But for me, the standout session was Julie Fleischer’s keynote on Kraft’s content marketing ROI.

As the Head of Content, Data, and Media for Kraft (and the winner of last year’s Content Marketer of the Year award) she is the driver behind a key shift that has happened within Kraft over the last few years.

It was great to hear from a content marketer with a strong background in data, and this is really the underpinning of her success – not just being able to create value, but measure it and tie it to Kraft’s overall business objectives.

Not an easy task. And not one that has come quickly: 18 years ago they started their publishing strategy.

Content marketing as a scaled learning engine

Julie gave the clearest description I have heard of a large brand using content to understand their customers. Perhaps given her background in CRM, it is understandable that this is her leaning, but it is also very clearly the underpinning of the success that her team has achieved.

Kraft very clearly does not see content as a means to simply generate some engagement, but to understand customers based on their interactions with content.

She described the content marketing program as a ‘scaled learning engine’, that helped the company understand its considerable audience as a whole, but more importantly, as individuals.

When a company that delivers 1bn interactions a year (and has 98% product penetration into US households) says that it uses content to address individuals NOT segments, I sit up and listen.

Marketing to individuals using first party data

The team at Kraft tag and track more than 22,000 different attributes of their audience based on their behaviour and engagement with web content.

With 100m annual visitors to its web properties, this is no easy challenge, and necessitated the integration of its content and data management platforms.

Having spent the last few years building a SaaS solution for exactly this situation, I understand the upfront challenge involved. But once it is built, you can start reaping the benefits – every one of those 1bn interactions is yielding detailed insight derived from content consumption.

Julie outlined the data goal quite specifically: content marketing yields first party data that is yours (free to own and analyse) and accurate (not based on extrapolated, external datasets). Mining content consumption data gives them the real-time insight to deliver content that matches audience needs and wants.

And it’s not just about content delivery, as Kraft uses the dataset to power targeted programmatic ad buys. Julie projects that eventually all of Kraft’s ad budget will be programmatic, and therefore be able to use the data asset they are continually building.

This means that Kraft can not only quickly identify new trends, but also target advertising to jump on the growth in interest that they have identified. As she put succinctly, if your content is worth creating, it is worth paying to promote.

Linking content marketing to business value

We have been doing some research recently on content marketing maturity, and one of the key shortcomings in content marketing programs currently is the ambition or ability to derive business ROI from content marketing spend.

Julie says Kraft measures the same traffic/viewership/engagement stats as other companies (for example 1m app downloads, and 1bn recipe views), but “the most important thing is to drive attributable sales growth.”

We’ve developed approaches that enable us to measure the actual sales impact of our different efforts and channels.

Although I’m sure they have more internally, the hardest ROI metric she would reveal was that Kraft has proven that its content marketing yields 4x better ROI than its traditional advertising. And for a brand advertiser of this scale, that is significant.

So for everyone who is looking to deliver content marketing ROI, the key takeaways are:

  1. The pace of change will never be slower than it is today.

  2. Gather first party data; it is accurate and free.

  3. Mine consumer insights to create content that is relevant.

  4. If it’s worth creating, it’s worth paying to promote.

  5. Targeting drives relevance, with underpins performance.