5 ways to test out your content ideas on a shoestring

Estimated reading time
4 minutes
5th May 2020
Author: Dani Mansfield
Posted in: Content operations

Performance-driven marketing involves a more careful allocation of budget, even when funds aren’t under pressure. A/B testing is a common way of making sure you back the right horse when choosing which messages to invest in – especially in paid social campaigns and newsletter subject lines, where it’s possible to control the number of people a message is exposed to. But you don’t need to do a scientifically rigorous A/B test or use any special software to get insights that steer you in the right direction. When it comes to making the most of your resources, especially when budgets are short, it’s better to use the tools and channels you have available to test an idea before you invest heavily in it. Don’t go on gut instinct alone.

Think of your content assets as products. Product developers don’t start by releasing a fully polished and evolved version of a product. They start with a minimum viable product (MVP)  – a version that is evolved just enough to test out the hypothesis at the heart of an idea. They then evaluate user response to the MVP before deciding if and how to evolve the idea into a more fully fleshed product offering. This same thinking can and should be applied to your content operations. Before you go investing in an all-singing, all-dancing video, or a 60-page thought leadership report, test your ideas in a simpler or less costly format across your owned channels – a minimum viable product version of the content idea. Here are five ideas for how to do so.

Marketer editing a blog post

1. Use blog posts to test ideas for long-form content

Blog posts are cheap and quick to produce, which makes them great as an MVP format. Before you invest the time, effort, and potential design costs into a thought leadership report, write blog posts on a selection of ideas and compare their engagement rates. Which has the highest avg read time? Which has been shared most? These are the kinds of metrics that show the degree to which a topic is cutting through. Take the top performer and build out that topic into a full content plan for your report or guide. 

2. Use simple social video tools to test a concept or parts of a script

Before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on professional video production, test out elements of your idea or script in a simpler and more affordable video format to get a sense of whether the joke hits home or the opening pain point resonates enough to get people watching. You might have access to support from colleagues with video skills that can help you pull something together, or you can use easy-to-use video making tools like Canva to create something simple.

Recording video of a person on iphone

3. Use self-taped video to test ideas for webinars

Simple videos can also be a good way of testing the waters on which webinar topics to pursue. One effect of Covid-19 is our familiarity and acceptance of lower quality video footage, captured on smartphones, tablets, or laptops, in channels we otherwise would expect prime quality. This was already fairly common on certain channels, like social media. Self-tapes are simple and virtually free to produce, provided you have some kind of recording device. They are a great way of introducing an argument, theme, or discovery in a personal way and seeing how well an audience responds. The angles where you succeed in spurring discussion or noticeable engagement are your top contenders for an appealing and successful webinar.

4. Use organic social media to test newsletter themes

If you don’t have access to email A/B testing software, or your targeted list isn’t large enough for your platform to run one, you can always test out ideas with your organic social posts to identify the most effective wording and curiosity gaps. It’s not going to be a perfect test, but click-through rates can help you craft stronger subject lines, as well as identify the best things to include in your newsletter. Or, if you don’t have access to publish on your social channels, see whether the social team would be willing to flag top performers to you that might help performance on other channels like email.

Close-up of gmail

5. Use email to test ideas for e-courses

If part of your content strategy involves the development of an e-course that helps educate your customers, you don’t have to jump all in on producing a multi-media course. Write a series of educational emails on a given theme that get sent out to those who sign up on a daily or weekly basis. Signups will show you how much interest there is in learning about a chosen theme. You’ll also be able to see how interested people are in the different topics within the theme by comparing email engagement analytics. That way you can improve, replace, or simply leave out underperforming elements of a tested theme when you move ahead with creating a more evolved (and expensive) version of your course.

What do these ideas have in common?

These five examples all use highly affordable and accessible formats and channels to test your ideas. But being agile and data-driven in this way requires you to break down any silos in your department so different channel owners can collaborate more easily and there’s transparency around results. For instance, those who manage email need to work closely with those who own social content, and with directors looking to launch programs like an e-course. Smaller businesses will likely find this fairly straightforward, but enterprises may find it takes concerted effort and time to break down some of those walls. But it’s worth it!

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