By Marcia Riefer Johnston

Publish it and forget it. Spray and pray. Have you ever done that with your content? (We all have.) What a shame to go to the trouble of creating and distributing content only to let it disappear from our minds—poof!—as we scurry off to the next thing.

There is a better way. You can take a performance-driven approach to your content. That’s what I talk about in this article, drawing from several sources:

  • Kevin P. Nichols’ webinar on the Content Wrangler channel
  • Kevin’s video overview
  • Kevin and Paula Land’s Information Development World workshop
Paula Land; Kevin Nichols; Felice Schulz, senior content strategist at SapientNitro; Laura Wixted, user experience editor for IBM Commerce
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Paula Land; Kevin Nichols; Felice Schulz, senior content strategist at SapientNitro; Laura Wixted, user experience editor for IBM Commerce

What Is Performance-Driven Content?

Kevin defines performance-driven content as content whose effectiveness an organization measures so that content teams can continually make their content more successful.

When you adopt a performance-driven approach to content, you’re saying, let’s learn from our efforts so that our content does a better and better job of meeting our business goals and audience needs. You commit to answering these questions for each piece of content:

  • What are our realistic business goals?
  • What audience needs does it fill?
  • How does it perform against those business goals and audience needs?

And you don’t stop with one round of questioning. A performance-driven model is an infinite loop: Publish, measure performance, learn from your measurements, apply what you learn. Publish, measure, learn, apply. Over and over. Each loop feeds into the next. Improvement builds on improvement.

infinite loop
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“Measurement isn’t something that you do just once,” Kevin says. “You should do this on an ongoing, repetitive basis.”

This “repeatable, sustainable model” enables businesses to create content that matters to customers and to the bottom line – even as customer behaviors and preferences change.

I think of the performance-driven approach as the opposite of “publish and forget it,” the opposite of “spray and pray.” Learn and earn, anyone?

Scott Abel describes performance-driven content this way:

“[It’s] the future for content marketers and content strategists … Done well, [it] will drive personalization, omnichannel, and customer-centric content experiences.”

Who Needs Performance-Driven Content?

Any type of organization that produces content, whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or a large enterprise, can profit by measuring content performance and using the results to improve future content.

Why Does Performance-Driven Content Matter to Your Organization?

Performance-driven content is similar to data-driven marketing. “When you use this approach,” Kevin says, “you base your decisions on data. You develop new content based on how users and consumers have responded to the old content.”

The performance-driven model helps you keep your content relevant, timely, and consumer-focused. It helps you determine how successful your content is—however you define success —and what you can do to make it more so.

For example, Kevin and Paula cite the popular series “House of Cards,” which Netflix created based on its evaluation of data on customer preferences and behaviors. What if you explored your customers’ preferences and behaviors as closely as Netflix did theirs? Imagine what you’d learn and how those insights might influence your content planning.

Performance-driven content matters to your organization because it’s what will lead you to your “House of Cards.”

To put it another way, performance-driven content results in good content, and your brand, Kevin and Paula remind us, “is only as good as your content.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 10.16.16 AM
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How Do You Measure Content Performance?

To measure content performance against your business goals and audience needs, look at analytics. Give your analytics folks the questions that you want metrics to answer. But don’t expect analytics to give you all the insights you need. You also need to conduct user surveys, review customer-support logs, organize focus groups, do user testing—get any kind of user feedback you can get.

Kevin says,

“Many organizations leave out input from users. Talk to people. What are your users telling you about your content? You want to know not just what they click on but what they think of your content and why. This is the most valuable information you’ll get about your content.

Measure the performance of your most important content across all channels. (“Do you use just one channel?” Kevin and Paula ask.) Include hard (quantifiable) data—the what—and soft (qualitative) data—the why.

Track metrics by touchpoint. “Don’t oversimplify customer touchpoints,” Kevin says. “There are lots.” (See examples in the slides below, which come from Kevin and Paula’s workshop presentation).

metrics1
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metrics2
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metrics3
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Choose your metrics according to your business goals. “Sell more” is not a metric, Kevin and Paula say. They remind us to make our metrics SMART: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related.

What Top Tools Do You Need to Measure Content Performance?

Kevin and Paula recommend using these tools:

  • Content inventories and audits tell you what content you have and what to do with it. (“The content audit is the life force of performance-driven content,” Kevin says.)
  • Customer-journey maps tell you what your customers want to accomplish and the steps required—and which content gaps you need to fill. (“Customer-journey metrics are the most important,” Kevin says.)
Rikke Jorgensen [@getrebelmind / rikke202 / rikke@getrebelmind.com], head of content strategy & campaigns at RebelMind Communications
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For Kevin and Paula’s customer-journey-map exercise, I teamed up with Rikke Jorgensen (left), head of content strategy and campaigns at RebelMind Communications.

What Mistakes Do People Make When They Move toward Performance-Driven Content?

Kevin says that the biggest mistake people make is not taking enough time to put the structure and tools in place to execute this approach.

Another mistake is failing to collaborate across department silos, resulting in what Scott describes as “the schizophrenic content experience that many brands are providing even though we don’t ask for it.”

Conclusion

I can’t squeeze everything you need to know about performance-driven content into this blog post. For more, click the links scattered throughout this post, and explore these books:

Happy learning and earning!