URR: A New Marketing Metric That Just Might Be the Key to Better Content
Before he retired, my high school basketball coach was famous around the state of Connecticut — not for his teams’ success (we were in the state finals my junior year and dead last my senior year) but for his odd brand of sideline antics. He would stamp his feet repeatedly to pantomime defensive intensity for his players, mop sweat from his brow with his tie, and generally strain so much as he shouted, veins would bulge from his neck and his skin would turn bright red. His entire look added to the fun, too. Picture the stereotypical balding white guy, with the halo of hair encircling his head. Now squash him down to a 5-foot, 5-inch, slightly hunched frame, and roast his skin in the sun until it’s a nice leathery wrapper around all the unbridled rage.
(High school basketball was fun, you guys…)
After every game, Coach Pal would slowly waddle into the locker-room like a cowboy fresh off a long ride, peel his jacket off his sweat-stained shoulders, wincing all the while. He’d stare at the floor, one hand on top of his bald, glistening head. Then came a monologue in a hoarse whisper about some kind of grandiose idea he pulled from the game. He thought he was being profound. (Narrator: He wasn’t.)
But for all his flaws (and there were many), even that guy knew enough to evaluate his players with a degree of nuance. Yes, even the worst of basketball coaches look beyond the most obvious statistics to understand what’s working, and what’s not.
Someone ought to tell marketers.
In basketball, the number of points a player scored tells just a fraction of the whole story of whether or not a player is valuable to the cause. After all, some players excel at defense, others set screens or dive for loose balls. Some players provide the necessary three-point shooting threat that causes opposing defenses to spread out, allowing the team’s scorers to drive to the hoop — even though that three-point shooter didn’t assist directly, in any attributable way, to the eventual basket.
Some players score, some players set up the scorers, and most set up the players who set up the players who set up the scorers. It all works in unison as one coherent system, and lest I beat a sports analogy used to explain business things to death, I’ll end by saying this: If a CMO coached a basketball team, you’d watch five teammates on the court, each hogging the ball and trying to score the moment they touched the ball, and you’d lose every game. And why? Because the only way we tend to “prove” something is working in marketing is by looking at our own equivalent of points scored: direct marketing metrics (leads, sales, and similar).
Just as a successful basketball team requires a well-rounded roster of complementary players, so, too, does a successful marketing approach. It’s about the portfolio of things you do, not any ONE thing driving THE result, RIGHT NOW.
Yes, some things you do are indeed focused on scoring directly and frequently, but the vast majority of things you do — things which genuinely do make it easier to “score” — only have indirect, sometimes vague or even non-existent stats to tell if they’re working. You need a portfolio approach to the things you do AND a portfolio approach the way you tell something is actually worth doing.
The Podcast Measurement “Problem”
A podcast is a great example of one of those things which has indirect if not vague if not entirely nonexistent stats to determine it’s working for a brand — that is, unless you’re paying attention.
Podcasts get blasted by too many marketers as hard to measure. Over and over again, I hear from people about how their problem is a lack of data. The solution, they believe, is more data. The real solution, I think, is that they need a different kind of data — one which is better tailored to the actual project, and not yet another way to attribute “points” to something. Because only some things exist to score. The rest exist to set up the thing that sets up the thing that sets up the thing to score.
We need a more nuanced approach, one which recognizes what “data” means in the first place. We’ve completely lost sight of this simple fact. Data is not numbers, nor must data be generated automatically by a tech platform. “Data” simply means information stored for later use. Another way of saying it? Information which helps you take action.
Thus, acquiring data doesn’t require a tracking pixel, any more than using data requires a chart or graph. Data is information stored for later use. When someone tells you something, or you observe something, or you generally absorb the world in any form, at any time — that’s a form of data, so long as you (A) store it and (B) use it to take an action later.
When the objective is building a passionate community around your show and your brand, what kind of data would be useful to store and use? What information could you gather that can inform your next actions? (Those actions might be: kill it, keep going as is, or — and this is the most likely result — change something.)
How will you know that you’re meeting the true goal of earning trust and love? How can you tell if your show is working — or any high-quality project focused on depth and resonance?
Me, I like using URR, a totally made-up metric that I created solely for the purposes of podcasting which, if you believe the goal of marketing is indeed trust and love, you can use for evaluating any experience. URR is among the most powerful types of information to store and to use to inform later actions. Also, URR is an acronym solely because, apparently, if it’s not an acronym, you won’t take what I’m about to say seriously. With all that said…
URR: Unsolicited Response Rate
URR stands for Unsolicited Response Rate. In other words, to accurately understand if anything built for connection and community is working, rely more heavily on qualitative “metrics” than quantitative. (Consider the “Three S’s” of measuring the created work: stats, surveys, and statements. We overindex on stats. We sometimes send surveys, which are powerful in their own right. But for my money — and yours — I’d bet most heavily on consistently gathering, investigating, and using the third bucket: statements. What are you hearing from others? Who are they, and what did they teach you? How does that inform your actions next?)
Just think: A show is built expressly to hold attention, not just grab it. Whether inside one episode or across episodes, the goal is total time spent, which then earns us trust and love over time. This idea of earning things before the audience takes action is nothing new. Consider the “zero moment of truth,” popularized by Google’s retail team, which talks about how the brand’s trust and love earned ahead of a shopper entering a store or an ecommerce site can inform which brand they reach for, without thinking, without considering others. Again, the idea that we must earn things over time first, to then see any benefits, is not new. Unfortunately, because of the popularization of analytics tools, and the even more popular and (extreme sarcasm font) not at ALL sensationalized blog posts about How We Drove 6,500 Leads in 3 Days with This One Ad … the result is [gestures broadly at the marketing industry].
Make no mistake: The real job of a marketer is to earn trust and love. Do that, and everything else we could possibly want happens easier, happens more. As a result, your brand’s show has a powerful role to play within that mandate: time spent, depth, resonance, and other apparently “softer” things that (surprise!) have a way of turning into cold, hard, ruthless reality. They love you and take actions that benefit you, or they don’t, based on depth of their affinity towards you, not the breadth of your reach.
Publishing a podcast show is effectively saying to the world, “Here, friends, I made something I expect you to spend 10, 20, 30, 45, or 60 minutes with, several times per month. I expect you will voluntarily give me literal days of your finite life on earth.” If that is what you’re basically doing and saying to the world, and you hear NOTHING in response? Oof. Chances are, the work’s not working.
I think of this like building an offline, in-person community. If you hold a two-hour meetup, and nobody comes up to you or contacts you after to rave about it (or at least offer their ideas), chances are good that the event didn’t resonate. You’ve learned something. That’s information, stored for later use. (It gets even more useful when you dig more and ask questions and interact.)
The theory of the show is that greater time spent yields greater results. People only spend time with things they consider among their favorites, and nothing more. In a world of infinite choice, they’ve chosen you. You can’t trick or optimize your way into creating a 10+ minute experience they want to stick with and, more crucially, return to. When the goal time spent, the only “tactic” that works is to provide a genuinely worthy experience. And given that people only invest time into what they like, over time, you develop deeper trust and love. Done across many individuals, that’s how a community forms. (Indeed, a podcast is intimacy that scales.)
So, given the theory of the show, and just how choosy people can be with where they spend time, and just how much time is required to earn trust and love, rare indeed is a passionate fan or loyal community totally silent. If your content is met with silence time and time again, you don’t have a measurement problem. You have a product problem. The content you’ve created simply isn’t doing its job.
Theoretically, something built for resonance will indeed trigger a response — one which you needn’t solicit directly. Sure, you can tell them how to reach you and ask them questions and even schedule time with your audience. But you shouldn’t need to run a contest with a prize just to get people to share. You shouldn’t gather quotes with the intent to write a case study. It shouldn’t feel like a favor. It should just … happen … because they felt compelled to speak up publicly to others or privately to their friends or to you, as a direct result of experiencing your work. The true test of your brand’s ability to consistently serve the audience and keep resonating over time is whether or not you hear from people at an increasingly positive rate over time. The total number you hear from should go up. The percent of total people should become more vocal. The caliber of people you hear from should improve.
Bottom line: Less “click to share,” and more creating stuff actually worth sharing.
But the TYPE of sharing matters a lot here.
The Specific, Magical Type of Sharing (or Responses) We Want
If someone posts an original thought as a response to your latest tweet, or they write a review on their blog, or they send you a private email because they were moved to do so, that’s a strong signal you’re onto something. It’s not merely a bunch of shares of your headline and link that you want. It’s a very specific type of response. (Again, this might actually be private and not on social media, as with emails to you or their friends, or texts to friends, or simple spoken mentions to friends. This is why it’s so helpful to ask people how they found you. It surfaces those friend to friend relationships that are otherwise hidden.)
Think of your own experiences navigating the wide world of content on the internet. Imagine you post an original thought to LinkedIn about your favorite business podcast. Picture a friend or connection on Twitter asking, “What’s your favorite business show?” — and you instantly have an answer. Think about a newsletter you receive to which you felt compelled to reply or a podcast you listen to which triggered the urge to suddenly text the episode to a friend. (“Wow, you NEED to listen to this…”) These acts require you to spend two very precious, very rare resources: your time and your reputation. URR only works if others invested time and their reputation, staking their names to whatever they’re saying publicly or privately. There’s social and personal currency attached to every recommendation, every question you email someone you admire, and every single thing you share to others whose opinions you value.
When faced with friction, and people respond anyway, your work has deeply moved them. A podcast listener tweeting an original thought is more valuable than someone quote-retweeting you, which is more valuable than someone simply hitting RT.
I recently discussed “URR” with Ben Ruedlinger, the Chief Innovation Officer at Wistia. (Disclosure: Wistia is a presenting sponsor and partner of ours, so Ben and I talk to each other regularly, though I’ve been close to the Wistia team since about 2012.) I told Ben about this idea of others “investing” their time and reputation on our work, and he had a great reply: “I’d call it a bet. You’re not just spending your time and reputation to say something. You’re hoping for a return.”
Brilliant! Whether because that newsletter subscriber wants to be heard and/or interact with the writer, or a listener wants to boost their credibility as a tastemaker or intelligent friend by recommending a podcast, when we post an original thought, we are betting our time and reputation. Here’s a little bit of my time to publish this … and a little reputation inevitably at stake. I have placed my bet. I believe I’ll come out on top here.
We share things and interact with people as a form of our own relationship with and identity in this world. Sharing is never just sharing. It’s an attempt to say, “I’m smart/woke/funny/relevant/rebellious/optimistic.” Recommendations are never just recommendations. They’re tiny little bridges we build between us and someone else. “Hey, friend, I love this show. I think you will. I’m looking out for you, and we can share this in common, too.” Recommendations are about connection. Sharing is about identity. Responses are bets we place with our time and reputation — the bigger the response, the bigger the bet. (That’s why someone writing about you on their blog or newsletter is a greater response than clicking a button to re-share something.)
URR is a way to effectively understand: Did this thing which was intended to resonate deeply resonate deeply? If someone is betting their own time and reputation on you? You betcha. If not? You better keep working on it, or kill it.
The problem with marketing measurement is not “we can’t measure it.” The problem is we often measure the wrong thing. Worse still, we misinterpret why we measure things. It’s not to prove the direct result, right now. It’s to arm ourselves with information which we can store and use later — to get better, to improve, to serve others more deeply.
One of the classic questions in the approach known as design thinking is to ask, “How will we know this is working?” Our response tends to be the marketing equivalent of the basketball team’s most obvious stat: “Points!” But we not every player is out there to score, so why would we evaluate their success based on points? Each player should thrive in their own role, and each role exists as a complementary piece to form a thriving whole.
There’s no one way to do any of this work, and there are undoubtedly many barriers standing in your way to use URR as a viable metric in your work. But if you really truly want to do the hard but meaningful work of creating deeply resonant things, creating community, and earning trust and love, I’d urge you to do the simple first step: try.
Stop measuring every single thing using the marketing equivalent of points in a basketball game. Most things aren’t actually meant to score, but they facilitate scoring — often, in very indirect, vague, or even invisible ways. Some things just don’t show up in the stat sheet at all. Nowhere is it written that because something isn’t measured by an automatically generated chart, it’s automatically not worth doing. When someone thinks like that, they’re trying to ensure success — and yet that very way of thinking hurts their ability to succeed.
Likewise, the goal of measuring things isn’t to merely justify your work to a superior.
The goal of measurement is improvement.
We want this to resonate. Is it actually resonating? With whom? How can you tell? What did you learn, and how can you get better the next time?
Don’t try to systematize URR, at least not yet. Just start by looking for it over the next few weeks. If you don’t see or hear anything, well, you’ve found the real problem. If you do see responses that got through the friction, if you notice people placing bets on you with their time and reputation, then do everything in your power to save it and learn from it. Store it for later use — then actually use it, in your planning, your production, your reviews and internal discussions, everywhere.
That’s what data is. Not numbers. Not charts. Not automatically generated reports. That’s a fraction of it all, and clinging solely to it leads to a fraction of your possible success.
Data is information stored for later use. Ask yourself: What will we store, and how will we use it to make something even better the next time? Start by understanding all the types of information you could look for and use. Ignore URR at your own risk.
Just picture it: a diverse array of purposes behind a diverse array of players, with an equally diverse way to ensure things are going well. That is how you can create a well-rounded team, and well-rounded teams have a funny way of doing the thing that “points” are supposed to help you do in the first place: win.
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Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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