ROI, CTR, and KPIs: What Is the True Measure of Thought Leadership?

Measuring the effectiveness of a thought leadership campaign can sometimes feel a bit like trying to determine the number of gumballs in an airtight dispenser. How do you even begin to figure it out? It may seem like there’s no way to really know if the time you are spending creating and curating content is worth the effort. However, while there’s no doubt that the effects of thought leadership are challenging to truly quantify, it’s not impossible.

Can Thought Leadership be Measured?

In short, yes. Thought leadership can be measured – to some degree. It all depends on how you go about the process. If you are looking for concrete measurements on the effectiveness of your thought leadership, you might as well be attempting to count those gumballs. It’s not likely you’ll find any cold, hard facts. If you can look beyond the concrete, however, it is likely you can find some helpful insights to point you in the right direction.

For the purposes of this post, let’s follow ITSMA’s three measurement categories: reputation, relationships, and revenue. If you can measure these three things, you’ll soon find yourself hot on the trail.

  • Category 1: Reputation – Ultimately, reputation is the number one goal of thought leadership. Your aim is to become a thought leader so you can influence decisions and become known as a reputable provider and distributor of thoughts and ideas. It comes as no surprise, then, that assessing your reputation is an important part of measuring thought leadership.
  • Category 2: Relationships – You will also want to hone in on the relationships you have created with your target market. If you have developed many solid relationships and connections, odds are your thought leadership campaign is reaping the rewards.
  • Category 3: Revenue – If we are honest, most people embark on a thought leadership campaign to see some sort of return on their end. It is certainly worthwhile to provide your audience with unique and helpful content, but it’s also realistic to expect some benefits for yourself. While it is not the first quality to consider, some sort of revenue is usually a good indicator that your thought leadership is effective.

There are typically two different ways to measure reputation, relationships, and revenue: objectively and subjectively. In other words, you can attempt to measure your thought leadership influence through data-driven metrics or through subjective metrics.

Data-Driven Metrics


People in the marketing industry love using data to analyze ROI. The same is possible with thought leadership, and there are a few particularly useful data-driven tools at your disposal:

  • Google Analytics – If you aren’t using Google Analytics … why aren’t you? This free and unquestionably useful tool can help measure the effectiveness of the content you are producing. As it pertains to thought leadership, Google Analytics’ most useful feature is its ability to set goals. By setting detailed parameters and objectives, you can effectively measure the value of individual actions, such as that of a reader clicking on a blog post, navigating through your website, remaining on your site for a set length of time, or virtually any other measurement.
  • KPIsKey performance indicators, or KPIs, are pre-established metrics used to understand and review the status of a campaign. They are similar to Google Analytics’ goals and encourage positive growth and change.
  • SERP Rankings – If you are satisfied with only reaching a niche market and already know how to do so, SERP rankings are not quite as useful for you. If, however, you are trying to reach a vast target market, you may find SERP rankings to be a valuable metric.  Take a look at the example for ‘sunglasses’ in this post and think about it in terms of thought leadership. As a thought leader, you want your content to be the most readily available information in a search engine.

Subjective Metrics


Many people find subjective metrics much more useful in measuring the effectiveness of thought leadership, and they certainly have their place.

  • Simply Ask – On Twitter the other day, a surprisingly simple Tweet caught my eye. The Tweet simply asked followers to fill out an anonymous survey that asked how to provide more useful content. Did I fill it out? Absolutely. It took 30 seconds, and it allowed me to tell him precisely what I’m looking for as a follower. If you are established, people likely have an opinion on what you provide. Feel free to ask them about the effectiveness of your content – you could learn a great deal.
  • Be Asked – A second subjective metric examines whether your audience is asking you for answers to their questions. This is a sign that you are considered a figure of authority in your industry (or a thought leader). If nobody is coming to you with questions, there is something to be said about the effectiveness of the content you are producing.

Pizza Hut’s Data-Driven Approach


The best way to understand these approaches is to consider real world examples. While most people don’t think about it in these terms, Pizza Hut is essentially a thought leader of the American pizza industry. With that in mind, we can learn something from their recent affinity for analytics. An evaluation of the effectiveness of Pizza Hut’s marketing through data analytics reveals that this company was able to encourage positive growth. By collecting data, analyzing its value, and responding, Pizza Hut has experienced a 38% increase in its customer retention rate and a 200% increase in its campaign hit rate. These are certainly impressive numbers for an already established industry leader.

AMF Bowling Centers’ Subjective Approach


AMF Bowling Centers, Inc. has taken a different approach to achieve similar results. While AMF has always shown a commitment to improving overall customer experience, it was their move to collaborate with a new technology that allowed them to subjectively see how effective their thought leadership is. Towards the end of 2013, AMF decided to work directly with OpenTell, a program that gathers customer reviews and publishes them online for customers to view in real-time.

Some businesses might consider such transparency a risky move, but ultimately AMF achieved tremendous results with a 948% increase in online customer reviews over the period of six months and higher ratings overall. Using OpenTell has allowed them to better understand their standing in the bowling industry, while improving their reputation online. While AMF was already actively engaging with their customers through a program called VoC, it was their decision to collaborate with OpenTell that allowed them to gain a better overall picture of what’s effective and what’s not.

Find What Works for You

If there is one takeaway, it is this: no turnkey solution exists for analyzing the effectiveness of your thought leadership campaign. At the same time, it is possible to get results. You just need to know where to look and how to use the tools available to you. Whether it’s a data-driven approach using Google Analytics or a subjective survey, good thought leaders are constantly analyzing the effectiveness of the content they produce.

Do you have a plan in place to measure the effectiveness of your thought leadership?

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Schuyler Richardson

Schuyler was born and raised in Marietta, GA and attended college at the University of South Carolina, where he received a degree in Marketing and Management. He has always enjoyed writing and is now happy to do it professionally. Some of Schuyler’s previous job titles include landscaper, retail sales associate, and marketing intern in a Division I college athletic department. Outside of work, Schuyler has a wide range of hobbies and interests. He is a self-taught guitar player, novice woodworker, and avid sports fan. You can often find him watching his favorite teams: the Atlanta Braves and South Carolina Gamecocks. Additionally, Schuyler lives for the fall, because it means two things: good weather and college football.

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