Data and content is a marriage made in heaven

Content is one of the hottest areas of interest in the marketing community today, and so is data. Clare Hill, managing director of the Content Marketing Association, says together they are even more powerful.

Clare Hill: the managing director of the Content Marketing Association
Clare Hill: the managing director of the Content Marketing Association

Content marketing agencies love data. I know this because here at the CMA we've just commissioned a series of essays under the heading Content Marketing and Data Intelligence.

The report, our first in a series looking at the key trends in content marketing, was published earlier this month.

It's a great read and, as you might expect from the CMA's diverse membership, offers a wide range of stimulating perspectives and great case studies on the use of data in content marketing.

There's no doubt that the use of data in content is growing. We surveyed our members, and 90 per cent say they are currently using data to inform their content strategies, 83 per cent say they'll use even more in the immediate future.

Data tells us, for example, that:

  • Adding a video to your website increases dwell time by two minutes
  • Putting video in an email subject line increases open rates by 19 per cent
  • The average car buyer consults 18.2 sources before making a purchase, but 40 per cent end up buying one that was not their favourite, and 21 per cent buy one that wasn't on their initial consideration list
  • Complete video view is twice as high on mobile (0.49 per cent) as desktop (0.24 per cent)
  • iPad users individually spend more than desktop users but account for only 12 per cent of total value spend

It's not hard to see how valuable that information is for content marketers and how it can influence, not only content strategies, but also content itself.

But, our survey shows, there's room for development. According to our members, about a third of clients still don’t give their content agencies access to data. As and when they do, the marriage will become even more powerful.

This matters for two reasons. First, data can drive both accountability and performance. Together, those two forces will help content marketers prove the effectiveness of what they do. As that happens, so client marketers will become even more confident about the role content can play for them, and budgets will rise accordingly.

So what insight does the report offer? The CMA’s membership includes agencies focused on performance marketing like iProspect and MEC Organic Performance (a division of media agency MEC), agencies with backgrounds in broadcast (ITN Productions and Red Bee), specialist content outfits such as Seven, John Brown and Cedar, and publishers like Time Inc.

They all come at data from a different perspective.

For example, iProspect analysed more than one billion Facebook impressions exclusively for the CMA to see how different Facebook formats drive different behaviours, and which device works best for which purpose.

The answers in brief – video viewers spend more than photo viewers, and desktop is more popular for e-commerce than mobile or tablet.

Its research demonstrates that, in the right hands, data can be a real goldmine for content specialists.

So too does MEC Organic Performance’s analysis of what makes content shareable, something close to the heart of all content marketers. Among its findings – editorial content is the most shared type, and people share because it reflects well on their personal brands.

Of course, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by data. The data hose, as specialists call it, spews forth billions of data points every day. So how do content marketers deal with that?

Red Bee Media explains, how for Hyundai, it split data into two types – data that helps tell a story, and data that tells you about the customer journey. The result was an award-winning video series (http://creativems.redbeemedia.com/news).

Another approach is to combine data sources. Search data, Headstream writes, is an indication of user intent. Social data, on the other hand, can be analysed to reveal insight into user profiles, including demographics and interests.

The strategic pairing of these two different types of data helps marketers get a better understanding of their customers at different stages of the purchase journey and to serve up the right content at the right time. As a result, a customer who is "just looking" for information can be ushered along the purchase funnel.

Just as it's important to sift the tiny particles of data for gold, it's also vital for marketers to stand back and take in the bigger picture. For content specialists who use data to inform editorial strategies, this really matters.

As Andrew Saunders of Time Inc points out, "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted".

So while data tells content marketers many things, it’s not as good as telling them about less tangible issues like tone of voice. The answer, he says, is to ensure that there is the right mix of data analysts and content creators to examine the evidence and explore solutions.  

One way is to use data to drive small, marginal gains in content performance which, in aggregate, add up to something much larger.

Data can also be used in real-time, as ITN Productions demonstrates in its essay, urging marketers to think about the role of data in the context of a "newsroom" approach to creating relevant content.

But it also works the other way round, as Matt Potter of John Brown Media shows, the mere act of creating content generates valuable data from interactions such as events, crowdsourcing and customer or reader contact. He calls this the sawdust effect – a change from the usual "data as oil" metaphor – and cautions content marketers not to discard it. 

What these essays demonstrate is that, for content marketing specialists, data and content work together in harmony. The old idea that that there’s science (data) and art (creativity) – and the two don't meet – is archaic.

It's welcome evidence that, far from shunning data, The CMA's content specialists, whatever angle they come from, have embraced it. Their perspectives are insightful, stimulating – and perhaps even challenging.

Contact the CMA at clare.hill@the-cma.com for more information.

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