With over 70,000 blog posts created every month (on WordPress alone–that number is much higher if you consider all publishing platforms), it’s increasingly challenging to capture—and keep—your audience’s attention. Content marketers constantly look for unique and innovative ways to drive traffic, increase brand awareness, and reach a wider breadth of customers, while differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack.
One of the most successful ways to achieve these goals is through data-driven content. More than just another buzzword, data-driven content can transform your marketing strategy, making it more efficient and increasing the return on your investment. Businesses that embrace this approach are six times more likely to report achieving competitive advantage in increasing profitability (45% vs. 7%).
So, what exactly is data-driven content? In short, it’s content that uses customer analytics as a targeted marking tool. Data-driven pieces take specific information that you’ve collected about your users to effectively market a product or service directly to your target demographic.
Data consists of information such as what the most popular shoe color is for the season, to support a brand like Nike, or the average number of miles traveled per year and per state, to support a brand like Southwest Airlines. You can even get as specific as what the top songs are on marathon playlists for a music streaming platform like Spotify.
Leveraging data that your customers identify with allows you to create something new and valuable to your customers. In turn, they engage with your content and may develop a deeper level of trust in your business.
Let’s take a look at why data-driven content is a boon for content marketing strategists, as well as the top five tips for creating a successful data-driven content piece.
Benefits of Data-Driven Content
Integrating timely, accurate data into your content is important for several reasons, not least of which is its rising popularity among marketers of all industries.
Data-driven content also increases your brand’s expertise, authority, and trust, also known as Google’s E.A.T. factors. Google uses these factors when determining which content ranks for certain keywords, especially in industries that focus on consumers’ money or health. It’s important to position yourself as an authority within your industry to increase brand loyalty and trustworthiness.
Other benefits of a data-driven content strategy include:
- Gaining deeper insights into your customers or users, leading to more targeted and forward-thinking engagement strategies, and therefore a higher ROI.
- Featuring the right content at the optimal time to reach your audience while reducing the cost and effort of throwing out a larger net in hopes that you catch something valuable.
- Offering timely, newsworthy, highly clickable content that’s more shareable on social media.
- Understanding your competition to stay one step ahead. By analyzing competitors’ traffic patterns and content similarities against your own, you can make informed decisions on producing unique, valuable pieces that set you apart from the pack.
What Counts as Data?
To set up your content strategy properly, you’ll want to understand what types of data are best for delivering the results you’re looking for—and just as importantly, what does not count as true, reliable data.
We define data as “factual information generated from experiments, surveys, or testing,” from which we ultimately make decisions and form conclusions. There are two primary categories your collected data will fall into: qualitative and quantitative.
- Qualitative data is that which is non-numerical. Rather, it’s observed firsthand and recorded through methods like interviews, surveys, and focus groups.
- Examples of qualitative data: Users usually prefer blue CTA buttons because they are more inviting; they find red buttons aggressive and off-putting.
- Quantitative data is entirely numerical in nature. It can be precisely measured, verified, and used in statistical analyses. Quantitative data can be collected through A/B testing, site experiments, and polling.
- Example of quantitative data: Users click on blue CTA buttons 63% more often than red buttons.
Conversely, data does not include opinions or untested conclusions. Essentially, any number or statement that isn’t backed by documented and collected evidence, be it qualitative or quantitative in nature, is not reliable data.
5 Steps to Creating an Effective Data-Driven Piece
There are a variety of approaches to executing a data-focused content strategy, and it can be hard to know where to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though—in fact, you can boil it down to just five simple steps:
1. Determine Your Topic and Its Purpose
Be specific in your topic’s purpose. Having a clear “why” for the data you’re using paves the way for a piece that speaks directly to your audience’s needs and is more likely to get the traffic and conversions you’re looking for.
In fact, your “why”—the unquestionable purpose for doing the work you do—is what your entire content strategy should ultimately circle back to. In the words of author and cultural anthropologist Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do—they buy why you do it.”
Disingenuity is easily spotted and discarded. For your audience to trust you, they must be clear on your purpose, and that purpose should be evident in every piece you create. As Sinek says, “If we want to drive transactions, we make a pitch. If we want to build loyalty, we make a friend.”
To that end, it’s important to know your target audience intimately to generate relevant topic ideas. In addition to basic demographics, understanding your customers’ pain points and interests allows you to use the appropriate language, statistics, and imagery that will capture their attention quickly and gain their trust.
2. Execute a Thorough Research Strategy
The reach of your resulting data is heavily dependent on the depth of your initial research—so don’t skimp on the front-end work. Doing a comprehensive competitor analysis reveals what else is out there on your given topic, giving you insight into how you can offer a different perspective.
Similarly, a content gap analysis will highlight topics that may be in the current content landscape, giving you the opportunity to add your voice. This effort also helps you choose the most appropriate data-gathering methods to get the answers you’re looking for.
It’s important to note that existing data is not always fixed or absolute. As seen in science, different tests and experiments often deliver varying results based on a variety of factors: the phrasing of a particular survey question or the time of day the test or experiment is conducted. This can be beneficial to you when searching for an alternative angle or approach on a topic that may already seem well-covered.
3. Choose the Appropriate Data Type
Based on your topic, determine how you want to collect your data. This may be influenced in large part on whether data already exists for your given topic, or whether you need (or want) to collect your own.
First-party data stems from information, both qualitative and quantitative, that you’ve gathered on your own. You can use existing reports and test results, run your own surveys and polls, or do interviews or focus groups to obtain the info you’re looking to highlight. Examples of first-party data include:
- Conducting a survey
- Feedback from a social media poll
- Using existing data/reports collected from your customers
- Internal numbers comparing product app vs. desktop use
- Winning results of an A/B test on your site
First-party data gathering is a bigger investment but often results in higher returns—especially in the areas of trustworthiness and thought leadership. After all, you’re positioning yourself as the expert.
There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of existing data, as long as it’s serving your unique point of view. If you find studies that you can repurpose to support your angle, you can save your own valuable resources for different initiatives that may require gathering first-party data.
Make sure to use reputable sources and publications for your third-party data. Journals, industry magazines, and newspapers are excellent resources, as their data typically goes through stringent fact-checking or peer-review processes.
When using third-party data, always make sure to properly credit the original data source. Open-source statistics are a great way to get verified information that is available for anyone to use. Examples include:
4. Visualize Your Data
Visual data is important, not just because it’s memorable, but because many people prefer it. One study about learning styles (visual, kinesthetic, and auditory) showed that 73% of students preferred a specific learning style, and of those, 45% of them preferred visual learning. Which means, when it comes to informing your audience, using infographics, charts, and graphs are vital for effective content marketing.
Creative, bold, and easily understood visuals make your content more engaging—and ultimately more shareable. Make sure that your visuals paint an obvious picture of the story you’re trying to tell. Ambiguous statistics leave users with more questions than answers.
5. Amplify Your Data-Driven Content
Your meticulously crafted, data-driven content piece is only as effective as the PR strategy behind it. While each company has its own approach and philosophy, three critical elements of an effective data-driven content PR campaign are:
Having a clear coverage strategy helps you not only reach your target audience quickly and effectively; it also avoids wasting time and resources reaching out to avenues that are less likely to be fruitful for your specific content. While it’s helpful to diversify your approach to garner maximum engagement, it’s even more important to consider where your audience actually goes most often for its information. For example, do they subscribe to tech publications, or are they more engaged with Instagram posts? Use your data to determine where your audience “lives” to create a strategy that appropriately touches each of those areas with the right kind of content.
Just as with your target audience, you’re far more likely to catch the attention and interest of journalists and publishers by leading with your highest-leverage data in your outreach pitches. This establishes you as an authority in your space and proves your content’s value at the outset. Your piece instantly becomes more credible and newsworthy—plus, it helps you cut right to the chase without wasting your publisher’s time. The faster you can get to your point with data, the faster they’ll see how useful your piece is to them. Also consider to whom you’re pitching. Knowing your target publishing audience is just as important as writing for your customers. For instance, your approach to a New York Times journalist may be quite different than that to a pop culture blogger.
In today’s hyper-connected online environment, a solid social strategy can make or break your PR campaign. Promoting your piece on social channels—whether it’s your own or your publishers and influencers, helps you reach hundreds or even thousands more people than just your target audience. This occurs through shares, likes, and paid promotion tools. Social promotion has also become one of the best ways to increase brand trust and loyalty through person-to-person interactions. Social platforms are also where the beautiful visuals and rich media you created will get the most bang for your buck. They’re more likely to capture the online audience’s ever-shrinking attention span, which is now an average of 8.25 seconds, lower than a goldfish’s attention span of 9 seconds.
Data-driven content not only enhances your brand’s engagement levels, but also establishes you as an authority in your space, with a reputation for interesting, timely, and shareable information. Competing for your customers’ attention becomes much easier once you’ve put in the time and effort to know their wants and needs. Start using tailored, data-driven content as part of your marketing strategy and see the myriad benefits you can reap down the road.