Why Our Content Sometimes Flops: Intent vs. Impact

Have you ever said something to one of your loved ones that you meant to be comforting, only to have them react differently than you expected?

Have you ever made a piece of content you were super proud of, only to have your manager wrinkle their nose?

When we say something, we often have a reason for doing so, even if we don’t think about it. The way our statement affects those that hear depends on the stories they are telling themselves, which confirms what they want to hear.

The same is true for any of the choices we make as we express ourselves, either in our real life, online, or at work.

In this post, we explore the ideas of intention vs. impact and how they operate within content marketing. We also explore short- and long-term intentions vs. impact. Let’s unravel, then weave together these concepts.

Intent and Impact Defined

When we think about the relationship between impact and intention in both short- and long-term timelines, it can be helpful to think about the current accepted definitions. I pulled these from Oxford Languages.

 

Intent

  • intention or purpose
  • resolved or determined to do (something)
  • attentively occupied with

Impact

  • the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another
  • the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another
  • to come into forcible contact with another object

 

For example:

Intent is the Throw

Impact is the Catch

 

Intent is the Joke

Impact is the Laughter 

In Marketing

Intent is when the marketer creates an automated post containing a cute piece of content that they hope will make the audience smile.

Impact is the reaction to the content that would have gotten a great response one day blows up in the marketer’s face because a crisis happens and the post is now wildly insensitive.

The difference between intent and impact is the divergence of the desired result and the actual result. Our brains like to feel that they are making the right decision, so we continue to tell ourselves stories that confirm the story that we are living in.

Sometimes the impact of a marketing post is lackluster, despite the excitement of its creator. Maybe the joke is too niche and only the creator or people who work at your brand think its funny. What performs on the Zoom call doesn’t work on Twitter.

Intent is the Goal   

Impact is the Result

 

Intent is the Your Actions

Impact is Their Response

The Disparity Between Intent and Impact

What causes the difference between the intent and impact of a piece of content, marketing campaign, or brand strategy?

The difference between intent and outcome is the difference between what we expected to happen and what actually happened.

It’s a difference in expectation vs outcome.

From there, we can think about how short- vs long-term intent and impact relate.

Short-term:

  • Short-term intention is hoping to evoke a quick emotion or direct an action. It has impulsive, more immediate desired outcome.
  • Short-term impact is the first reaction of the viewer and how that content affects them in the next few hours or days (if at all).

 

Long-term:

  • Long-term intention is trying to make your brand memorable.
  • Long-term impact is succeeding in creating an experience novel, emotional, or useful enough to begin fostering a positive feeling.

There’s often a mismatch between the short-term intentions and the long-term impact. What works to get someone to click your content might not be enough to keep them coming back to your blog.

Detach Intent From Impact Using the Scientific Method

The hardest part of intent vs impact in marketing, and in life, is that it feels a lot like failure when something doesn’t impact the way we intended.

A really easy way to handle this is to look to science. It doesn’t matter if the hypothesis is correct or not. Pay attention to that. There is no wrong answer to the hypothesis (except maybe never answering it).  In an ideal world, there would also be no attachment to the outcome/impact.

The scientific method involved creating a hypothesis, which is based on information and research collected by the science. They are making an educated guess as to what they outcome will be. That means they have an intention to find out if their hypothesis is correct or not, but they aren’t attached to it being right or wrong.

When they determine ways that the outcome can be proven, find ways to measure those outcomes, and then find tactics to look for outcomes. This way, the tactics are ways of testing for the hypothesis. Trying a tactic doesn’t mean it has to work. You’re using it to find out what is actually there. To shine a light on what is already there.

Detaching Intent From Impact Makes Everything an Experiment 

When you act with intention, without the expecting the desired outcome, you don’t gain any karma in this lifetime.

Just kidding.  That’s just what certain philosophies say. And it really does set you up for less disappointment when you use whatever method you need to detangle trying a tactic with that tactic actually working.   That means drawing up measurements or a visualization of what you imagine a tactic working would be.

The impact is what happens in comparison to the desired outcome. To measure impact, determine what you can measure. How does it compare to your ideal? Is your ideal realistic?

That way, you don’t waste your time on tactics that might be doing more harm to your brand’s impact. In an ideal world, you use tactics for a period of time, see if they are working, and then decide whether or not that tactic is “working.”  That means how close your intent and your impact are.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You may change your intent to align better with the audience impact.
  • You may change your tactics.
  • You may change the way you measure.
  • You may change your ideal or definition of success.
  • You may change on when you decide an experiment is over.

When something doesn’t work, it gives up an opportunity to try something else. Give yourself a time limit for trying something. When something isn’t working, practice non attachment and being adaptable to changing tactics as the environment demands it.


Also published on Medium.

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