Introducing a new real-time marketing metric: ‘EvE’ (effort vs engagement)

Does the world really need another metric to measure performance? Unfortunately, I think we do, as one of the biggest issues in marketing is a lack of agility. We need new metrics to help speed up our reaction times.

With that in mind, allow me to introduce ‘EvE’, which is a loose, ill-defined, highly immature real-time marketing metric. I’d love some feedback as this is very much a work in progress.

EvE is a measure of how much bang you’re getting for your buck. You want maximum bang for minimum buck. In most cases, time is money, and effort / time can be measured in cold hard cash. Are your efforts paying off? Is there anything you can do to ensure success?

I’ve always had some sense of whether the thing I’ve worked on has underperformed, or outperformed, and increasingly I monitor this in real time, mainly because it’s possible to do so. I’m really just trying to figure out if something was worth the effort.

I instinctively use ‘EvE’ thinking primarily to measure content marketing metrics, but it applies to marketing more broadly, as well as things like conversion rate optimisation, and UX. In fact, it applies to all kinds of things.

EvE could also apply to that three-course meal you’re going to lovingly prepare for your dinner guests. If it goes right, you’ll hear a lot of comments about how delicious it is, and how lovely it smells, and how did you make it, and where did you find such incredible ingredients, and oh we must really come over more often!

If it goes badly, there will normally be a few polite murmurings, and then silence. You’ll wish you just ordered pizza. Cooking really wasn’t worth the bother, nor the expense, and you could have spent the afternoon doing something else.

keith floyd

That’s EvE in a nutshell. You want people to come over more often and to say nice things about your efforts, and to feel like it was a worthwhile endeavour.

It’s a bit like that in business, don’t you think? You want lots of repeat customers who do your marketing for you by becoming advocates, and recommending your products and services (the most powerful form of marketing there is).

Why we need something new

There are dozens of ways to measure success, but many of them are lagging indicators. In other words, they reflect the state of play once the results are in. This is all very well, but we need more leading indicators in our lives.

Leading indicators help us to predict future success, or warn us about imminent failure. All kinds of leading indicators are used by goal-orientated people to see if they’re on-course, or heading for the rocks. They give us the opportunity to react.

leading indicators

EvE is a blend. It is one part lagging indicator (‘effort’) and one part leading indicator (‘engagement’), but over time I think it will become much more aligned to the latter, as engagement (which is broadly a synonym for ‘performance’) can be measured in real-time.

For example, if this post achieves a certain number of social shares within a certain timeframe then I know it will be a hit, relative to other posts on this site. I also know that it will continue to attract shares (and page impressions, and comments, and new inbound links, etc) in the days and weeks ahead.

If, however, things go the other way, I can consider doing something about it. I could do some paid social, or get in touch with some of my influencer buddies to spread word. I could push it around to relevant link sharing sites. I could start a fight with somebody who I know will disagree with it. I could create a visualisation to explain EvE in less than 1,000 words. I could spin it out into other content formats, such as slideshows, webinars, videos, etc.

And so on.

Building momentum

What we’re really talking about here is engagement velocity. EvE seeks to measure engagement velocity in real time.

Content is ‘alive’ for a while, and at some point it will naturally fade out. Or at least that’s how it should be. If you’re busy creating content that doesn’t reach the average lifespan of an article, then you seriously need to consider whether it was worth the effort. Lifespan can be measured in impressions, comments, shares, downloads… whatever floats your particular boat.

You also need to spot the outliers and learn from them. Figure out why certain blog posts or videos outperform. More importantly, take a look at the ones that underperform, especially if you’re spending a lot of effort on them. If they don’t have a tactical value, then is it worth investing in any more of them? Remember that as the amount of effort increases, so must the engagement.

The EvE metric, if used in real-time as a leading indicator will help you spot whether or not something needs – or merits – a push. You can use it to predict performance, considering how something should be performing at any given point.

Sometimes you need to light a fire underneath your efforts. If you spend a month working on a new piece of content (or marketing campaign, or product feature, or 72-course dinner for your guests) then hopefully it will be good enough to attract enough attention to merit the effort. But, if needed, you can go the extra mile to promote it, unless it’s clearly a dud.

This is why EvE is different from ROI. It is meant to be more fluid, and less final. Real-time marketing is all about agility, and if you track EvE you should be in a position to move the ROI needle.

Calculating ‘EvE’

I don’t want to be too prescriptive with regards to scoring systems, but suggest that you can use absolute numbers, points, weighted averages, and multipliers to come up with some meaningful figures.

The key is to know a few things in advance. All of these things can be baked into your calculations.

Effort

  • The cost
  • The amount of time spent
  • Output
  • People

Cost is the primary – and most straightforward – measure of ‘effort’. When you’re ready to release a new piece of content you’ll have a pretty accurate sense of how much it cost. At this point, you’ve invested what it takes to produce and edit the content, and as such you’ll know what it takes for that effort to pay off. Cost is more easily measured when using freelancers, agencies and contractors.

Time spent seems straightforward on the face of it, and is an alternative to cost (though you can use both). Time is inherently linked to cost, but is perhaps more useful for evaluating the efforts of in-house teams, especially if you don’t want to get into proportionate salary calculations. Was it worth spending an hour, a day, a week or more on that thing? Worth it, as in, should you do it again?

Output is the thing that was produced. Everything is relative. Different content formats have different costs, on average, and they perform differently. A video should be compared with a video, a blog post with a blog post. Adjust your benchmarks, targets and goals accordingly. It’s worth adding that some things are more aligned to your macro goals than others.

People. This follows on from ‘time spent’. What was the opportunity cost of that particular person doing that particular piece of work? What else could they have been working on? It is crucial that you use your team wisely, especially your star players.

Engagement

  • The real-time targets
  • The goal

Targets. How will you know if you’re on track? For content, real-time targets might be things like concurrent users onsite, or impressions or comments, or shares or likes, or influencer mentions, or inbound links, or downloads, or leads. What is par, one hour, one week, or one month after publication?

Goals can be strategic or tactical. This is very much a case of horses for courses. You’ll need to figure this out for yourself, thinking about the ultimate goals of your business. How is the thing you’ve worked on contributing to those goals?

You can track all of this stuff as it happens, and react as necessary.

A scoring framework

I think the best way to measure is EvE is to put together a scoring framework, based on average costs (effort) and average performance benchmarks (engagement). The higher the EvE score, the better.

EvE score = engagement divided by effort

A blog post might be given an effort score of 100. The effort reflects time and cost to produce the post, relative to other outputs (e.g. video = 500, whitepaper = 2,500, etc).

For that blog post to break even, it must also achieve an engagement score of 100. This is the anticipated performance, and value, relative to similar content. In other words, the goal.

Its EvE score is engagement divided by effort. In this case, that’s 100/100, which gives it an EvE score of 1. And that’s okay, because 1 is par.

The effort score

Using the above examples we can compare different outputs. A video costs five times as much effort to produce, vs a blog post. A whitepaper costs five times a video, and 25 times as much as a blog post in effort.

However, these are averages. 100 points is the average effort score for a blog post. That might be akin to three hours of a freelance writer’s time.

It could be that the same writer puts together a post in half of the time, and charges you half the fee. We can halve the effort score to reflect that.

The engagement score

Let’s say an average blog post pulls in 5,000 impressions. If a post hits that mark we can award it the full 100 points, and an EvE score of 1 (100/100 = 1).

If it underperforms and reaches just 4,000 impressions then it gets just 80 points, and an EvE score of 0.8 (80/100).

But let’s say it only took half the time to produce. We halve the effort score (to 50) and the EvE score rises to 1.6 (80/50). It took 50% less time and money but still achieved 80% of the goal. You still have resources at your disposal to chase down the other 20% (or more).

Real-time EvE

In a real-time environment, it gets more interesting. EvE becomes a leading indicator of ROI, rather than a relative calculation of ROI, which occurs after the fact.

For EvE to work in real-time, you need to set some targets (I like to think of them as checkpoints) and stay tuned-in as things unfold. By doing so you’ll be able to react, if you need to.

Social shares are a particularly strong leading indicator of content performance. Let’s say 400 shares after 24 hours is the average for par performance for a blog post. If your post accrues 800 shares you should be in for a good time. If you struggle to reach 100 shares then something may be amiss. You can adjust your real-time EvE scores accordingly.

Multipliers and weightings will come into play. 800 shares might be worth more than double, for example, as the network effect, buzz and viral momentum can propel a blog post much further than you think. And perhaps 100 shares isn’t quite as bad as you fear.

At this point the formula will probably need to be finessed on a case-by-case basis. What you track and how you score things will depend on your macro and micro goals.

Audit

There’s one other thing that EvE does: it makes you think about what’s working, and what’s not. In order to put a scoring framework together you need to undertake an EvE audit, to benchmark effort vs. engagement across all that you do.

There’s a bit more to say, but I’ll throw this out there now for feedback. Do let me know if you think it’s workable, or if you put together a real world example based on the above methodology.

I’d also be interested to hear of any other real-time marketing metrics and KPIs that you’re using as leading indicators of future success. I’m keen to explore this area in more detail.

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