Data Vs. Creativity: The Content Marketer’s False Choice
I was at a conference last week where Adobe VP Marketing Insights & Operations David Welch was asked to sum up the future of marketing in six words. His response: “Creative thrills, but data pays bills.”
As a writer, I had to respect his ability to turn a phrase. But I also felt a twinge of remorse. We’ve all accepted that data can and should be a powerful driver of our marketing activity, but most of us continue to prioritize creativity, as well.
Of course, we’ve come a long way from the Mad Men days when a stroke of creative genius was prized above all else, and a well-delivered pitch was your ticket to greatness. John Wanamaker’s famous quote — “Half of my marketing dollars are wasted; I just don’t know which half” (paraphrased) — isn’t as true as it used to be for digital advertising and marketing.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of content marketing — and in fact, the percentage is even worse.
According to SiriusDecisions, 70 percent of marketing content never gets read. To CMOs and CFOs, this is a heartbreaking waste of money. To a content creator, this is a heartbreaking waste of time and effort (which I would try to argue is actually more heartbreaking than money; but, my CMO will probably read this article).
In a world where SEO headlines are prized above all else and data is considered a marketer’s most valuable asset, content marketers are often left out, and it’s hard to say why. Is the problem that we’re not using the data and being too creative? Or vice versa?
Data & Creativity
It’s a bit of all those things, or more specifically, it’s that we haven’t figured out how to make data and creativity work together. We’re measuring everything, but the insights we collect aren’t actionable. We’re still being graded on how much we produce, or whether our animated video is cuter than our competitors’; but then, we’re asked to prove the value in numbers.
For B2B marketers, it’s not about gaming the system or going viral, data and analytics are the way to gain essential knowledge about your audience and understanding how they experience your product and content. When we get that data, we can use it to devise a well-informed content strategy and optimize it as we go.
Stop Counting Pageviews
If you’ve never been stopped randomly in the hallway by an exec who wants to know, “how many people are reading our blog,” then you probably haven’t been doing content marketing very long. If you’re lucky, you know the answer, and it’s not “11.” But in reality, 11 would be a great answer if you could confidently say, “11 total: 7 of our hottest prospects and 4 companies that are currently in pipe.”
Although you have the tools to track all kinds of fascinating things with analytics, what you really want to know is how your content is impacting the specific companies your sales team is trying to sell to.
From a strategy perspective this analysis comes in two parts. First of all, you want to be able to report on what companies are consuming your content. Secondly, when a deal closes, you want to be able to look back at the content they consumed along their journey so you can evaluate what works, and what doesn’t.
Swap Personas For Segments
As a B2B content marketer, you’re not writing to please the masses. You’re writing for specific segments of business visitors. In all likelihood, your sales team, and quite possibly your demand gen team, have clearly defined audience segments they’re trying to reach. These segments are based on business attributes such as revenue, industry, region or company size.
You, on the other hand are probably creating content for “Director of HR” or “CIO” or “DevOps Lead,” etc. Of course, your content strategy should be mapped to these segments. If you’re using regular analytics to count pageviews, and your CMO is wondering why your content doesn’t convert, it could be because you’re not actually targeting the right segments with your content.
Not only should you be creating content for each of these valuable segments, you need to measure how it performs within each of those segments. Additionally, understanding how much of your web traffic comes from each of those segments will help you to determine how much time to devote to creating content for those groups.
Really, Really Understand The Account Status
Depending on who you talk to you, there are three or four phases of the buyer’s journey. Translated into plain English, they are:
- When they don’t know who you are
- When they’re interested in learning who you are
- When they’re about to buy
- When they’re customers
Ask any sales person if the process is really that straightforward and you might be surprised. In reality, buyers do not move forward in a linear way, and there are several subtle touches amidst the big milestones. As a content marketer, if you’re not keyed into the nuances of account status, it’s hard to know if your content is working or how to outline your strategy for the next quarter.
That means closely tying your own metrics to CRM data to understand how they correlate. What types of content drive prospects to the next stage? Is the answer different for each segment? What are your most powerful messages, formats and channels? Once you get this information about your current prospects and customers, you can replicate it and optimize your strategy.
Enough About Data, When Does The Fun Start?
Now that you’ve collected all the necessary insights, it’s time to take action. That’s when the creativity comes in. You know who you need to reach, when you need to reach them and how to measure success. But you can’t engage customers with data.
Data helps you map the buyer’s journey, but creative is what carries your prospects and customers through it. Data certainly can “pay the bills,” but not without creative that thrills. Now if only I could say that in six words or less.
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
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