Confessions of a Content Creator: I Don’t Care About Data

Gut: Hey Brain, want to write something that’ll almost certainly expose us to massive criticism? 

Brain: Uhhh, no? 

Gut: TOO LATE DOIN’ IT HERE WE GOOOO!!!!

As a content creator, I don’t really care about data.

There. I said it.

Don’t misunderstand: I know I’m supposed to care about data. I’m supposed to end that opening sentence with, “…but I’m working hard to improve my analytical chops.”

Buuut I’m not.

Instead, I’m working hard to improve my creative chops.

I know I’ll look far better if I claim that I’m data-driven. I work in tech. I work in digital marketing. My professional life seems to require that I beat my chest to intimidate the other gorillas about how data-driven I am.

I know I’m supposed to say I care a ton about data. But, well … I just don’t.

Brain: Okay, that’s enough. You’ve had your fun. Can you stop? We have a career to worry about. Think of the children!

Gut: Hold onto your butts! (Brains?) I’m not done…

Here’s the thing: I’m far from alone in feeling this way. There are others like me, others who create content for a living — damn good content at that — and we don’t really think about data all that much. We’re walking among you right now, working on your teams, attending your meetings, nodding at our CMO’s shouts of MQLs and monthly lead-gen metrics.

We pretend to care. But we don’t really care.

We really care about our craft. We care about making things others like, nay, love. And as it just so happens, this is the skill that many businesses are starting to realize they need but can’t often find. Not caring about data and only caring about the craft seems insane, but it’s made us valuable to companies and clients and customers all the same. Because rather than get 1.2x the results through optimization, we strive for 10x the results through creation.

After all, we may not care about the numbers, but we damn sure care about producing the things that produce the numbers.

Look, I know I’m supposed to care more about data. I know that. I also know I just can’t shake the feeling that if I bet it all on my creativity first and foremost — and maybe talked to customers second, third, and fourth-most — I’ll be okay.

I know I’m supposed to start with the data, but I just can’t. Look what it makes people care about!

Take SEO as an example. I know I’m supposed to care about SEO, but honestly, I think SEO is the biggest waste of time for 9 out of 10 people in the marketing world. (I worked for Google. I’ve seen how the cat sharpens its claws to casually swat away marketer mice.) SEO is never the best place to start (that would be “talking to customers,” for those scoring at home). It’s also rarely the type of thinking that generates actual, useful content — nevermind beautiful or memorable (imagine that!). Whenever someone says enough’s enough and writes that SEO should be about writing for humans, not bots, tons of marketing people respond, “Of course! How brilliant!”

Um, wut? That’s not brilliant. That’s not new. That’s ALL THERE IS!

Then there’s growth hacking. I know I’m supposed to care about growth hacking, but honestly, I think it’s a bunch of overpromised bullshittery. There is no one hack to unlock sustainable growth. There is only hard work. There is only craft. If you buy into growth hacks as a real thing, then I have a magical black billiards ball I’d like to sell you.

Brain: Please just don’t go next where I know you’re going next.

Gut: Sorry for partying…

Take ROI.

Brain: Damnit.

I know I’m supposed to care about ROI, but honestly, I don’t. I just freaking don’t.

ROI tends to be a phrase used to hide. It’s a way to justify that something worked in the past or something worked in the near-term, and so it’s worth pursuing. But things worth doing rarely have a precedent. Things worth doing rarely work in the near-term. ROI is a phrase that blocks people from moving outside a tight band of time that stretches from 3 months prior and 3 months ahead.

We’re scared, so we say “ROI?” and we hide.

We’re scared to stick our necks out and take risks without mitigating all of the potential risk away. What’s that saying though? Nothing ventured…?

We’re scared to push back on our boss, even when we know he or she is wrong. We’re scared to bet on our intuition, even when we know it’s right.

What’s the ROI of my work? I proudly can’t tell you. I can tell you that everyone in the market we’re trying to reach can’t get enough of our stuff. I can tell you that human beings like good things that make them feel good. But can I say, “42?” No. And I don’t care.

The short-term thinking. The tips and tricks and secrets. Our obsession with this stuff — because we have to measure it and get results right now — prevents us from admitting what we all should have admitted when the phrase “content marketing” first emerged:

This is about making great art.

That’s a scary word in our space. Why?

This.

Is about making.

Great.

Art.

Art, art, art, art, art, art, art. MAN, that feels good to say out loud.

We should have admitted that long ago. We should have admitted that creative Talent with a capital-T is THE differentiating factor in content marketing. It’s the source of step-function growth instead of incremental. It’s the shift from “thinking like a publisher” to being a world-leading publisher (with a better, thriving business model to boot).

We should have admitted long ago that content doesn’t scale quite like buying ads; that this stuff isn’t a middle school field day where we all get trophies; that this is about having a more creative mindset, a more audience-first approach, and a deep love of craft.

This isn’t easy. This isn’t something you find on a listicle. This is a a ruthless battle to out-work someone else, generate the best ideas, hire the best talent, and produce the most creative and most beautiful and most resonant ART!

We should have admitted all of that a long time ago. But here we are, racing to the bottom.

So, care about data? No thank you.

Gasp and clutch your pearls all you want. “But, but you’re being too emotional here! But, but SEO is a great tool that can– and, and everyone on Medium is writing about– but, but we have monthly metrics to– and, and we have proof and processes and science!”

No, shhh-shhh, stop that. You’re not listening. I KNOW THAT.  Just as I know the sun comes up each day, I know data is valuable and I’m supposed to care.

But I just … don’t.

Is it bad? It might be bad. I don’t actually know. I just know it’s how a lot of us feel — the same lot of us who companies can’t seem to hire fast enough.

So, no, I don’t want to care. You care. You do it. I’m just hoping to build a career by caring about craft. I’m just hoping to do good enough work to make others FEEL SOMETHING in a world where they barely spend time with anything. I’m just hoping to avoid someone telling me to do more down-the-fairway, blend-into-the-noise, just-do-that-thing-again junk because “that’s the best practice.”

Brain: This is all sounding way too much like you, Gut. What’s your point?

Gut: I’m getting there, dude. Don’t get your medulla in a bunch.

Here’s my point: We’ve gotten so hot and bothered about “being data-driven” that we’ve now undervalued creative intuition. And when an asset is undervalued, what should you do?

Buy.

Brain: Damnit, even I have to agree with that logic.

BUY: Execute on your intuition. Follow it and see where it takes you. Ship a lot of work. Tinker on side projects. Put yourself out there.

BUY: Hire people not because their resumes fit some kind of mold but precisely because their portfolios break it.

Look…I know everything in this article is utterly insane.

I know that. I do. I’m no dummy. My brain is fighting against my gut here, urging me to stop saying all this, but my gut is winning out. Do I know that I’m right? No. But I feel that I am. So maybe I’m right.

Because maybe when everything is devolving into a search for shortcuts, maybe if we found joy in the process of creating itself, for its own sake, rather than trying to skip to the end, maybe we’d actually get BETTER results.

Maybe.

Maybe when people love to claim that art is the wrong idea, maybe THAT is the wrong idea. Maybe real artists ship more and better work than anyone else thinks possible and, in doing so, hone their intuition to be right more often.

Maybe.

Maybe automation and outsourcing and everyone’s desire to find and follow the listicle is simply making us all replaceable, because the goal becomes more cheaply and quickly following the list. So maybe if we tinkered on side projects to strengthen our creativity and improve our craft, we’d become absolutely irreplaceable … to our companies, to our customers, and to our audiences.

I don’t know for sure. But I feel it. So maybe.

Because in a world so obsessed with what the data says should be the best practice, the question we need to be asking ourselves is: “What if we crafted our own?”

I may not know if anything I just wrote is right. But I don’t care. Because I feel it.

What do you feel?

 

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Content Creator: I Don’t Care About Data

  1. I feel this is bold.

    I’m fairly confident this opinion is not sustainable across a career. But this is a bold, clever, provactive piece of art.

    I like it.

  2. Great thoughts. I’m a very data driven marketer, and I’m bummed that it’s become such a frickin cliche to say that. I think some of your points are always going to be true, while other are sometimes going to be true. Take the SEO example – learning SEO teaches you a whole lot about the internet in general, so it’s definitely worth caring about. I would say that in content marketing, there is a time and a place for art, a time and a place for data, as well as a time and a place for the combination of the two. Ignoring either one, or putting too much focus on just one, would be a mistake. Which one you should skew to depends on your audience, right? Sounds like a cliche again, haha, but what can you do. What I’ll do is keep your article in mind when I’m putting my data to work, and go tweet out your article now. Good call on writing it.

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