There is Always Room to Improve Your Association's Content Marketing Goals
When it comes to defining our content marketing goals, associations and other not-for-profits can misunderstand what makes content successful. We do so by making the mistake of believing the objectives content is pushing to be some sort of immutable finish line.
"We need to get X amount of results to meet our goals."
"X" is often defined as a certain open rate and/or click-through rate for email blasts; visitors for a website; views on a blog; followers, likes, and shares for social media; online event registrations; and so on.
But why do associations consider such a number to be a success? How is this goal defined to begin with?
Typically, associations set their content marketing goals based on a correlation to recovering expenses. If an association sends five email blasts with an average open rate of 21% and see registrations for the event promoted in those emails fill up, a relationship is understandably derived between the two. As a result, 21% becomes perceived as an adequate open rate to achieve similar results in the future. The same can be said of any other metric tied to driving towards content marketing goals. Unfortunately, this method does not address all factors and can easily set false expectations.
How Numbers Can Mislead Us
When we set our future expectations and content marketing goals based on correlations in previous results, we are not seeing the complete picture. You cannot not know exactly how much of any given content source led to an actual desired outcome (e.g., product purchase, event registration, membership renewal) unless the means are in place to entirely track the progress of relationships. Doing so means starting with the content publishing point and working forwards towards the goal, covering everything in between.
With most advanced analytics platforms, it is possible to track traffic coming from a particular email blast, social media post, etc. to your goal, so long as such progress is entirely digital. You can define goals in analytics software that consider as a success a checkout process from your association's e-commerce shopping cart, for example. Or it could be completion of an online registration form. But without such a capability, the reliability of the correlation between your content and your marketing goals becomes less clear. (This becomes the case if orders and registrations must be completed offline via a phone call, fax, or similar mechanic your analytics cannot track.)
Without 100% verifiable, measurable analytics of what content and social media pieces are actually behind your successful outcomes, your content marketing goals are based in speculation. Sure, you can look at a broad range of converging data points and make an educated guess, but you still don't know what is working and to what extent.
Also consider that when associations set future content marketing goals based on previous results, they are likely doing so in situations where the context is not identical. Different products, events, membership drives, etc. all have their own particular factors (not the least of which is the shifting nature and needs of your content's audience) that are forever widening the divide between previous outcomes and future objectives. It makes sense to use similar previous results as a guideline, but do not let them set boundaries on your objectives.
This leads us to looking beyond where the information leads us, be it rooted in objective data or guesswork (or, more realistically, a combination of the two.)
Why "Good Enough" Shouldn't Direct Your Content Marketing Strategy
Too often, we look at things as "good enough" or "it does the job" and consider that to be success because it meets an immediate need. This perspective puts a cap on the potential for content performance and how high we are willing to set our sights, however.
As a content manager who has worked at various organizations and companies, I am very familiar with the phrase "it is good enough" when I try striving in a new direction to get more out of existing content marketing goals. For example, the parties-that-be may be satisfied with their current email blast / newsletter open rates and click-through rates because they are sufficient to make their sales quotas or get their events filled. This is the sot of situation where "good enough" and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is often brought up when changes to content processes are broached. Making these quotas are considered a success because they balance the books and keep management happy. But does that count as success?
When we say something is "good enough," what we are really doing is saying we have reached the minimum threshold our content marketing goals require of us and we have given up trying to do better. In marketing, true success comes in two parts:
- Meeting the minimum threshold.
- Striving past the minimum threshold to do better next time.
Although it's great to say your content is performing well enough for your current end goals to be met, that does not mean those end goals cannot be improved on. Is your association holding an event where you consider 20 registrations a success?
Because thereabouts is what you achieved last time?
Well, what sort of content did you use to promote the previous event and what can you do differently to improve that number?
When you allow content performance to dictate goals rather than serve them, you are entering a self-fulfilling cycle of stagnation. You merely aim to do as well as previous comparable instances, and do not shake things up and undertake content experiments in an effort to do better. Doing "good enough" means you have stopped trying to do better.
Having successful content marketing goals is never about meeting your minimum thresholds -- the point where any given product or event (or whatever) crosses the line from debt to profit. Success is not a goalpost or a finish line. Success is an on-going process that requires constant effort, including trying new things with the intention of producing improved results. No content marketing strategy can count itself as truly successful without this understanding.
So, what do I want you to take away from this article? I want you to understand and accept that no matter how well you think the process involved in setting and achieving your content marketing goals may be serving your organization, there is always room for improvement. Keep expanding your audience so you have to keep expanding your objectives. There is no ceiling on achievement, so you need to keep moving forward instead of stopping at some imaginary finish line you have set for yourself.
Stop telling yourself that "good enough" is a synonym for success. Success is a journey, not a destination.
As CSAE's manager, content, Steven will be speaking at CSAE National Conference 2017. He will be presenting on the need of associations to become more creative with its content and to conduct experiments to find ways to improve what they are doing. You really should be there to hear what he has to say.
When we look at the CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck, we can see a number of cards that can help us out with setting our content marketing goals. For example, we are warned of the risks that come with focusing too much on the numbers of "Big Data" without looking for the meaning behind them -- we need insight as much as we need raw figures.
This insight partially comes from being aware of what cannot be measured on a spreadsheet -- the value that content brings to our objectives beyond its direct call to action. By keeping our eyes open to less-obvious responses to our content over time and across different channels and topics, a more accurate picture will begin to develop (even if that picture is largely intuitive and not measurable with analytics.) Perhaps most importantly, the entire process of indicating content marketing goals has to be accepted as a learning experience. Everything is an experiment made out of an effort to find ways to improve how content is rolled-out and drives the audience towards objectives.
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