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Content Strategy

Performance driven content: the key to successful content

Kevin P. Nichols • 8 minutes

This year, Forbes Insights released a report indicating that 69% of top company executives plan to increase their marketing data-driven approaches.

Performance-driven content is a data-driven approach to content that can ensure your content ecosystem evolves the way it should, meeting the needs of your content consumers. For content marketers, Chief Content Officers and content strategists, performance-driven content provides the fuel for effective and successful content solutions. Why? Because this method positions an organization to continuously assess how its content is performing, and from that perspective, make decisions on what to do with the content in the future.

Performance-driven content is a data-driven approach to content

Companies such as Kellogg use data-driven approaches to redefine which content they create and how they do so. A recent article in CMO magazine points out that Kellogg increased the ‘viewability’ (how often the ad is viewed) of an ad campaign from 30% to 70% through its data-driven methodology and successfully uses the model to make content decisions around marketing messaging and advertising.

So let’s explore further what performance driven content looks like, why it is important, and how to set it up successfully.

Understanding the Basics

Earlier this year, I published Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, outlining a content strategy framework based on a performance-driven model.  Performance-driven content looks like this:


Diagram 1-1: A performance-driven content strategy framework

This diagram conveys a series of phases for a performance-driven framework, with governance at the center. “Putting these phases together creates a cyclical process. Within this closed-loop process, an experience never exists in a complete state; measurements and continual evolution inform future priorities.” (Enterprise Content Strategy, Page 9). The types of activities for a performance driven model include:

Performance Table

Let’s look at how such a model can function. I use the following diagram in my book to show how a performance-driven approach can work within an organization:

iagram 1-2: Performance-driven content in action

Diagram 1-2: Performance-driven content in action

Diagram 1-2 shows three columns: inputs, meeting and outputs, with the inputs column containing a series of inputs required for a performance-driven model. With this model, you should ask yourself: how is content performing against its initial objectives and what can we learn from all these inputs (trends, user data and content metrics) to recommend future content priorities? You should review each of the areas identified in the inputs column on an ongoing basis after content is published. A meeting or series of meetings should review the data gleaned from the inputs, assess and analyze it, and then make recommendations for future content investments. Outputs of the process include:

  • Recommendations for optimizing existing content;
  • Identification of new areas with which to invest in future content;
  • Validation on which content performs well; and/or,
  • Areas where content could be sunset or archived.

By using this approach, an organization can understand what content is successful, why it is successful and glean areas of opportunity for the future. In general, this approach can create more relevant, useful and compelling content for the consumer. Done well, performance-driven content assesses consumer’s needs, behaviors, attitudes and creates a user-centric approach to content creation.

Done well, performance-driven content assesses consumer’s needs, behaviors and attitudes

Setting Up A Model

Performance-driven content starts by setting up content lifecycles so that each can be measured, evaluated and then acted upon. To do so, you should build the following approach into your content publishing model. For each of these areas, I paraphrase Chapter’s 7 and 8 of my book.

1. Identify each content type (articles, product details, news) or format type (video, image, etc.) that will contain its own unique lifecycle. Use what you see in diagram 1-3 as a starting point. (You will notice a similar, closed-loop model to the first diagram.)

iagram 1-3 High-level content lifecycle

Diagram 1-3 High-level content lifecycle

2. You will likely have content lifecycles already if you publish content, so the steps you should focus on are steps 6 – 7 and ‘Govern.’ Detail out the sub-steps for these areas. Also ensure you have strong governance to support it (Paula Land discusses governance and tools required for performance driven content in her upcoming article on this blog).

3. For step 6, “Evaluate through metrics and user feedback,” ensure the following:

  • Identify which objectives are necessary for content success in the define phase of the effort. But if you have not, define these.
  • Assign specific metrics to measure the success of the objectives. Rebecca Schneider and I developed an infographic to demonstrate which metrics are best for which channels. You can use it as a starting point:

Metrics by touchpoint

  • Also include tactics for each area in the inputs column of diagram 1-2 above. For example, you should have meetings in place to ascertain new business needs, processes to ensure you can glean the latest industry trends and user insights and mechanisms to capture user feedback. Rollup all of this information into a dashboard or format you can use to analyze the data.
  • Ensure the right roles to execute. These include analytics experts, user researchers, content strategists and user experience practitioners.

4. For step 7, “Optimize or leave as-is”:

  • Look at whether the content under evaluation meets the objectives you set for it. Does it convert users in the ways you want? Does it get shared at your desired rate? Are calls to customer support lessened due to quality troubleshooting content online? If your content performs as desired, leave it alone.
  • For content that performs exceptionally well, invest in similar and related content, or find ways to promote the topic within the content in additional formats such as video. Uncover why it performs well to determine keys for success of other content within your experience. Do not remove or change the placement of content that performs well or above expectations (I.e., move it to a different place on a website page).
  • For content that does not perform well, determine why. Can the user find it? Is it optimized for the channel where it lives? Is it well-written? Is the topic or theme relevant to your users and are they interested in such topics? Does it meet their needs?

5. If the consumers do view the content but you don’t get the desired outcome, such as a conversion or the completion of a step within the user journey, then determine whether you need to reassess your user and consumer journeys.

  • Evaluate the content’s suitability. Can the consumer easily complete the next step in a journey? Does the consumer find the content useful or relevant?

6. If all else fails, review your objectives. Perhaps the content is fine but your organization has set unrealistic objectives for it.

7. Also, look at competitive sites to see how they use similar content. You may need user testing to finalize your assessment.

8. When finished, assess where to make improvements in your existing content, investments in new content and archival of unnecessary content.

Making A Model Successful – Key Considerations

So, having understood a bit more about the model, let’s turn to five key points to stand up a performance-driven model for success. The first three hail from Tom Redman, author of the book, Data Driven: Profiting from Your Most Important Business Asset and focus on data-driven approaches:

    • “Cast a wide net,” which means leveraging many inputs. Use diagram 1-2 above as inspiration to build a model that leverages all inputs as factors to assess your content: look at as many of these areas as possible on an ongoing basis. As Tom notes, many organizations place an emphasis on analytics as a sole input, such as web analytics, this is not enough to form a comprehensive picture around how your content is performing and why.
    • Take data out of IT departments. According to Tom: “Organizations that get data out of IT improve data quality faster!” (IT is fine for implementing technology solutions but these teams should not own or define the data itself.) You need experts in data—analytics practitioners, content strategists, user researchers, search engine optimization experts and social media practitioners to own the definitions and maintenance of data to ensure its quality and integrity.
    • Understand that data integrity is key! Not all data is equal. You must use quality and relevant data—metrics, analytics, KPI’s, etc.—for continued success. Thus, invest in good data. This means you start with good objectives for your content, and from those, specific metrics to measure the success. Remember, a metric should answer as many of the following as possible: who, what, where, when, why and how. For example: Increase purchases by 20% within the next six months by new consumers on the Website. Ensure that each piece of content contains a goal, objectives, targeted users and then measure whether these yield success through metrics.
    • Use roadmaps and start small. Measure, evaluate and test overtime. This rings true especially for omnichannel solutions and personalization, both of which require performance-driven approaches for success. I spoke with Stewart Pratt, SVP Strategy & Analysis at DigitasLBi, who noted: “Nothing overcomes organizational rigidity and promotes adoption better than success. Any solid roadmap should have a bias towards action, prioritizing low-barrier opportunities and celebrating quick wins.”
    • Forget the people element, and you fail. You need people in your organization to look at, assess, analyze and recommend solutions. Also, do not forget that your consumers provide the best information about their needs and behaviors, which will change over time.  Netflix, for example, has historically used what they call consumer science to test new ideas with consumers. In doing so, Netflix understands that the consumer is an essential input into their new content focus areas.

Converging Consumer Inputs and Technology to Realize Success

Technology plays a significant role in performance-driven solutions, but as a tool, not the solution. Let’s look at a few areas where technology and consumer inputs converge:

      1. Measure cross-channel performance. According to Marketing Director at SundaySky, Rachel Eisenhauer, who wrote on Forrester’s annual Marketing Leadership Summit in April, this theme ranked number three at the summit. As Rachel notes, a lens to the entire consumer journey with your brand across the various channels is critical. This may require integration of technology and systems such as web analytics, customer relationship management software, and in-store data.
      2. Build content audits into the process of your content evaluation. Do so annually or semi-annually. Paula Land, author of Content Audits and Inventories, stressed to me:  “Regular check-ups on the health of your content help you find and address problems or gaps early, so you can avoid making larger, more expensive fixes down the road. Auditing regularly is an important part of a performance-driven content strategy, enabling on-going optimization for best results.” Use a tool such as Content Analysis Tool to assist with the process.
      3. Leverage consumer research and user testing. Analytics tools, such as web analytics, social listening, and clout measuring applications are important. Surveys are important, but not all users will participate There is no substitute for focus groups and one-on-one user testing, and building these into an ongoing process of your content assessment. UX booth provides resources and advice on how to conduct user testing quickly and less costly.

Technology plays a significant role in performance-driven solutions, as a tool, not the solution

Achieving Results

Performance-driven content is not without its challenges and requires a significant commitment within marketing and content departments. A comprehensive approach is necessary and involves the entire enterprise. But do it well, and you will create user-centric content. In the process, you will achieve or even surpass your business’s goals and objectives.

Any and every type of content strategy framework should include a performance-driven model as a fundamental aspect to the content ecosystem design. Doing so means that the experience is scalable and able to evolve from a series of ongoing inputs and measurements. Done right, this approach future-proofs a content ecosystem, allowing the decisions that seed and feed the ecosystem to be based upon data, insights and consumer research.

Any and every type of content strategy framework should include a performance-driven model

Helpful Resources

Check out these additional resources to help you think about performance-driven content.

Kevin P Nichols’ Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guides (XML Press, January, 2015) Everything in this article is detailed much more in by book.

Paula Land’s Content Audits and Inventories (XML Press, October, 2014)

Note: Paula Land and I position our books together, because we feel strongly that mine sets up a framework, and hers informs how to use ongoing audits and governance to successful enable the framework.

Forbes Insights: The Rise of the New Marketing Organization (January 2015).

Content Strategy Alliance Handbook: This new repository contains nearly 40 free templates and leverages a closed-loop structure to position the effort.

Performance Driven Content: The Key to Successful Content

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About the Author

Kevin P. Nichols

Author and Executive Director, Experience at AvenueCX

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