Moving from Outputs to Outcomes: Martech Consolidation Brings Opportunity to Refocus Content Measurement on Results

By Douglas Thede, CEO at inMotionNow

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Business today has a seemingly insatiable appetite for content. But is everyone aligned to ensure that the content is valuable and produces the desired impact?

We recently released our annual creative management report which highlighted that speed, lack of resources, and volume are the top challenges facing creators. Simply put, creative content teams are being asked to produce more content, to do it faster and without the necessary resources.

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No function in business is immune from the perennial request to do more with less, but the situation for creatives, designers, and copywriters is becoming untenable. There’s only so much more you can get out of less.

In response, the instinct is to make the case for adding headcount. To support that case, creative and marketing leaders tally up productivity metrics. For example, they’ll show the total projects completed quarterly by type, average completion time, rounds of review, and which business units make the most requests.

These are solid operational indicators and a vast measurement improvement in recent years. However, it’s no longer enough and it could well be contributing to systemic stress.

Why?

These metrics are measures of output, rather than outcomes. Only measuring outputs is problematic for creatives, marketers, and the business for two primary reasons.

First, the strategic value creatives bring – problem-solving – is underappreciated. Solely measuring output, even to justify additional resources, can create the perception that the creative process is akin to a manufacturing process, established to produce creative “widgets” upon request and according to pre-established specifications.

This misperception has creatives focusing only on the efficiency of the process – how can we produce the maximum number of widgets at the lowest cost and in the fastest manner? This focus tells the creatives that their problem-solving is only valued to the extent it improves efficiency.

Second, creative outcomes are ignored. Any marketer knows they need more than output, they need creative content that performs. Yet, the people that are asked to contribute to the performant outcomes are kept in the dark. Creative teams are rarely provided with the impact of their creations which robs them of the ability to grow, learn, and celebrate the outcomes. With the focus rooted in efficiency, creative teams are more worried about output than with the reason for the output – the outcome.

I’m not saying that an efficient process isn’t important – it is. Rather, I’m saying we need to go beyond simply measuring the efficiency of the process and include measuring the efficacy. As such, we need to ensure that the business, marketing and stakeholders are properly aligned with the creative teams: an alignment that focuses on better content outcomes.

Content outputs versus content outcomes

The remedy is to refocus the entire team around outcomes rather than outputs. The way to begin is by asking hard questions such as the following:

  • What is the desired business outcome?
  • How can we best achieve this business outcome?
  • Are we prioritizing creative and content projects based on outcomes?
  • Did the output lead to the desired outcome?

Next, if you don’t know – or don’t like – the answers to those questions, then it’s imperative to get the whole team aligned around the business process of content or the content lifecycle.

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The Content Lifecycle

The content lifecycle is a multistage process. While each stage of the content lifecycle is critical, I’d like to highlight the four that play a key role in obtaining and maintaining organizational alignment around outcomes.

1. Content request or creative brief

We strongly recommend a formal process for content requests, regardless of size, to ensure the request is both accurate and comprehensive. This minimizes the time the creative team wastes chasing down information. While the purpose of this stage is to foster initial alignment on objectives from the beginning, it is the perfect place to understand the business objectives.

Too often, the requests the creative and content team receive are focused solely on the output. To better tap into the value of creative teams, requestors need to take the time to explain the business objectives.

Creatives are problem solvers, and they thrive in situations that allow them to use their vast knowledge of tools, design and audience tendencies to create compelling content. Explaining the business objectives can unlock valuable ideas and approaches which may otherwise be left hidden and wasted.

2. Design and review

After the initial creation of the content, gaining the right feedback at the right time is vital.  Of course, this stage should be done efficiently with streamlined collaboration. This eliminates:

  • Feedback from respondents who have no stake in the outcome;
  • Out-of-sequence reviews;
  • Change requests inconsistent with the creative brief; and
  • Stakeholders that are perpetually tardy in providing feedback.

More importantly, in reviewing projects, we must continue to ask the hard questions and challenge whether we believe the design concept and copy will indeed produce the desired outcome. Open and honest feedback is key when striving for better content outcomes.

3. Content asset management and shareability

It is not uncommon for creative teams to move on to the next project the minute the previous project is completed. Again, with a focus on outputs, the need for speed is paramount. I’d suggest spending a little additional time to manage the creative asset to ensure the business gets the full value out of the investment. Simply placing creative assets in a format and location that is easily searchable and available for stakeholders can yield significant benefits such as:

  • Consolidates “approved” creative assets into a single location;
  • Eliminates requests for content that already exists;
  • Furnishes teams with creative assets consistent with current brand guidelines; and
  • Presents an opportunity for templates that sales and marketing field representatives can use to personalize content and reduce the workload on the creative and content team.

4. Distribution and measurement

Once created, the content is distributed for its intended use and we can begin to measure the results and assess whether the desired outcome has been achieved.

However, any measurement statics were typically only analyzed by people outside the creative team, which is a disservice to content and creative teams. For example, one of our annual survey reports showed more than half (55%) of creatives rarely or never receive quantitative feedback on how well an asset performed with customers and prospects.

How can you achieve better content outcomes if you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t? The answer is you can’t – and so the organization tends to fall back on asking for more.

The key to this stage is a feedback loop that reaches back to the content and creative teams. Ideally, it consists of performance data – views, clicks, downloads and sales – that’s matched with effort in terms of hours. The idea is to produce and track metrics that more accurately show the efficacy of creative content and informs the next creative brief.

Martech and the creative lifecycle

Martech plays an enabling role in the content lifecycle. It automates and streamlines aspects of the process – such as project intake and routing of review and approvals. It also helps to automatically surface metrics that speak to both efficiency and efficacy.

To that end, we’re entering some interesting times across the martech community. For example, merger and acquisition activity among marketing technologies returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. There were 472 transactions in the first quarter – up 36% from the same period last year and an 80% increase from the same period in 2019.

What’s fueling these deals? Many are prompted by “strategic buyers” that “need to invest in new capabilities” to drive growth. That’s good news for teams across marketing, creative and content because they stand to benefit from new martech combinations.

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How so?

Individually, many of these tools address just one piece of the overall content process. However, together they support the full content lifecycle from ideation to measurement. For example, we’re especially enthusiastic about the union between design tools and analytics and creative workflow and digital asset management (DAM).

These tools promise to match productivity metrics with outcomes – and loop the insights back to content and creative teams. In other words, the consolidation in martech is closing the feedback loop with content creators. This promises to provide the means for marketing and creative leaders to refocus content measurement from outputs to outcomes.

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