROI, in this case, is black and white: whether or not they’re successful in securing an investment. This kind of hyper-focused approach allows the marketing team to prioritize the topics being covered, the messaging or views that are most likely to resonate, and the specific call-to-action they hope to stimulate.

Content doesn’t necessarily need to reside at the very bottom of the sales funnel to be effective. Even in the middle of the funnel, content can be an effective tool in stimulating or fostering a dialogue that allows the sales team to have more impactful conversations as they descend down the funnel. With one client, for instance, we were able to create content that zeroed in on a very specific audience and need state—asset owners who are insourcing their investment operations. We then distributed the article through a sponsored campaign on Linked­In that pinpointed the specific institutional investors who could access the thought leadership in their feed. Without realizing exactly how targeted the effort was, the targeted audience responded because the content spoke to a very specific scenario. The campaign, in turn, was able to deliver a measurable and material impact.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even when a piece is created to address a very specific goal, it can still ascend “up the funnel” to catch a wider audience over time. Once a content piece is created, for instance, it can then be repurposed as a contributed article in a third-party publication, published as part of a curated quarterly newsletter, or distributed widely across social media or at conferences and events.

But to truly speak to a decisionmaker and drive business outcomes, content marketers should first have a sense of who they’re trying to talk to in order to be effective. This is why the focus is gravitating to the bottom of the funnel in conceiving and publishing thought leadership.


Ken MacFadyen is VP and Head of Content at BackBay Communications.