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Is your digital content strategy achieving business outcomes?

Raise your hand if your digital content strategy includes ways to measure the impact of content on business outcomes.

Raise your hand if you are responsible for digital content strategy at your company or for a company you consult...

with. How many times have you been asked to show the business impact of this content? How did you measure the impact? Can you identify which content has a greater impact and why?

By impact, I mean direct attribution with no mental gymnastics or stretch of assumptions. How did you apply those insights to the next set of content you created? It was probably difficult.

In reality most organizations don't use performance measurements of digital content and audience engagement that directly gauge business impacts. Here are the critical shortfalls of most measurement activities:

Most organizations don't use performance measurements of digital content and audience engagement that directly gauge business impacts.
  • Most organizations settle for vanity metrics. By themselves, measures such as retweets, likes, @ responses, page views, bounce rates, email open rates and so forth cannot tell you whether a specific piece of content prompted a specific sale, a specific donation to a cause or an application for a new credit card account.
  • Most measurement schemes don't provide insight into the "secret sauce" that makes a certain piece of content more effective than others. Without dispute the most important ingredient in the secret sauce of successful content is the compelling nature of the content itself. But there are other ingredients that can make or break even the most clever and compelling content. Factors such as the time of the day when you launch the content, the platforms on which you distribute your content, the visual elements that appear alongside the text and the target audience you choose are just a few of the ingredients that can dramatically affect the success of your content.
  • Most performance is not measured against explicit business goals and outcomes. So, you got 1 million retweets about a new credit card your company now offers, but how many of those tweets led to new credit card applications or accounts opened? Are they numbers you hoped for?

The good news is, the true measures of content effectiveness are medium-agnostic. Whether it's written on a scroll or published on your Facebook page, whether it's a video or a newspaper advertisement, all influential content has the following characteristics:

  • It is received and consumed by the intended target audience.
  • The intended target audience uses the content in ways you intended.
  • The action of the target audience leads to an intended business outcome.
  • The sentiment of your audience is somewhere between neutral to positive, but never negative.

These four items involve a lot of measurements across multiple digital media, each medium with its own measurements (Twitter's measurements are not the same as Facebook's, and neither uses the same measures as those for email and so on). You can end up drowning in a tsunami of data that does not tell you anything, and you'll need a data wizard with a doctorate in data wizardry to tell you whether it does.

Tangerine Lab employs a proprietary algorithm, a single score, to measure any digital content's business impact. We then dissect these measurements to identify the ingredients of the secret sauce of the most influential content that can be directed toward the creation of future content.

Without getting into the mathematics of the algorithm, this is the general framework:

  • First, we create a goal-setting process for content creators and clients for each piece of content:
    • They must identify desired business outcomes (e.g., "We will acquire X number of new credit card applications").
    • They must identify the target audience segments (e.g., "We will target recent college graduates").
    • They will identify audience actions that can lead to the desired business outcomes (e.g., "Our audience will retweet the link to the application page on our website Z times and A% will apply for a new credit card").
    • They will identify the intended sentiment among the audience and their network (in some cases, neutral is all you need).
  • We then measure content based on a certain calculations:
    • We apply our proprietary algorithm, which scores each piece of content based on its ability to achieve or exceed its goals.
    • We identify whether the content meets or exceeds the set goals, or in some cases scores higher than the rest even without achieving all the goals. We use this content to determine the secret sauce.
    • We look for patterns and trends within high-performing content to reconstruct the secret sauce and then apply that equation toward future content creation.

How do you measure the impact of your content on your desired business outcomes? If you want to learn more about our proprietary algorithm, feel free to contact me.

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This was last published in January 2015

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What are your metrics for content success and engagement, and why?
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Agreed - goal setting and content assessment is a critical piece of content marketing. To me, you can't simply pick a metric, regardless of whether it's the right one, and say "here's what we'll use to evaluate success." For instance, if you pick "# of conversions," an item might stand out because it was heavily promoted via paid search. Another content item might have done as well or even better if it were promoted as well, but because it didn't receive any traffic from promotions, it never had a chance to convert. So we try to break out the metrics that reflect the different aspects of a content item's performance and try to ensure they are evaluated in an "apples to apples" way (e.g. against similar content items/ similar traffic types, etc.). Different metrics shed light on different strengths and weaknesses of a content item - for instance, bounce rate may tell you whether or not an item does a good job of getting someone to another page on your site, but it doesn't tell you whether that item would make for an interesting "call to action" to link once a reader finishes other content items.You would need to examine how often that item "gets the click" compared to other items in the same position on a page. And then once you've broken down the ways you an item can succeed (and the corresponding metrics used to make that assessment), you can start to look at the attributes that lead to success. There is no "one size fits all" metric or approach - each business is different and every content item has (or can have) different strengths and weaknesses, but by thinking analytically about what different content brings to the table and why, evaluating those items, and improving them based on that evaluation, you can start to make sure your content reaches its full potential.
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Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. We are definitely on the same page:)
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Interesting stuff, Banafsheh. I'm wondering how you adapt the algorithm/strategy when dealing with different industries and audiences. Goal-setting can be a challenge when you don't have an accurate benchmark to work from.
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Hi Ben. Thanks for the question. The primary objective of our framework and algorithm is not to compare your performance against broad sector level benchmarks. As you imply, different industries and brands within each industry will have different outcomes unique to themselves for similar content. Our framework's primary goal is to drive our clients towards setting business goals for each content they produce within the realities and parameters of their specific business. So for example a large national bank and a small regional bank can produce very similar content for a new credit card, but we cannot expect that they will get the same number of applications. So their goals will be very different. The algorithm forces them to think ahead about setting realistic goals.

As I mentioned, most brands stop at vanity goals (e.g., we want X retweets on this particular tweet or Y unique visitors to this particular page). Our algorithm and framework is based on the philosophy that those metrics while important are not the end...they are means to an end.The end is the business outcome and the customer sentiment that comes with it.

Once you start to collect the data on the 4 components I list in the article and analyze the scores you will build the business intelligence for smarter goal setting and eventually competitive analysis.

I hope that answers your question.
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Thanks, that does clarify things! 
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