Don’t Let Data Drive Your Content Marketing

Too many people are bragging about doing “data driven content marketing,” and they’re missing out on the most important aspect, the human element.

There are times you have to throw the data out, and make decisions based on your gut feeling. Rather than being driven by data, why not let random chance and serendipity do its thing once in a while.

People who are driven by data will never make a decision without consulting the analytics oracle, and as a result, will miss great opportunities because the data didn’t give them permission.

Data should measure what you’re doing and tell you if you’re doing it right or not. Data should not make your decisions for you. You don’t work for data, it works for you. If you’re one of those people who consults spreadsheets about where to go for lunch, let alone what kind of content to publish, unclench a little and try something new.

Content Marketing Starts With Small Blocks

My son at the Lego Store in Orlando. There are all kinds of Lego statues throughout the store.

My son at the Lego Store in Orlando. There are all kinds of Lego statues throughout the store.

First of all, content creation is not hard. It starts with small building blocks — a blog post, a tweet, a photo, or a two-minute video. It’s not just 30 page white papers or 2 hour webinars.

Any 12-year-old Lego builder can show you amazing creations built with the smallest of blocks. Eventually, they’ll all combine for some epic large-scale creations that were pieced together one block at a time.

This is as true for Legos as it is for that single piece of content you’ve agonized over — tested, revised, A/B tested, subjected to committee review — for the last three weeks. You can build a great campaign with a lot of little blocks in a way that you can’t with five giant slabs.

When it comes to the small content blocks, there’s no time for the data to tell you what every single post and tweet should say. If you do, you’re overcomplicating things.

Your data should influence the overall theme those content blocks will become, but human intuition should be the driving force. The data should tell you whether it’s working.

Sometimes You Just Have to Ignore the Data

A few years ago, I was working with a client whose SEO specialist had created an editorial calendar based on SEO data and predictions. We decided to ignore writing about their product and cars for the umpteenth time. One of their dealers did a lot of work with boats, so we thought we’d see what happened if we wrote about that for a change.

“No one visits our site about boats,” said the SEO specialist, citing the data.

“That’s because we’ve never written about boats,” I said.

Two months later, our boats post was the second-most visited page on the entire blog, behind the main page. And the total traffic for the next three posts didn’t even equal that of the boats post.

Had we listened to the data, we never would have written about boats. Had we let the data do all the driving, we would have missed a great opportunity. As far as we can tell, the client has been one of the only companies talking about this particular issue, and it’s benefitted them greatly.

When you let data drive your content, you’re just one short step away from “we’ve always done it this way.” That’s when things get super boring, and your audience leaves or dies in their sleep.

For years, the data told web editors wanted shorter and shorter blog posts, until the #longreads movement began. Now people are digging into 2,000 – 10,000 word stories and sticking with them until the bitter end. “The data” told us people didn’t want long stories, but now “the data” is showing us how wrong it was.

If people had listened to “the data” the first time, the art of long-form writing could have disappeared for many people. Instead, by trying something new — by letting humans do the driving — we now have the chance to read long read stories from BuzzFeed, LongReads.com, and Grantland.com, ESPN’s website created to meet the growing demand for long stories.

If you’ve ever abandoned a story idea because the data didn’t support it, ignore the data, publish the story, and see what happens. The worst thing that will happen is “nothing.”

Nothing will change, nothing will move. No one will abandon your brand because you wrote a single blog post that deviated from the data-driven editorial calendar. But you may find a whole new rich vein of ideas and topics that you can mine for weeks and months.

If you’re letting your data drive your content calendar, the wrong person is in the driver’s seat. You have creative people for a reason. Take the keys away from the bean counters, and let the creatives go to work, and then measure their results. Let’s see what happens if you put data second and ideas, and people, first.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Great post! Loved the Lego metaphor and yes, the focus of any successful business is on actually engaging with people. You can obsess about all the charts and graphs and analytics there are, but none of that helps when you ignore the importance of unique, creative content.