Just now catching up on Contently’s new eBook, “The New World of Content Measurement: why existing metrics are flawed (and how to fix them).” I have to say I’m new to Contently—and so far, I like what I see. I’m in complete philosophical agreement that we’ve been looking at content all wrong.

First point—I agree with Contently that the objective for content really comes down to determining whether you’re helping foster a relationship between a brand and real people out in the real world. In my own words, I put it so:

Content marketing is about building relationships between brands and individuals that are more meaningful and lasting than single business transactions at some point in time.

Marketing's role is often overly-simplified to lead generation. Yes, track whether your content creates leads and whether those leads get interested and whether they convert. But it’s not the end game. Most companies, after all, hope to make more than one sale to one customer. But even bigger picture, how is your brand perceived in terms of less tangible qualities and values, for example? During a crisis, for example, those perceptions can determine whether a brand collapses or emerges stronger than before. (Curious what folks think of the above objective?)

As for getting the right systems in place to measure true engagement (or “attention-focused metrics,” as Tony Haile put it in a great Time article Contently cites), I agree that’s a path all companies want to be on. But it takes time and money. In the meantime, and in parallel, there are still some common-sense things we can do to track value. (We PR folks know this well, since our discipline still, after decades, continues to at times vex us when it comes to nailing ROI with pure, hard data.)

Ask. As in, talk to your customers and prospects and ask them if your content is valuable to them. We recently placed a significant feature in a top-tier outlet for one of our clients. They have had more than a few existing customers, as well as prospects, either proactively mention that article or cite it when asked if they’d seen it. In all cases, the article made a positive impression that caused those people to want to talk further with our client. (Also, the “asking” can be informal and in-person, during, say a trade conference; or it can be implemented more formally through existing NPS or customer satisfaction surveys or via simple polls via the Web.)

Talk to the field. A former marketing colleague of mine at Sun used to have a sign on his office wall: “If you’re not selling, you better be helping someone who is.” I’ve worked with some of the world’s leading brands and have been a bit shocked, at times, to see very senior communications or marketing pros virtually never talking to the sales people or channel partners on the front lines. If that applies to you, start changing that today. First of all, you’ll do much more effective marketing when you understand their day-to-day better; and you’ll also gain invaluable insight as to the effectiveness of your content.

Be the audience and trust your instincts. When a writer or journalist is applying for a job, it’s a hell of a lot less about how they answer interview questions and much more about the writing samples. What’s the end product look like? Is it fundamentally sound and does it demonstrate all of the requisite core skills? Is it compelling? Does it tell a story? Are you sucked in? Great content marketers need to step back and be great editors and great readers. If you can divorce yourself from the brand, consume the content like your target audience (you can test it with them, too, though), and find the content truly engaging, you’re on the right track.