Our Data Shows Deadlines Will Improve Your Content Marketing ROI By Nearly 2.5x

If you want action, add a ticking clock to the mix. Hollywood has been using that formula for years. Think of the bomb about to detonate (Speed), the person about to wake up (Inception), and the game about to end (every sports movie ever). Back to the Future wouldn’t have been much of a movie if Marty McFly could return the DeLorean to 1985 whenever he wanted.

A race against the clock supplies stakes and consequences. It compels us to complete important tasks with urgency. That’s also true for more than just movies. Our jobs may not consist of saving the world, but work deadlines can still have a powerful impact on our effectiveness and content marketing ROI.

To find out the impact due dates have on marketers, Contently’s data science team studied the workflows of more than 13,000 pieces of content. Of course, merely setting a deadline doesn’t guarantee you’ll finish a task. Procrastination is the ultimate foil, and conquering it requires a specific type of deadline.

How external deadlines affect content marketing ROI

My to-do list is hellish. Cross off one project, and there are three more ready to take its place. You can probably relate to this stress. I’m not interested in sympathy, but what I am interested in is prioritizing deadlines. In college, I could’ve majored in procrastination if English didn’t work out. I’ve gotten much better, but it can be hard to juggle the articles, e-books, video scripts, and webinars with all the Slacks, emails, and meetings.

Some of these tasks have deadlines, and some of them don’t. Even the ones that do can be tricky if the deadline isn’t documented. One common piece of advice asks people to set personal deadlines before an established deadline. But no matter how good our intentions, those private plans usually don’t work. We push back dates, promise ourselves that we’ll get to it later, and never finish it when life gets in the way.

Consider a 2002 study conducted by behavioral economist Dan Ariely and marketing professor Klaus Wertenbroch. Ariely and Waternbroch gave their subjects a proofreading project. People were split into groups and instructed to follow three different deadline schedules. Subjects received 10 cents for every error they corrected but were penalized $1 for every day they were late completing the project.

Simply setting deadlines improves content marketing efficiency by 2.5x.

As the researchers discovered, “What is clear from our empirical evidence is that procrastination is a real behavioral problem, that people strategically try to curb it by using costly self-imposed deadlines, and that self-imposed deadlines are not always as effective as some external deadlines in boosting task performance.”

contently platform workflow

Recently, Contently’s data science team ran its own study to see the effect public deadlines were having on the work our clients created. The team analyzed 13,598 stories produced in the Contently platform. The data set included written assets ranging from 250 to 750 words.

The results showed a strong correlation between setting deadlines for your content and completing projects quicker. Stories without any due dates took an average of 48 days to complete. Stories with deadlines for half of the workflow steps took an average of 28 days to complete. Lastly, stories with deadlines for every step averaged 19 days to completion.

In other words, simply setting deadlines improves your content marketing ROI by 2.5x in terms of production. Most people think of content marketing ROI in terms of audience engagement, but your efficiency could affect the bottom line just as much.

Percentage of steps with due date Avg. days to completion Median days to completion
0% 48 32
50% 28 22
100% 19 15

If you’re struggling to get things done, this is a basic principle worth repeating. Set an external deadline your team can see. You’ll hold yourself more accountable, and as our data highlighted, repeating these good habits should lead to a more efficient output and better content marketing ROI.

As marketers attempt to slow down, they’re going to focus on perfecting a few bigger projects instead of constantly creating shiny new things. These initiatives will have complicated workflows and plenty of moving parts. So if there’s ever been a time to improve your ability to hit deadlines, it’s now.

Image by iStockPhoto

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