Understanding the value of content


It’s always been hard to calculate the financial value of digital content, especially content like product specs and customer help and support. Since this content doesn’t drive revenue, the business focus is usually on the cost to create it rather than the value it adds to the customer and business.

Having a cost view ignores the effort and attention invested and therefore how to allocate the right budget and resources. In the long run, this lack of understanding can harm user experience and business needs.

The elusive value of content

It costs money to produce and maintain digital content – written or visual. The costs are usually well known to the business and include expenses like staff salaries and related expenses, software expenses, and operating costs. These costs can be accounted and budgeted for from an accounting perspective.

However, it isn’t easy to connect these costs to income generated by people using your digital information to understand, buy, and use your products. Businesses know it adds value and contributes to income, but just how much can remain elusive.

I had direct experience with this when I estimated the productivity gain for aligning content creation between two teams. I spent ages working it out, and when I proudly presented it to the Head of Digital, he took one look at and said, ‘OK, that makes sense, but how will it impact on my budget and how can it help me reduce headcount?’ I have been on a mission to find the answer to that question ever since.

Digital content and content assets supporting sales and customer service

Content that supports the sale and use of your products has many essential jobs to do, including educating, inspiring, engaging, connecting, and encouraging. These content assets are any content type that has long-term value to the business. Here are some examples:

  • Copy and images on websites and other digital channels such as apps, and customer portals

  • White papers, case studies, blog posts, user documentation, videos (instructional or brand)

  • Error messages and alerts

  • Product information and specifications

  • Customer care and support information

  • Product use documentation and instructions

  • The copy in sales processes and funnels, apps, customer portals

  • Error messages, next best activity messages

  • Email nurture flows and content

  • Gated content

  • BOT or virtual assistant content

  • Instructional / how-to videos

  • Content management systems

  • Content development assets, such as glossaries, terminology standards, and editorial guidelines

  • Content models

  • Localisation assets, especially translation memory and multilingual terminology

The value increases when content assets can be created once and reused in multiple variations, channels, formats, markets (localisation), or shared with different business units.

It is also worth mentioning that the value of content assets can erode if effectiveness and performance isn’t monitored, and content is not regularly maintained.

Content adds value by:

  • Informing people about your business, products, and services

  • Persuading people to choose a specific product

  • Helping people to understand your product features and benefits so they can choose the right product to meet their needs

  • Helping people complete sales processes and other transactions like bill payments

  • Reducing  the need to call customer support by providing online help

  • Helping existing customers self-serve to solve their problems

  • Supporting your reputation and brand

I’ve used lists like the above to explain content value for years. While it’s a fantastic list of benefits/value, I’ve often felt a ‘so what’ hanging in the air. How exactly does this list help businesses make and save money? How do these valuable user experiences show up on profit and loss statements and balance sheets? How do they help a business budget for the creation and maintenance of their content?

Accounting principles and content value

“Good content delivers business value.”

— Sarah O’Keef ‘Content accounting. Calculating value of content in the enterprise’

Businesses understand that content contributes to income to some degree but creating the link to financial gains is hard.

Then I read Sarah O’Keef’s white paper ‘Content accounting. Calculating value of content in the enterprise’ and I discovered there could be a way to connect content to income.

O’Keefe describes how to use accounting principles to develop a framework for calculating content value. Call me a Content Strategy geek – but this is one of the best things I’ve read in ages!

Content that has long-term value to the business is an asset and delivers business value, whether it is for sale directly or not.

Her content accounting framework creates a link between creation cost and income generated. She suggests that content assets contribute financially to five business needs:

  1. Revenue generation

  2. Cost avoidance

  3. Competitive advantage

  4. Brand image

  5. Compliance

My next blog will explore how content can add value to each of these business needs so stay tuned next month.


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