Using data to improve your content marketing

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article that suggested data is “the next big thing” in content marketing. The author made the case that as more companies are creating their own content to promote their brands, they’ve thus far “missed out on one of the hottest trends in the world of traditional media: data journalism.”

As someone who spent much of his life practicing journalism, I’d dispute the notion that using data as the basis for a story is a hot new trend. In fact, I know journalists who were using relational databases to do data-driven reporting decades ago. This rather large umbrella term also includes the time-tested reporting method of developing stories based on hours spent poring over property tax records at the county clerk’s office, campaign finance filings at various elections departments, or other government records.

And indeed, data journalism is a best practice. No matter what form of storytelling you employ, using data is the difference between telling and showing. As a journalist, I could tell readers that certain property owners appeared to enjoy sweetheart property tax assessments, or I could show them the numbers and prove it. Likewise, I could tell them that a candidate was supported by certain interests or I could show them the campaign finance data to drive the case home.

What is different now, of course, is that today’s data storage and computing power dramatically increase the volume of data and the ease with which one can get access to it. Spending hours examining paper records or microfiche is a thing of the past—and furthermore, data isn’t solely in the hands of units of government or big businesses. Data is everywhere, everyone collects it and, increasingly, expects it. No matter your industry, your company is in the data collection business. So it follows that you should take advantage of opportunities to use that data in telling your company’s story.

Some companies have jumped on the data-driven content bandwagon because, in the social media age, they recognize the popularity of maps, infographics, and other visualizations in creating viral content. As my coworkers have noted, the ability to present the data graphically in a fashion that is both visually appealing and readily understood is, more often than not, a critical element in making the most of your data.

Using data is old hat in sales. You can tell a prospect how your consulting services can improve their business, or you can show them the real cost savings, increased revenue, or increased productivity your clients realized as the result of those services. But your marketing department should also be using those figures—and in thoughtful, creative ways. In working with one of our clients on an article on heavy asset management, for example, we not only articulated the concepts and benefits but also drew data from the experience of a company that applied those techniques to detail how the approach had improved performance in various areas of their operation.

In some cases, finding the right data might take effort, but often it’s information you already have. Beyond sales, you can tap the many other streams of data in the company—HR, IT, internal client surveys, and so forth—to offer insight that is relevant and helpful to current and potential clients. Just as making business decisions based on data is now the commonsense norm, using data in your content marketing will help you tell a better story and, in doing so, distinguish your business from others.

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