The Never-Ending Cycle: Content Informs Data Informs Content
The most effective content is informed by strong data. The most effective data is driven by great content. But all too often these two don’t work in concert. This can be due to organizational siloes, in which the experts on data gathering and analysis – often found in the marketing operations team – aren’t talking to or collaborating with the experts on content – often located in the content marketing team. They probably have different goals, and different benchmarks. The lack of coordination can also be a symptom of different mind-sets and different backgrounds: The data-driven marketer will often have a technical or statistics-based background, whereas the content marketer may have expertise in writing or journalism. Both approaches are equally important, however, and the strongest marketing programs unite the two.
Data Is King
Data should inform all facets of your marketing strategy and go a long way towards removing the guesswork from marketing altogether. Data enables accurate targeting and identification of the common traits your customers possess across demographics like age, location, industry and income. Data also enables smart marketers to go one layer deeper and identify exactly what it is that drives their customers – status, safety, recognition or adventure, you name it. Once a complete, well-rounded profile of your customer(s) is created, you can then devise campaigns that target people with these characteristics, improving response rate and increasing your ROI.
Data also informs the best time to reach your customer. Sure, I may want to sign up for a new cable provider but not if you call me at 8 p.m. when I’m eating dinner – which always seems to be the case and actually has an adverse effect on my relationship with that company (I’m not naming names). By monitoring how and when people interact with your business, you can begin to see patterns and time your outreach accordingly. As with accurate targeting, this will also greatly improve response rates.
In this age of extreme customer expectations brought about by the likes of Amazon, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. With this in mind, marketers can and must use data to tailor what they offer customers. If data shows the customer recently purchased a new phone, then they would be more receptive to being offered accessories. If data reveals a customer is typically frugal and purchases during sales periods, then a special offer would likely resonate.
As new channels continue to proliferate, it can become difficult to ensure that you are reaching customers in the right places. It’s impossible to be everywhere all the time. But never fear. By taking advantage of customer data, marketers can identify the channels their customers prefer (based on factors such as buying history and web tracking) and target them in those locations. For example, an offer made on Facebook may receive much less play than the same offer delivered via email.
No, Content Is King
With this ever-growing number of channels, it becomes all the more important for businesses to create the right content for each. Unfortunately, creating a few pieces of collateral is just the beginning. What works for one channel will likely not work for another. A casual Facebook post with a playful visual will not get as much play on LinkedIn, and a product press release on a company website would likely seem self-serving and overly formal if posted directly to the company blog. Given this, it’s important that you create content that is malleable enough (both in format and substance) to be repurposed for different channels, while still maintaining a consistent brand identity.
Take webcasts, for example. These can be repurposed in multiple ways: the presentation can be made available on SlideShare, attendee input can be rounded up and repurposed for a company blog post, data shared in the webcast can inform social content, and so on. This is a proven and effective trick. The best content marketers are able to squeeze every last bit of value out of a piece of content before shelving it.
Content also needs to be developed strategically, with an eye towards meeting customers at the right stage of the sales process with the right content and moving them down the funnel. This could take the form of a social media campaign to introduce the company, a video case study to demonstrate how other people are finding the product/service useful, and then a direct email to outline product features and pricing. The Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 Benchmarks Report addresses this head-on, finding that having a clearly defined strategy is a clear indicator of whether a content marketer will be successful or not.
Ah, Content + Data Reign Supreme
Sure, each discipline has its merits and is essential to the success of your business, but it’s only when you tightly align your content and data that you can achieve true greatness. Data-driven content will always be more effective than content created in a vacuum. Yes, creativity is essential, but content that is informed by data can be both smart AND creative. Customers are constantly interacting with your brand, and how they do so should inform how you create content. Customer personas should be front and center when creating your content. If you know who your customers are (given the data you have gathered), then you will know how to speak to them and what they’d be most likely to respond to.
Just as content relies on data, data informs content. An interactive infographic, downloadable white paper or customer webinar are all opportunities for gathering customer data. When integrated with marketing automation, details on how long your customers spent in a webinar and whether they downloaded content reveal how effective that content was, and yield valuable information about your customers: customer-driven data.
Older forms of content – books, print magazines and collateral distributed at trade shows – are all still relevant and important to varying degrees. But they lack that interactive element and essentially break the cycle of content-informs-data-informs-content, as they don’t feed any information back on if/how the customer is engaging with the content. The best content is that which gives back the right data on your customers, which can then be used to create the next piece of content – an ongoing cycle of continual refinement and redistribution.
Tricia Heinrich is the senior director of strategic communications at ON24. Her responsibilities include public relations, industry analyst relations and customer communications.
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