Five alternative metrics for return on investment

The race to prove marketing effectiveness in asset management is on. More specifically, the unquestioned value of transforming sleepy report writing functions into dynamic and creative ghost-writers is rightfully being raised in budget discussions. James Whiteman, Head of Client Communications & Content at Aviva Investors, looks at some alternative ways of dealing with these tricky return-on-investment (ROI) questions.

Measuring marketing ROI is not straightforward. No question of value ever is. How do you measure success when one click, one view, and one lead can outweigh a hundred, or even a thousand? The right click at the right time can unlock untold riches.

Far from offering clarity and precision, the digital revolution leaves many of us confused, drowning in a sea of data with no clear way out. The intermediated nature of our industry also makes tracking and attributing investment allocations (i.e. boosts in assets under management, mandate wins) devilishly complex.

Building on small and self-contained lead generation campaigns, many of us are now implementing tools, systems and internal behaviours to help make future ROI efforts more sophisticated and interlinked. Tracking crude digital metrics like engagement, dwell time, number of leads generated and passed over to sales will continue to have a place. But as we try to accurately quantify the value of a click versus an impression - while setting our technological sights on building a single, perfect view of every client - it is worth reflecting on five less tangible but equally important metrics.


  1. Brand awareness: Just as it disrupted the process and approach to marketing campaigns, always-on content has upended traditional understanding of branding. At a time when our respective universes have shrunk to 16:9 screens (or thereabouts), this realisation feels particularly prescient.

Content, specifically thought leadership, offers an intimacy with clients and prospects other mediums cannot compete with. For however long you can sustain their undivided attention, content offers clients a window into your thinking and values. Few brand executives would pass up such an opportunity to lodge subliminal corporate messages into the minds of their prospects. Measurement of brand progress and effectiveness is, of course, hard but survey benchmarks do help to get a sense of how content programmes help the brand effort in any given market or channel.


  1. Quality: With our thought leadership platform (AIQ), we set out to create content that stands up to external scrutiny (i.e. cannot be accused of being marketing puff pieces) and also stands out visually.

Although quality can be wildly subjective, there are some ways of measuring it. Anecdotal client feedback, your internal investment and sales audience, and competitors are all worth listening to. Industry awards and competitor benchmarking can also be useful. No one metric will give the complete answer, but having a relatively large group of senior internal readers - from the CEO through to fund managers - gives us a good yardstick from which to layer other external metrics on top. Achieving this is only possible by creating engaging and differentiated content, particularly if that includes an outside perspective.


  1. Talent retention and recruitment: Exceptional people tend to like doing interesting work. The more ambitious, interesting and high-quality the content you produce, the happier your content team should be. And, while not absolving other managerial duties, people with high job satisfaction are far easier to manage than those who are bored and unmotivated. A strong thought leadership brand should attract talent into your organisation as well.


  1. Internal knowledge sharing: With investment managers caught up in their heavy workloads, making time to share information and knowledge can be low on the priority list.

Beyond simply offering a window into the thought leadership produced across the whole business, we regularly bring investment heads and analysts together for informal thematic conversations. From stranded assets to the future of retail, our external content series Link allows different asset class specialists to debate a subject from multiple perspectives. Simply by connecting departments and allowing conversations to flourish, content can unlock insight and enrich the investment process. As Hewlett-Packard CEO Lew Platt once said: "If only HP knew what HP knows, we'd be three times more productive." The same applies to investment ideas.

The process of writing also sharpens people's thinking. The two acts go hand-in-hand, a self-reinforcing activity with one feeding off the other. By encouraging subject-matter experts to engage with thorny and complex subjects in deep and, often, challenging ways, collaborating with writers can enhance idea generation and the quality of investment thought.


  1. Cost and efficiency: How many asset management content teams measure the true cost of production (including internal resource time, images, social media assets, translations, media promotional spend, etc.)? My guess is very few. Admittedly, we don't do this well yet either. But until we all start to get a handle on the real costs associated with each piece of content, we will always be missing a crucial side of the ROI equation. To make this happen will require ruthless efficiency and an effective workflow management tool - both of which we have invested in heavily.

In the meantime, there is another way to think about costs and efficiency. An ex-colleague used to regularly remind me that using a piece of content twice effectively halves its production cost. While not always appropriate, use across multiple channels and regions makes sense for thematic and macro thought leadership. Embargoing content for potential use in the media and republishing bespoke articles placed in top tier publications (along with consent and attribution) adds further audience and therefore ROI mileage to existing content efforts. The same logic applies for fully utilising third-party distribution through strategic partnerships.


A digital silver bullet?

Partnering with our digital and data colleagues, and embedding their skills and mindsets into our daily routines, will without doubt be one of the defining trends of content marketing over the next decade (and beyond). But tangibly proving our value in a consistent, coherent and accurate fashion could still be some way off. Instead of waiting, these alternative metrics might help buy us a little more time as the content marketing ROI conversations heat up.

Yet even when the magic ROI day arrives - the one with the all-seeing, all-knowing data dashboard - subjectivity will still be required to decide which actions and behaviours matter more than others in the sales and decision-making funnel. With algorithms being notoriously bad at dealing with complexity and ambiguity, we humans should still hold the edge here - so long as we can keep the politics of new business wins at bay that is.