There’s a lesson for law firms doing content marketing in the native advertising being conducted major corporate brands.

Major publishers, including The New York Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and USA Today enable brands to publish content called “native advertising” which appears alongside news stories in their publications.

It turns out that one of the biggest challenges in native advertising as is the case with content marketing done by law firms, via blogs and the like, is justifying the return on investment.

Jessica Davies (@jessdaviesmk), UK editor for Digiday, reports that while publishers are using metrics such as page and article dwell time, there is nothing yet to link it to product sales. It’s sales the content marketers are looking for in native advertising.

Sounds eerily like law firms who look to eyeballs in the form of page views and unique visitors when they are unable to link publishing content to increased revenues.

Big mistake, per the publishing leaders that Davies spoke to at Digiday’s recent native advertising conference about the question of ROI. (emphasis added below)

From Kaylee King-Balentine (@KayleeKB), director, T Brand Studio International, using the New York Times:

Of course ensuring a return on investment is a challenge in the native space in general, because brands can’t quite see how buying a story can translate into buying their product. I get that, but part of the solution is the brand-building part of it. Maybe it does translate into people buying your product but it’s also important it translates into you as a brand showing you care about your consumer, and that you’re a thought leader in the space, and that you’re relevant. Those are the challenges that keep happening over and over again.

From Laura Doward, head of strategy at Guardian Labs:

It’s demonstrating full-funnel return on investment for the content. Clients have lots of different metrics and so often don’t know what they want to achieve with native from the offset. When you’re measuring the ROI make sure you’re measuring the right things. Don’t just think that the click through rates and amount of users you get there immediately is the most important thing — think about the whole journey.

Wil Harris @WilHarris, group digital director for Condé Nast, advised brands not to “stand there and say ‘we want the logo over here, and you haven’t mentioned the product enough,’ and things like that.”

From Tiffanie Darke, @tiffaniedarke, creative content director of News UK:

I think it’s persuading brands that news titles — as opposed to outdoor, radio and TV — are incredibly influential and effective in meeting brand challenges…

From Paul Mikhailoff, European sales director for Forbes:

…[O]nce you try and put in a hard advertising metric like sales you’re moving away from the fact it’s about brand positioning, being seen to be a leader in your field, which may lead to sales later.

As a law firm using content marketing you are a publisher. The metrics used in advertising and marketing in the form of eyeballs, visuals, and traffic may not be applicable to measuring return on investment in publishing.

Publishers advise that one look at the long term. Brand positioning, relevance and thought leadership come first. Sales and revenue will follow.