Today I’m sharing an article I read in the September – October 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The name of the article is The Surprising Power of Online Experiments.

I believe that there are two lessons from that article that are invaluable for anyone interested in digital or content marketing analytics.

What are meaningful metrics?

Measuring the performance of digital marketing often falls into two categories:

  • Campaign or short-term metrics
  • Strategic or short-term metrics

Here by campaign metrics I mean those metrics that are used to measure the impact of marketing campaigns that are active for a limited period of time.

Metrics such as impressions, clicks or views are some examples of campaign metrics.

Then there are Strategic metrics.

By strategic metrics I mean those that are used to determine the success or failure of your marketing strategy.

The challenge, in my opinion, is that marketers often don’t know how to measure the success of their marketing strategies.

Of course, increase in sales or email sign-ups are an obvious indicator that your tactics are working, but what about the time when you’re not seeing any meaningful changes?

How would you tell if it’s time to scrap your marketing strategy?

This is often the case with content marketing.

More often than not, the poor selection of metrics causes the demise of otherwise salvageable content marketing strategies.

A metric is only meaningful if the information it provides help steer your decisions towards your ultimate objective.

Lesson #1: Defining success

In the most simple terms a strategy – any strategy – must answer two questions:

  • What are the activities that we must do to achieve our objective?
  • What are the activities that we must avoid to achieve our objective?

Often discussions about marketing strategy are limited to answering the first question but not the second.

That’s where Overall Evaluation Criteria comes in.

An Overall Evaluation Criteria (OEC) is a collection of both short-term and long-term metrics that are selected to measure the impact of your activities or tactics on a long-term goal.

The authors of the article argue that arriving at the OEC isn’t a straightforward process.

Each activity is a trade off: deciding to do one thing, often means you won’t be doing something else. Coming up with the right OEC requires both business and marketing managers to work together and fully understand the impact of their trade offs.

The lesson here is understanding the relationship between cause and effect.

To measure whether your content strategy is successful, you have to understand what smaller activities contribute towards a larger improvement. To figure that out objectively, you need to set meaningful metrics to understand which activities are causing a positive change.

Lesson #2 Assumptions about causality

You’re walking across the room and wham! You stubbed your toe on the table.

Ouch! That’s gotta hurt.

The fact that you accidentally kicked a wooden object caused you to experience a sharp pain.

Now, a week later you’re walking down the street and you experience a sharp pain in your toe again. This time you don’t remember kicking anything.

A mistaken correlation would be for you to overlook all other possible causes, such as a pebble in your shoe or perhaps someone stepping on your foot as possible causes, and jumping to the conclusion that you must’ve stubbed your toe again.

In marketing establishing causality isn’t usually as straightforward as when you stub your toe.

Due to the complexity of measuring the impact of content marketing (often caused due to the lack of OEC) marketers end up making false correlations.

The lesson here is that jumping to false or mistaken correlations can be harmful.

It’s not always easy to determine the ‘why’ or the ‘how’, but it’s important to remain objective when dealing with data. If you can’t establish a clear causality, experiment to learn more, rather than making future decisions based on a false correlation.

Final thoughts

Getting results from content marketing and delivering solutions for measuring content performance is my thing. One of the most common shortcoming of many content marketing plans is the lack of micro and macro metrics.

Without an overall evaluation criteria content teams often fall prey to creating content often to keep up with publishing goals.

Without a clear idea of cause and effect, content marketers often get side tracked by publishing content on the latest trends that in practice have negligible impact on their business objective.

Are your unsure if your content marketing is working even after you’ve put your best effort?

If your answer is yes, then start by asking yourself if you’re measuring meaningful metrics. If you’re not convinced, follow these two rules for setting and learning from meaningful content performance metrics.

Categories: Roundup