How teams can drive content performance

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When it comes to content, let’s be honest: Content performance has never been harder. We expect content to do something for our businesses. We want it to drive results – directly or indirectly.

Content performance cultures were not a thing when I started in journalism. Content performed when your boss liked your articles and nobody complained about them.

Today, content must show ROI of some kind. So how do we get there or at least have a chance to? My 5 pillars of a content performance culture can help teams be on the right path. The pillars are:

  • A content performance culture
  • Innovation by all
  • Next play mentality
  • Right players in the right seats
  • Ongoing evaluation

An embraced content performance culture

Content performance happens when content teams know their personas, the best syndication channels and keep producing content that the target audience wants to consume.

Content can only perform when you know what the goal should be. This could range from:

  • Communication success for internal communications measured by feedback
  • Pageviews for content publishers
  • New and more users for product sites
  • Content that drives SEO to get product pages to rank

At the very least, leadership and teams need to be clear about what the content performance goals are and should be able to brainstorm on ways to reach them.

And then the teams go after their goals at the right interval. For example, in digital, that may be daily. With a monthly newsletter, it’s monthly, and so on.

Of course, with digital analytics, we can look constantly.

Did they go up?



10 more minutes.

It can even be obsessive. I love the mobile WordPress app stats function that buzzes me when an unusual spike occurs. That way, I know when something is really taking off.

Read next: How companies can market their culture through storytelling

Innovation by all

Innovation comes in many forms, and really, every role on a team can be innovative on its own level.

Front-line staff can catch workflow things that need to be updated with a new strategy. I’m still thankful to this day when a front-line employee told me about an issue with a stated strategy. It was something I would’ve never known without getting the word from somebody who was working on it daily.

Managers can keep looking for bottlenecks and other issues in the implementation of a content performance strategy as well.

Executive sponsors can push new innovative technologies and allow team members to try new things. And, of course, they can be as clear as possible about a stated strategy and open to questions.

Of course, strategies don’t just come from the top in a truly matrixed innovative model.

Read next: Where do ideas in content strategy come from?

Improve ideas

Everyone can share ideas AND build on each other. Pixar and Disney have called this plussing.

  • Idea is presented
  • Others build on it. Or at least try.

Not all ideas are good ones, and some initial ideas that are terrible turn into winners once they are verbalized and plussed.

Read next: How to be creative [includes podcasts]

Sure, innovation should happen within an overarching strategy and framework, but everyone can participate.

Share what you think can help a content and marketing team move forward and drive content performance.

Unfortunately, miscommunication on even the best teams can happen. This episode with Jim Mayhew dives into that topic with me on this podcast episode.

Read next: Internal communication strategies that actually work!

The trick is to build relationships, trust each other, and communicate openly. That also includes asking good follow-up questions and comments at the proper intervals.

  • Did you mean this?
  • Here’s how I understood that
  • What about this…
  • Here’s what we agreed to do next.

Next play mentality

This came from my decade of playing competitive football in Europe and the United States.

What do players do?

  • They run a play
  • Something good happens in that play. Or something bad.
  • Either way, they are running the next play in a moment.

Content teams need this as well. Something works now. And then something changes. An algorithm updates. A social media strategy changes. No matter what. Try strategies. Share good stories and use the current tools to push them to people.

I know some experts say, “Would people miss your content if it wasn’t there?”

There’s just too much content and too many channels for any consumer to keep track of. Even as a marketer who likes to believe he has the finger on the pulse, it’s easy to miss content being pushed at me from all these channels.

Read next: How to maximize organic social media

I also want people to miss my content, but I’m probably just one of 250 emails today. That’s why it’s important to keep trying new things, build an audience, and keep going.

Next play also means that we give teammates the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t mean to do that. Or they didn’t realize that created unnecessary work for a teammate. Communication matters here.

Next play also means not fretting about mistakes … too long. Sure, see if something can be learned and applied to the next play. Then run the next play.

Read next: How to build diverse teams in marketing and content

Right players in the right seats

Certainly, there are some standard roles that content teams should have. Every team needs people who can write and write the right content. Even when a team focuses heavily on podcasts and livestreams, they still need to write headlines, teaser text, and show notes.

As they say, great teams are made up of members that complement – and sometimes compliment – each other.

Public compliments can be even better within a company. Consider posting a weekly shoutout to highlight some of the great things employees have done the previous week.

Leaders also need to participate, but we must make it easy for them.

In addition to the basic storytelling skills, I find these useful on teams:

  • Fast and clear communicators
  • Can-do attitude
  • Interest in learning new things, like virtual reality video
  • Tester mentality – let’s see if this strategy will help me reach my goal faster

Complementing comes into play when you have a team of five; three are really good writers, one is a really good video shooter/ editor, and one is a really good distribution strategist.

Sometimes, teams have the right people, but they aren’t always in the right seats or positions.

Marketing ops

Marketing ops is a relatively new field, but one that’s needed. Cristina Saunders of shared why we need marketing operations team members on this episode of the podcast. In a nutshell, technology, automation and related areas are getting more advanced, and like anything, we need somebody on the team to run those areas. That’s where marketing ops comes in.


Part of the right players also includes have the right diversity on the team. Michelle Ngome of the African American Marketing Association talked with me about how to build diverse teams on this episode of the podcast.

I told her that I live in Iowa and diversity can be hard to come by. Her response: Hire remote team members. Great point and having distributed teams can help you build a diverse team, find the right players, and get them in the right seats.

Read next: Remote work: How to make working remote for the first time a success

General skills versus depth

There’s something to be said about having deep specialists and generalists. Some tasks are relatively shallow in a specific field and can be done by generalists – people who can do a lot of things relatively well. But some tasks need more in-depth knowledge and skills that are very specific.

Email marketing strategy consultant Jeanne Jennings discussed the topic of the T-shaped marketer on this episode of the podcast and how it relates to email marketing.

Ongoing evaluation

The set-it-and-forget-it strategy is not something I would recommend. Content distribution is so dependent on other companies nowadays. Think Google with search, social media with shrinking organic reach, and even podcast distribution. Video platforms, too. Our content rises and falls based on what those other companies decide. Of course, we can pay for paid promotions, but even those fall under those rules.

Also, remember that there are ways to be the best possible leader you can be for your team!

How to set goals that can be achieved!

To evaluate, we have to start with the right mindset and expectations.

Setting unrealistic goals might be one of the latest marketing diseases out there:

  • This blog post will generate $5 million in revenue.
  • Everyone who comes to our website will convert.
  • Can we run this 6-month program in two days?

Life is full of pressures. I have them, too. But let’s be realistic.

Chief marketing officers also didn’t rise to that rank in two days or even six months. Usually.

The first time, I set some highly aggressive (and unrealistic) goals for customer acquisition through blogging. Now, customers are acquired through blogging, but it’s not a one-month campaign.

Be realistic

A fantastic senior exec said, “If at the end of this short period, your and my jobs will depend on these goals, will we have jobs?”

“Likely not.”

“I prefer to keep my job. So maybe let’s set some realistic – yet good – goals?”

Not because it doesn’t work but because the time frame is too condensed and the goal too optimistic.

Maybe this is also the reason many CMOs stay in jobs now for relatively short time periods.

In another case, I had a board of directors push back and say that they were seeing progress and appreciated the movement but that the goal likely was too aggressive. So that goal was changed, too!

Thanks to the smart people in my life!

Another time, I was again preparing an aggressive content marketing plan of implementation and results. I was forecasting some aggressive results in six months. I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.

This time was different. The senior executive said: “Nice plan, but can we see results earlier?”

Nope. I was already highly optimistic about this forecast.

That was the end of that discussion, which was probably good.

So, how do we set realistic (content) marketing goals? Here’s my list:

  • What is the goal?
  • Why is that the goal?
  • Define the goal. Be crystal clear and make sure people agree. It’s hard to reach a goal without knowing what it is.
  • Run this by somebody who has done this before and see if they think it’s possible.
  • Have an idea of how to actually reach it.
  • Go after it daily.
  • Measure it daily.
  • Adjust daily.

Set expectations

Unrealistic expectations + uncoordinated, urgent implementation = failure


Realistic expectations + coordinated, urgent implementation AND daily adjustment = success

The way to make it work is to educate executives on the current best practices and what actually works currently. Remember, many tactics might work today, but tomorrow they are outdated.

Related read: Why many social media conference talks are useless

Then, we need rapid implementation. That means to make a high-level strategy and go and start. And adjust on the fly toward that plan’s high-level goals.

I’ve seen months and months of planning. By the time the plan was done, the people who came up with it had moved on. Something about not showing results quickly enough. <Smacks forehead.>

I love goals and have goals, but let’s be realistic and then aggressively go after them.

Somebody asked me: “And what happens when we reach these goals quicker?”

Read next: How to measure SEO results

Workflows, etc.

Workflows are an ever-evolving piece, too. What worked 10 years ago and may have been the best way then may not be the best today.

Let’s take podcasts. Back in the day, they were recorded in studios. That’s fine and still happens today. But there are also ways to record them with one app, even with remote people, edit and publish.

Writing can happen on computers, phones and iPads now. You may be typing on a screen, voice dictating or swiping. I’m not a fan of the swiping yet, but let’s give it some time.

Read next: Voice dictation tools and tips for content creation

And let’s not forget about picking the right technology. These two podcast episodes discuss that topic:

Article: Can content intelligence take the chaos out of content creation?

Article: Should we bundle software to be more efficient?


We may not love all new workflows and technologies, but some end up sticking – usually the ones that help with content performance. And, of course, when we continuously evaluate things, we can find new ways to be more efficient with our time and efforts and drive more results quicker. Without creating too much unnecessary stress.

So there are my pillars for marketing and content projects and organization. Like anything in our field, they are subject to evolve but can help us set ourselves up to be more successful.

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