A Too Serious Post on ROI

By on December 26, 2013, in Blog

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Jessica Lawless, on Santa’s list of 2013 gift posts.

Society saves seven dollars for each dollar spent on early education, or so the United Way has told us for years. This is the argument for giving to organizations like the United Way – the promise of a return on investment and the selling point for companies to let loose the coffers.

Stats like this are important. But they also bum me out. Not the numbers themselves, but the fact that they’re necessary in the first place – that we aren’t willing enough as a society to freely give for educating our children because we know it’s right, that we must manufacture a metric that proves our good deeds are indeed good.

It bums me out that we give because it’s cost-effective, not because it’s worthy. But I get it. We want the biggest bang for our buck – especially if those bucks are hard to come by.

If this sounds familiar, then there’s a good chance you’ve sat in the break room of a small business trying to squeeze a larger budget, convincing the owner that the current estimate is bare bones; that spending money on content strategy is not just important but necessary.

If this sounds familiar, then there’s a good chance you’ve been asked to prove the value of content strategy. The hitch, of course, just as with societal giving, is that we don’t know the real value until years have passed.

We can show short-term gains through analytics, and we can point to case studies by other companies, but there’s still a huge gap between convincing a client of content strategy’s worth and actually quantifying it.

And that’s okay.

We’re at a point in our industry when some clients can’t be convinced, or require a level of convincing that goes beyond what the project requires. Some small businesses require an extra level of attention, but others are continually suspicious and are more work than they’re worth.

Our job? It’s to be understanding, and empathetic, and to do right by our clients. To be honest when we’re asked “how do we know this will work?” by answering truthfully: “We can’t promise anything, because we cannot predict the future.”

We do not have an exact metric that proves the question of content strategy, just as we don’t have metrics that prove the value of certain design trends or certain content management systems. But we do have a community that’s willing to share successes and failures, and we have insight through past projects and analytics that can inform our decisions.

We can provide the best thing, even though we might find out down the line that it’s not The Right Thing™.

That’s where we are now. Just as the fields of learning psychology and education reform are constantly looking for better and more efficient ways to teach, we will continue to adapt our methods in order to build a set of metrics we can use for future projects.

Until then, we can only hope to convince people of our worth. And if we can’t, we can always remember that even early education fought this battle – one of the most obvious benefits of a first-world society still struggles to be accepted – long before the $1:$7 ratio was found.

Not every project will buy in. And that’s okay. Because not every project deserves our attention, and the hardest thing we learn as content strategists is when to make that distinction.