[Microsoft] had no documentation or poor documentation, some people would choose other products.”
At Microsoft’s TechEd Conference, Information Technology (IT) professionals responded to a survey asking them to attribute a percentage of a product’s purchase price directly to documentation. The average value those IT professionals placed on documentation was 11.5 % of the purchase price. In a survey of Microsoft Visual Studio customers, each person was asked to assign a percentage of the value of Visual Studio to features, content, ease of maintenance, and availability of support. Those customers rated documentation as providing 37% of the value of the product.
Clearly, content is valued by our customers.
Attacking the Problem
Determining the value of content is a problem made more difficult by the many ways content is created, disseminated, and consumed. Like many large companies, content publishers at Microsoft develop, acquire, produce, and manage a wide range of content in many different formats, such as
- Help files that ship with product CDs/DVDs
- User interface text
- Microsoft Press books
- Game content
- Learning products
- Customer support content
- Web content (including MSN, Microsoft.com, Office Online, MSDN, TechNet, and more)
Microsoft created a company-wide team to investigate the value of content. We wanted to help content teams 1) understand and measure their own value and 2) help those teams communicate content value in ways that are meaningful to management.
We chose to help content teams by creating a Content Value Kit. The kit contained a vision of how content would ideally be viewed at Microsoft, methods for measuring content value, and specific case studies for each method—with real data—so others can see how one group used the method successfully.
Aligning Our Efforts
Our team began by creating a vision. We needed a statement to rally around and give direction to our efforts.
Vision: Microsoft embraces content as a key competitive advantage in every product and service.
- Management recognizes content as a business requirement that has impact on customers and the bottom line.
- Every content publishing leader can explain to management how his or her deliverables impact business results.
Our initial goal was to define a single, one-size-fits-all formula that provides the answer to “The value of my content is: X.” However, we soon determined that there is no single, universal measure of the value of content. In fact, the value of content can be measured in multiple ways. We identified six broad areas of content value. You typically must consider many or all of these areas to truly capture the value of your content. The areas we identified are
- Content contributes directly to revenue
- Content enables self-help and reduces support incidents
- Content enables customers to deploy, use, and extend Microsoft products and services
- Content increases sales and drives adoption
- Content drives customer feedback into product and service improvements
- Content helps to avoid costs associated with legal, security, privacy, and geopolitical compliance
The Search for Case Studies
We looked for content teams that thought they had a best practice and then worked to quantify that best practice into one of the six methods. After about six months of work, we had case studies for every method.
A common misconception is that any team can just take a formula from a method, plug in their data, and presto, they have, in minutes, the answer for how to measure the value of their content. In reality, the formulas and case studies are examples of how other groups discovered the best way to measure the value of their content. Each team that wants to measure the value of content needs to do the hard work of creating case studies for their own content, with their own data.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few case studies by method. I’ve abstracted general information that any company can apply.
Method 1: Content contributes directly to revenue
Direct sale of content
Direct sale of content is the easiest way to show the value of content. If you create content that is sold to the public, the profit made on content sales is your simplest content value measure.
Advertising can be used to generate income and is another way to measure value. For example, if a web site contains financial information, advertisements about financial services may be appropriate and a good way to generate revenue.
Converting trial versions to product purchases
Potential customers may be looking at content before making a purchase decision. If your business offers trial versions of a product, the documentation can provide links to get trial versions.
Businesses that provide product updates can provide links to new trials and versions. Readers certainly don’t want product pushed upon them but if a new version offers an easier or better solution, the reader may welcome the chance to try or buy the new product. A web site can measure how many trial versions were actually converted to a full purchase.
Method 2: Content enables self-help and reduces support incidents
Show how publishing targeted content reduces support incidents
If you can calculate the cost per customer support incident, you can measure content value. Identify a key customer issue and measure how many support calls occur per month. Multiply the number of calls by the cost per incident to determine what it costs overall to service this issue. Then, create and distribute content that directly addresses that customer issue. Finally, determine the percentage reduction in the number of support incidents in the following months to calculate the savings created by providing content to resolve the issue. You need to be sure to subtract the cost of your content production to determine net savings.
Show how community work reduces support calls
Research firms have published metrics for calculating the return on investment of forums and blogs. By gathering data on how your employees participate in forums and blogs, you can calculate the net return on your community work investment.
Method 3: Content enables customers to deploy, use, and extend our products and services
Show an increase in customer satisfaction following documentation additions or improvements
Periodic surveys of customers before and after the release of content may show an increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Show how content saves key customers money
Work with customers to find out if content saves valuable time or money. Content may allow a customer to bring a product to market faster or may allow the customer to deploy or use a product without hiring additional outside help.
Collect feedback from influencers on how content affects their usage and perception of a product
Surveys, such as those referenced previously (MVP, TechNet, and Visual Studio surveys) can reveal how content impacts your customers’ perceptions.
Analyze and share usage and quality metrics for online content
Online content lends itself to tracking which topics are being accessed. You can use online metrics to learn what content is frequently accessed, what content is rarely accessed, and how much time customers spend on a content page.
Method 4: Content increases sales and drives adoption
Track how content influences sales
In our search for case studies, we found examples where customers were looking for a specific piece of content before closing a sale. Working closely with the sales team may reveal what content is critical to customers and help make the sale. These case studies, where content helps close a deal, are a powerful way to show content value.
Compare your content offering to the competition
Once you’ve compared your content offering to the competition, you can determine where your content has advantages. Use content to differentiate your product and map those content advantages to your customer influencers.
Method 5: Content drives customer feedback into the product
Track comments for a particular product or task area that indicate customers may be having difficulties
While creating content, track the product issues you encounter. These issues can be fixed either in the product or by improving the content. Show how preventing these issues provides your company substantial savings.
Roll up themes from customer feedback into scorecards
Scorecards can be used as a simple way for executives to see the impact of your content. Roll up your customer feedback on content from multiple sources and identify trends that indicate either product issues or opportunities for product improvement.
Method 6: Content helps to avoid costs associated with legal, security, privacy, and/or geopolitical compliance
Find a historical incident and measure the costs, as well as employee time spent mitigating the issue
An actual historical incident can help you quantify the value your content provides by helping your company avoid similar incidents. You might train your content developers to look for potential issues and work with appropriate departments at your company when necessary. The absence of issues is considered success.
Calculate costs due to non-compliance
You may be able to gather industry data that calculate the money spent due to non-compliance. If your content helps your company comply, that is an important part of the value of your content.
Which Method Should I Use?
Table 1 suggests when you might use each method.
Where to Look for Data?
Many resources inside your company can help you gather the data to create your own case studies using the methods mentioned above. Look for data in these teams:
- Content Publishing group
- Human Resources
- Product Development group
- Web Analysts
- Research firms
Call to Action
First, start by having the conversation in your business group about what value you think your content delivers.
Second, identify how you can start to measure that value. Can you use one of the methods described above?
Third, create a case study as you gather and develop your own data and formulas. Tune, tweak, or create a new method if needed. Partner with other teams in your company that may look for similar value measurements.
Fourth, start measuring. The process is just as valuable as the results.
By estimating the value of your content, you will be able to identify content with high value and content with lower value. You can use this information to realign your business to focus on providing the content that is of most value to your customers and your company.
It will be a great day when every content publishing leader can explain to management how his or her deliverables impact customers and business results. As a content industry, it’s time to value our content in ways that are truly meaningful. We can do this. Let’s discover how we truly provide value to our customers and our companies.
About the Author
Alan Theurer has worked for Microsoft since 1996. He is currently the Senior Content Publishing Manager for Windows Embedded products. Alan is responsible for the creation and deployment of content that helps developers bring devices to market—devices such as Ford Sync, ATM machines, retail kiosks, digital picture frames, and portable navigation devices. Alan has 20 years of content experience including Web-based and print-based content.