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Asymmetric Content Marketing – How Content Marketing Analytics Can Help You Outperform Stronger Opponents

How can content marketing analytics help uncover hidden opportunities in your data? Opportunities that can give you the edge you need to overcome powerful competitors? We will look at how the right marketing attribution metrics can help predict future outcomes. But most importantly, we’ll try to show, how small and lean operations can do content marketing effectively, and outperform competitors with massive budgets. But first, let’s go back. Way back.

When Winter Came


Following the failed negotiations between Finland and Russia regarding a border dispute,  the Russians are preparing for the onslaught. They have amassed a huge army on the Finnish border and are preparing to invade. Russia has 30 times more aircraft and 100 times more tanks (link) than Finland, who doesn’t seem to stand any chance of winning this war. The Finnish command understood that fighting the kind of war that the Russians are going to fight, will guarantee their defeat. Instead, they decided to ‘invent’ their own type of war. One they actually had some slim chance of not completely losing. Instead of fighting the Russian army head on, they managed to devise a tactic that would allow them to separate, enclave and destroy key Russian units. They used the extreme winter conditions to their advantage and made use of their excellent sniper units.

Their plan worked brilliantly. They managed to inflict heavy casualties and halt the Russian’s advance. Simo Häyhä, their top sniper, was dubbed by the Russians “White Death” after achieving over 500 confirmed kills. This forced the Russians back to the negotiation table and saved Finland from being overrun by Russia.

Hidden Figures

Billy Beane,  the manager of the Oakland A’s, has a serious problem. His team has one of the lowest budgets in the league. This means he has no chance of getting top talent to join his team and thus no real chance of winning the championship. He hires Peter Brand, a Yale economics graduate with a radical approach of leveraging data to uncover hidden opportunities. The story of how, despite all odds, they managed to finish the season first is depicted in Michael Lewis’s book and movie Moneyball – The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (link).

Data Trumps Money 

In November 2016 Donald J. Trump, against all odds, won the US Presidential Elections. One person that may have been less surprised was Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who oversaw the Presidential campaign. Kushner built the entire operation with the clear focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. In his own words –  “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Kushner says. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did. (source: Forbes). A proof that this method helped Trump get elected was the fact he managed to win the elections even though he received almost 3 millions votes less than the Democratic candidate. By focusing on increasing the impact of their campaign, rather than just the amount of resources spent, Kushner managed to mobilize enough people in the key states to win that election.

David v. Goliath

But what do European wars, Baseball championships and elections have to do with content marketing analytics?

They all teach us a powerful lesson: You cannot beat richer, more powerful opponents, by playing the same game they are. Malcolm Gladwell, in his article How David Beats Goliath (link), discusses how these cases where the Davids beat Goliaths, are not such anomalies as we intuitively think:

“The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.”

Entrepreneurs also understand this well. As a new startup, you stand a much better chance trying to invent your own market, rather than trying to overthrow a strong leader in an existing market.  

Content Wars

Just as wars, sports and elections are duels between opponents in varying sizes, so are the companies competing for their audience’s attention with content marketing. While the bigger companies have massive resources at their disposal, able to churn out large amounts of content and invest vast amounts in promotion, smaller companies and startup don’t have that luxury. As we’ve shown above, trying to use the same playbook that their richer opponents are using, just at a smaller capacity, will almost assure their defeat. In an asymmetric environment, the weaker party has to adopt asymmetric strategies to level the playing field.  

Underdog Marketers, Here’s How to Even the Odds

So, what could companies with limited resources do in order to outperform the competitors and maximize ROI? Let’s go back to the Moneyball example – The Oakland A’s managed to gain an edge by looking data that was available to everyone (SABERMetrics) the , but in a different way. While the rest of the teams in the league were guiding their recruiting efforts based on traditional stats, the A’s, on the other hand, searched of other, better predictors of players success.  This allowed to find undervalued players which the rest missed. The same thing is happening today with content marketing analytics and attribution. While we all have access to data, the key is finding new ways to look at it, contextualize it and and leverage it in a different way than the rest of the pack that results in a higher ROI.

Asymmetrical Content Marketing

Here are some steps which can help you take advantage of the undeserved opportunities that we currently see in content marketing using analytics. This can act as a starting point for carrying out asymmetric content marketing operations:

1 – Define and Focus on Outcomes

Most companies that we come across still lack a coherent strategy for content marketing that focuses on outcomes. Many marketers talk about the air support that their activities provide, but when you try to dig deeper, you get mostly hand-waving. If you can clearly articulate the outcomes and audiences that matter the most to you, you can focus your efforts on driving growth in those metrics.

2 – Align Your Measurement Towards those Outcomes

The second part after defining those outcomes, comes the data collection part. Here, and as a consequence of the first problem we described, many marketers only measure the macro levels, and tend to look at general performance stats (traffic stats to the blog, social interactions, etc.). Your key is to measure the micro levels. By looking at the performance metrics of the individual post/article level, and connecting it to the outcomes you defined in step 1, you can start compiling a data set of your top performing posts for that goal. Collect data on as many parameters as you can, even those that may seem inconsequential at first glance. Those parameters can hold the key to the next step – finding better predictors of success.

3 – Search for the Hidden Predictors

Once you have data, structured in a way that can be easily queried or contextualized (and you don’t need some fancy and expensive BI solution, an excel will do), you can start looking for patterns. AI is great for pattern recognition in large data sets, but for small data cases, there’s a simpler and cheaper solution you can try – Data Visualization. Here’s a post we dedicated for the role of visualization in content marketing. Also, in our recent white paper about comparative content marketing benchmarks, we’ve used visualization to identify interesting trends and opportunities the were hiding in the data. For example, we found that an article’s read ratio can serve as a great predictor of its success to influence business outcomes. This means, that even without mapping complete customer journeys, you can use this metric as a proxy to predict business outcomes.

4 – Acting and Testing Those Predictors

The final step is putting you assumptions to work in the real world. After you’ve found those content nuggets, the outliers which seem to hold a greater potential to influence your desired business outcome, focus on amplifying, repurposing and replicating their success. This will allow you to achieve similar or better outcomes at a fraction of the cost. As you gain more confidence in your content success predictors, you can  expand to channel prediction and even online events, like downloading white papers, attending webinars, signing up to the blog etc.  

In Summary

In our work, we come across a relatively wide range of companies and marketers. What we see more often than not, are marketers that play by the same rules, regardless of their challenges and opponents. Marketing, content marketing included, is adversarial. You are competing for the attention of your audience, looking to engage them in a meaningful and lasting way. Just going through the motions, will not allow you to punch above your weight. One final word of caution about asymmetrical opportunities – they all have a limited shelf life. In 2004, the Red Sox won the championship by using the same Moneyball tactics of the Oakland A’s used in 2002. Today, most content marketers still rely on traditional content marketing analytics, metrics and stats. That creates a window of opportunity to operate differently, still at low costs. In time, this asymmetric window will be closed, so underdog marketer, your time to act is now.

Want to get Moneyballing Faster? Here’s how TrenDemon Can Help:

As stated above, you don’t need special tools, including TrenDemon, to find hidden opportunities in your data. However, TrenDemon’s Content Marketing Analytics system can help you find those opportunities faster.  Except for defining your goals, TrenDemon can help you with every step of the asymmetric operation described above. It can help you measure and attribute the influence of your content marketing on your business goals and outcomes. Our attribution system will easily show you which articles, traffic sources or events impact outcomes and revenue. Regarding finding hidden success predictors, we’ve  recently released in our Content Insights report a new AI-powered indicator. It’s called the Boost Badge and it enables you to quickly see which content should be promoted for which selected goal, based on different engagement and performance parameters we see that serve as the best predictors.

TrenDemon Content Marketing Analytics

Lastly, TrenDemon’s personalized and automated content recommendations, will automatically promote those top performing articles to your visitors, based on those success predictors and position in the journey. Read this post for more on how content personalization can help with attribution.