Can You “Moneyball” Your Content?


What should we talk about?

There is, perhaps, no question more frequently on the minds of content and marketing practitioners. The answer is often weighed against beliefs about how successful the topic will be. In other words, given the choice of what we want to talk about, vs. what we think should talk about, we almost always prioritize predicted success over current desire.

Many businesses believe we can (or should) “Moneyball” our content.

Businesses try to optimize content creation by finding the one (or few) statistical factors that seemingly matter most. Then they work on optimizing that metric as the core of success. The book and movie Moneyball told the story of how Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane focused on budget and players that get on base as the success metrics to optimize. These two numbers guided the acquisition of players, when they played, when they were traded, and how they were coached.    

I’ve seen this play out in marketing, too. A content marketing director from a large financial services company recently told me how their web and analytics teams had run the numbers with predictive software. They concluded that content created against a particular set of keyword topics would be much more popular (or “engaging) than what the content team wanted to create. And more engaged traffic was the web team’s focus.

The team begrudgingly created the content against those topics. Sure enough, it was indeed “more popular.” They ranked higher in organic search for those terms, and traffic increased. The web team was successful. But they didn’t create more revenue, increase leads, or even create more subscribers to their publication.

They Moneyballed their content. But the content team was unsuccessful.   

Over the last 18 months, I’ve seen software companies promising more and more capabilities to predict success – not of what you’ve created, but of what you should be creating. Hollywood has been trying to perfect this approach for the last 20 years – predict what stories will be successful before we invest the time and money in telling them. Most recently, Legendary Entertainment – the company behind huge hits (Jurassic World and Godzilla) and colossal failures (The Great Wall and Seventh Son) – famously employed an analytics division of 60 people to apply the Moneyball concept to Hollywood.

But both Beane’s Oakland A’s and Legendary Entertainment’s focus on Moneyball techniques had shortcomings. Legendary’s hit-vs.-flop performance was about the same level as any other studio’s before its sale to a Chinese real estate company in 2016. Predicting the box office success of any one movie turns out to be easier than predicting the profitability of the portfolio. And while the Oakland A’s made the playoffs every year from 2000 to 2003 and the American League West Championship in 2006, they never made it to the World Series.

Neither movies nor baseball are zero-sum games. Balancing an analytics approach with traditional human scouting in baseball and creative artful storytelling in the movies leads to long-term winning.

So what should we talk about? Maybe we should use information to better inform the question. In the book The Haystack Syndrome, business guru Eliyahu M. Goldratt wrote, “Maybe we should define information not as the data required to answer a question, but as the answer to the question asked.” Because then, he adds, “Information is not input to the decision-making process, it is the output of the decision-making process.”

In marketing, we often ask the question, “How can I use this data to make a decision?” In other words, we use data to set goals. Goldratt suggests the opposite. We should decide, set goals, and then use predictive data, analytics, and the technology that power those things as the information that helps us ask better questions and set new goals.

As I’ve said before, data shouldn’t be the driver of our decisions. We drive. Data rides shotgun. It finds the great radio stations with us and sings along with us. And it helps us read the maps to reach our desired destination.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Do you need help on this topic

Schedule a free consult to discuss your needs.

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Scroll to Top