Marketers spend so much time analyzing metrics that correlate with short-term content performance, like page views, email open rates, or social media likes. Yet, this approach fails to account for unexpected market disruptions or shifting audience trends and behaviors.

To put more valuable insights into play, refocus your content strategy around metrics that can surface opportunities to improve business performance. The following road map suggests meaningful data points to measure and ways to apply the resulting insights to your strategic decision-making.

3 fundamentals for measurement

Volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is making it difficult to predict audience needs based on observed behavior. But this isn’t the first time unexpected conditions have obstructed marketers’ long-range vision – nor will it be the last. The methods I outline here may not cover all possible contingencies, but they do shed light on how such shifts might impact your business – and how to adapt your content efforts accordingly.

It’s grounded by three core truths:

  1. Anything can change – without warning: Marketers need to get better at observing and learning about those changes in real time.
  2. Your audience vision will always have limitations: Even organizations like Google and Facebook that suck up all the data are only able to offer narrow (and often flawed) views of who their users are. Just as your personal online behavior doesn’t necessarily represent everything you do, the same can be said of the insights your audience makes available to you.
  3. Diversification mitigates risks: To make informed strategic decisions, you need a variety of data points. One of the best ways to get them is to break up existing content assets into multiple formats and iterations. Then, you can test, compare, and contrast the performance of each and use the insights in planning future efforts.

I can’t emphasize this last point enough: Ongoing testing must become the norm. You can’t conduct a subject line test for a single email campaign and create a rule that will universally apply to all subsequent campaigns. Building a test-and-learn expectation into your measurement strategy is essential to achieving long-term content success.

Don’t expect isolated tests to produce universal rules. An ongoing test-and-learn approach is essential to future success, says @ZonteeHou via @CMIContent. Share on X

Future-proofing a strategy is also dependent on your ability to contextualize your audience’s conversations than to simply observe their behaviors. But to reach that deeper level of audience understanding, you need to make some upgrades to the way you measure and evaluate content value. Here are a few places to start.

Analyze audience conversations to make channel decisions

A strategic question content marketers commonly face is whether to invest in or retire certain platforms or channels – especially as new options emerge and get a lot of buzz.

To make the right decisions, track your audience’s conversations on that channel – not just their engagement behaviors. How are they interacting with others in that community, and for what purposes? What topics are they discussing and what questions are they asking? What terms, tone, and language do they use?

One way to get that picture is to pull keywords from the brand-relevant conversations you discover through social media monitoring. For example, using the social listening tool BuzzSumo, I was able to research terms commonly used in social conversations (pulling from the APIs of several platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest) that relate to the phrase “financial services” during a specific time period. This gave me the ability to craft my content to match the conversations that were happening around this topic.

Use social listening to spot and serve evolving needs

In addition to evaluating a social channel’s current content potential, you also need to think about maintaining the effectiveness of your efforts there over time. For example, you may need to optimize your choice of topics or adjust the tone or cadence of your conversations if you see notable changes in your audience’s engagement.

Consider this example from Floor & Decor. The company offers home improvement project tutorials on its website and normally positions these stories to attract apartment renters or DIY weekend warriors. Over the last several months, however, their social listening activities picked up on newer decorating driver: an increase in questions about making quick design updates as a way to overcome the fatigue of staring at (and video conferencing from) an outdated living space during COVID-19.

The company made the smart decision to adapt and repurpose some of their top-performing content assets to answer questions consumers have started asking – such as how to soundproof a noisy home office or how to extend living space with a cozy backyard deck.

Don’t forget to ask

Earlier, I mentioned the need to listen to audience conversations in search of channel-specific insights. But you can also use these proactive techniques to inform your content planning:

  • Issue pulse surveys to check in with your audience and get direct insights on their evolving interests and priorities.
  • Organize audience panels and other research projects to surface meaningful content opportunities.

Content marketing platform provider ClearVoice issues an annual survey in which they ask an open-ended question about marketers’ top challenges. Through analysis, the company identified respondents’ 10 top challenges and created many valuable content pieces to address them.

The data helped inform sales and marketing conversations happening across the organization. And ClearVoice published a long-form report on its survey results – with built-in assurance that it would be contextually relevant to their target audience.

Measure content performance to aid in planning

Measurement insights let you arm your team with a catalog of top-performing evergreen content that can be adapted, repurposed, and atomized as new audience needs and interests emerge.

Don’t focus on creating new assets to address changing audience interest. Instead, arm your team with existing successful content you can adapt and repurpose, says @ZonteeHou via @CMIContent. Share on X

Applying the Pareto principle to your content marketing, 80% of content performance is likely to come from the top 20% of your efforts. Make sure you’re measuring to determine which of your evergreen content pieces fall into that top 20%.

When measuring impact, many marketers focus on the content’s exposure to the target audience. But what you really need to be measuring is how the actions that result from that exposure affect your business’ bottom line.

This requires you to rethink your use of key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge content performance.

To do this, you need to build attribution analysis into your measurement approach, capturing as many content touchpoints as possible, including your website, social profiles, SMS and email campaigns, as well as in-person and phone conversations with customers.

To determine where to prioritize your content efforts, first focus on identifying your brand’s best customers by calculating your organization’s customer lifetime value (CLV). Then, quantify the content they consume most often and the touchpoints that work best with this segment.

When your team is focused on creating or adapting content to attract prospects with a high likely CLV, they won’t get mired in the chasing for likes.

Test comparative impact to guide decisions

Marketers hear again and again that consumers want to feel known and understood. A popular way to approach this is by personalizing your content for individual consumers.

But some personalization techniques may cause your audience to feel uncomfortable with the depth and detail of your brand’s knowledge about them.

If you decide to focus on content personalization, consider how you’ll measure its impact. Plan to test the comparative impact of specific personalization features against your overall marketing performance. That way, you’ll discover the overall value of personalization, as well as which types of personalization are delivering the best business results.

Take action to take control of future success

To summarize, let’s look at some targeted actions you can take in each of the areas I’ve outlined above:

Channel planning:

  • Track the types of questions and conversations your audience has in the channel.
  • Analyze how your audience discusses and researches those topics – including the language they use and the questions they ask.

Content planning:

  • Identify opportunities to adapt content assets to address emerging audience needs.
  • Ask your audience what information will help better prepare them to take valuable actions on behalf of your brand and its offerings.

Performance planning:

  • Benchmark against your most valuable customers to better understand how to increase the value of your entire customer base.
  • Test the comparative impact of specific personalization features against overall marketing performance.

If you can integrate these behaviors into your regular marketing practices, you’ll be well on your way to creating a more effective and more future-proofed strategy for your content.

Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected]