I had the entire client services team together this week for two days. (Check out the awesome picture of the rain delay/postponement we all enjoyed Tuesday night.)
As we worked through the agenda for our get-together I posed a question to each person on the team. Here’s what I asked, “The CEO of one of our clients calls you up directly and asks you, ‘How are we doing with content?’ How do you answer their question?”
We then proceeded to have a conversation that I’m certain is remarkably similar to conversations that take place weekly at growth advisories and agencies like Imagine and within marketing and demand generation teams at most companies. Each person answered the question with a noticeable connection to their area of expertise. There were a lot of “it depends” and a variety of data points like traffic, growth, conversion, bounce rates, time on page, and more.
Like I said, the same conversation that takes place everywhere. The same conversation that has led to the exponential increase in content that has caused a precipitous increase in lead and customer acquisition costs, with little to no impact on outcomes. Many advisors argue, with some legitimacy, that content marketing in general and inbound marketing specifically is no longer worth the cost and effort.
I was not satisfied with these answers. They give no one insight and they end up creating a lot of noise. I’m a big fan of finding the signal and I believe that if you measure something, you best be able to identify that signal and create some scoring mechanism to guide you to where you want to go. So we proceeded with the conversation.
Some Background Data
While I disagree with those that say content/inbound marketing is past its prime, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I often wonder “Is the juice still worth the squeeze?” Regular followers of this blog may have noticed that over the last couple of years we’ve decreased the frequency of new content generation, moving our focus and resources to other areas. (We do have the benefit of having posted more than 1,500 blogs over the last 14 years, so we’ve got quite an inventory to keep us going).
While we’re posting about 40% less frequently than we did two years ago, we have not seen any meaningful decrease in impact, with the possible exception that our website traffic has plateaued. While traffic growth has stalled, all of our engagement metrics have stayed strong (which reinforces my previous point about traffic and vanity metrics).
Content Has 1 of 3 Jobs
I decided to take a step back and I changed the question. “Why do we create content?”
After we got past the first answer (which was, “Well, because clients pay us to”), we got into a nice brainstorming session. The result was the clarifying observation that you create content for three reasons:
Develop your target audience: To generate first action, which we defined as “the ability to conduct 1:1 style communication and creating a feedback loop that enables you to get a strong signal and track the digital body language of the visitor/lead/prospect/customer.”
Engage your target audience: broaden and deepen the feedback loop you’ve initiated.
- By broaden, we mean to expand the connections and feedback loops by increasing the number of people within target accounts that are engaging with your content.
- By deepen, we mean to stimulate your key insight pillars and increase the influence those insights have on your target audience’s thinking and actions.
Advance your target audience towards a predetermined objective: effective content should make it easier and more efficient to achieve your objectives.
Through this lens, good content can be viewed as the intersection of three objectives:
Develop. Engage. Advance.
These three “jobs” are not mutually exclusive, but they’re not mutually reinforcing either. When creating your content strategy in general and when creating the specific content to support the strategy you must make determine which job is primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Before I share how we recommend conducting a performance review, let me highlight the most common (and wrong) approach to how content performance is assessed.
Pretend for a moment that you’ve just hired a new employee. You’ve hired them to help you “grow the business.” You don’t give them a job description, KPI or focus. In essence, you just tell them to “make it happen.” How well do you think they’ll perform?
That’s pretty close to how content is assessed. Vague-to-no direction or “job description” is communicated when the content is “hired,” and performance is assessed on constantly changing criteria. It’s no wonder that only 1 in 4 marketing professionals believe their content marketing strategy is effective.
Conducting a Content Performance Review
Conducting an effective performance review starts before you create the content. The first step is defining its “job description.” This means establishing the prioritization of the content that is being created. To get started, we recommend creating 5 standard “jobs”:
- Develop: 80% develop, 10% engage, 10% advance (80-10-10)
- Develop-Engage: 50% develop, 35% engage, 15% advance
- Engage: 15% develop, 60% engage, 25% advance
- Engage-Advance: 10% develop, 50% engage, 40% advance
- Advance: 5% develop, 25% engage, 70% advance
Next, you’ll want to create a content map that will allow you to track the following:
- Content type
- The focus
- Persona(s) that the content is created for
- Journey stage
- Performance (performance metrics should be driven by your overall content strategy
With this in place, you’re now in a position to plan and execute a purposeful content strategy. By being clear about the purpose - the “job to be hired” - for each piece of content you create, and by tracking the relevant performance you’ll be able to gain insights to create better, more effective content and to optimize the content currently in place.
For a highly dynamic conversation about this subject check out this episode on The Black Line Between Sales & Marketing Podcast.