Content Marketing
Why Your Marketing Needs to be Data-Driven

Why Your Marketing Needs to be Data-Driven

September 15, 2021
18 min read

In this day and age, there’s no excuse for not knowing what your customers want. There are now a wide variety of tools that enable marketers to capture a range of data at particular stages in their marketing campaigns.

Gone are the days of mass, un-targeted broadcasting. The digital age has brought about widened reach, but pinpoint targeting accuracy.

Martech created an infographic that clearly shows us how marketing has evolved through time from push to pull marketing tactics.

In the 1960s, marketing was mostly used at a mass targeting level through direct mail and advertising. 20 years later, direct marketing was used along with computer processing to target specific segments of the population through direct mail and telemarketing.

In 1993, just as I graduated from college, web browsers were invented and email marketing began and flourished, and when Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, users became even more tightly connected to their mobile devices.

Fast forward to 2021, users are highly mobile and yet utterly dependent on their handheld gadgets to stay connected.

Marketing today is driven by data-backed research and customer information that can be captured at every stage in the buying process. We don’t need to guess what people want; we just need to know where to look.

Marketing needs to be data-driven to be effective!

If you know your target user’s behavior, goals, pain points, and challenges, you can develop marketing campaigns that cater to their specific needs.

Data such as a user’s browsing patterns, social media activity, online purchase behavior, and other metrics can help you focus your marketing efforts on what works. So, collect as much information about your target market as much as you can. This data will be at the core of any successful marketing strategy.

How to Make Your Marketing Data-Driven

Truly? Yes, truly. Let’s face it, most leaders of Marketing organizations – and many other types of organizations for that matter – talk a good game about the importance of being data-driven. It’s a good sound bite, in large part, because it’s both rooted in common sense and it embodies the modern in “modern marketing.”

But actually being data-driven is a very different thing. A fraction of organizations really nail it when it comes to having data be at the forefront of even most decisions. What are the keys to making the data-driven sound bite ring true? Here are a few…

1. Personalize Your Campaigns

According to The Global Review of Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising, a paper by MediaMath, MediaMath, The Winterberry Group, and the Global DMA, 53% of marketers claim that there is a high demand for customer-centric communications. Big data and innovative analytics tools enable marketers to create highly targeted campaigns with personalized communications.

With carefully analyzed data to back their marketing strategies, marketers have a much better idea of what and when to send marketing messages. This timeliness and accuracy increases the chance of striking an emotional chord with the audience and encouraging positive engagement.

2. Constantly Enhance Customer Experience

Customers want information that’s useful to them. Through data-driven marketing, campaigns are targeted towards a specific need. The Global Review… study also found that 49% of brands use data-driven marketing to enhance the customer experience by conducting satisfaction surveys and identifying areas for improvement.

Customer value analytics allow marketers to speed up the sales cycle without compromising on personalized service. Instead of undermining customer relationships, big data provides an omni-channel service that helps enhance the customer experience by making it consistent. Whether you contacted them via social media, over the phone, or through face to face interactions, customers receive the same pieces of information and undergo the same experiences.

3. Optimize Multiple Marketing Channels

Leads generated through Facebook respond differently to leads generated from the Google Display Network (GDN). This is why marketers need to create and implement their strategies according to which channel leads are coming from to optimize conversion rates

With data-driven marketing, you can identify which channel performs the best, and which message evokes the desired user behavior. You can also identify which content format works the best at any given time in any marketing channel—be it email, social media, or blog posts.

4. Increase Customer Engagement

Data-driven marketing facilitates more personalized content, which users show their appreciation for through increased engagement. Because your marketing message is relevant to their needs, users will be more likely to like, share, and engage with your content.

With increased user engagement comes brand trust, and with brand trust comes enhanced brand perception. In the long-run, this leads to increased purchases, loyalty, and advocacy.

5. Improve Content Quality Continuously

New information derived from metrics and data enable marketers to continuously improve your marketing content in tune with the customer’s ever-changing needs. Data-driven marketing helps businesses deal with new information and improve the quality of their products and services to keep up with changes in the marketing environment.

Being data-driven also improves the overall quality of your content, so long as you’re refreshing your database often enough. Areas this can improve are data completeness, standardization, accuracy, consistency, and integrity. All of which affect the efficiency of your data.

6. Focus on Your Loyal Customers

Don’t spread yourself thin. If you want to be quick about improving your data-driven marketing strategy, the best people to start with are your most loyal customers. These are the ones that set the benchmark for a successful plan.

Chasing after too many possible leads not only slows you down, but you can also end up losing both new and old clients. Because even though loyal customers are prepared to stick around for the long haul, neglecting them too long is going to drive them away.

Consider thanking them for your business, and gently reminding them of your great work relationship with an email or even a gift certificate. It takes very little to make them feel special and appreciated, as they should.

Implementing the right customer retention strategy will also go a long way toward improving client relationships and increasing their lifetime value.

Loyalty programs have also made it easier for business owners to provide an efficient way to track purchases and use this data to monitor which promotions and incentive schemes customers respond favorably to. It has proven to be an effective means of tracking purchases and analyzing your target group’s buying behaviors or patterns.

7. Don’t Dismiss the Diversity of Your Audience

You might be tempted to think that spreading out your message to as many people as possible is an efficient way to drive your strategy forward.

Though it might be quicker just to figure out what methods work best for the highest number of people, it’s much better to take a few hours and use the data you’ve acquired to segment your target audience.

Remember that, as a marketer, you have to deal with people, and people can often time be irrational and very unpredictable. You need take this into account and use human nature to your advantage.

To speed up the process, prepare templates for your messages and content. It’s actually advisable to have similar looking messages, with small, but significant variations so that you can maintain a coherent voice.

The personality of your brand can provide you with a framework for your future tone and message structure. With just a few minor tweaks here and there, you’re going to attract more clients in just one day.

It’s much more likely that your potential clients are going to feel like your company is speaking to them, and your products or services can be meaningful to them. And that’s what most clients are looking for when they decide to do business with someone.

It’s a much more efficient way of targeting potential leads rather than sending out one single, cookie-cutter message to hundreds of potential customers in the hopes that some of them might decide to become customers.

8. Learn from Other People’s Mistakes

However frustrating they may be, failures are invaluable learning experiences. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, and it may be difficult to understand exactly why, even if you have the best team on the case and all of the information you could possibly want. It’s one of the challenges everyone faces when they have to work with people and their preferences.

Luckily, you don’t have to make all of the mistakes on your own to learn from them. Even though every company is unique, and therefore so is its client base, there are still plenty of valuable lessons to be learned from other companies’ failures.

The strategies you derive from these failures might not be easy to implement in just one day, but you’re definitely going to save a lot of time on learning how to handle these situations, and improve your business. Even a small slip-up can ruin the success of your business in just a few days.

Learning from the mistakes of others takes a little bit of creativity, but once you crack the mystery, you’ll notice how most of them could have been avoided with just a little bit of careful planning. Once you got that out of the way, you can focus on your own growth.

9. Solicit (and Act On) Customer Feedback

It’s obvious that one of the essential components for the success of a data-driven marketing strategy is, well, data. Collecting a relevant amount of data can take an incredibly long time. And then you have to analyze that data and recognize patterns, a process that can take even longer.

So, why not just ask your customers what they want? Online surveys can be a great way to drive your marketing strategy. Customers might be reluctant to take the time to complete your surveys, so you can incentives them with gift cards or coupons.

If your questionnaire is concise and clear, you can obtain some very valuable information that’s ready to use immediately. Long-term studies have their own strong points, but if you want to see fast growth based on hard data, there’s nothing better than a survey.

10. Embrace Marketing Automation

Marketers can easily find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data pouring in through many different channels. And, unfortunately, not all of it is going to be useful. But if a data-driven strategy is going to work, you need to take in a lot of information from as many different sources as possible so that you can get some meaningful insights regarding your customers.

That’s where automation comes in. Investing in marketing automation tools is not just a fad, it’s soon going to be the norm. Because if you want to be able to use all of the data you’ve acquired effectively, you can’t waste your time going through all of it, when you can just as well let a algorithm do that for you.

11. Create an Always-On Testing Program

In digital, nearly everything can be measured and tested. That doesn’t mean everything should be tested. But it does mean that your organization has to have the capacity and resources to be testing on a continuous basis. Data-mining rovers should be bouncing across your digital landscapes 24/7.

Combine analytics with action-oriented measurement activities such as A/B and multivariate testing. Equip yourselves with the skills and people power to constantly test your most important user flows. From the checkout flow and the quoting engine, to the subscription form and your top campaign landing pages – test continuously.

12. Check Egos at the Door

Sometimes the data from these testing programs will tell us our precious creations aren’t actually all that great. Whether it’s copy we’ve written, designs we’ve crafted or a concept we’ve spent much time conceiving, we must embrace fail-fast, digital environments.

Organizations simply cannot be data-led organizations unless the prevailing culture subscribes to a data-led way of thinking. What creates these cultures starts with the individuals that comprise them. Yes, leaders have to believe in and evangelize data-driven frameworks. But individual contributors too need to be okay with having data prove them wrong from time to time.

13. Shift to a Multiple-Idea Mindset

If creative contributors are hesitant, one way to get them on board is to have them craft multiple variations in their initial creative process. Instead of choosing one image through guesswork, choose six and prepare them to be tested against each other. Role the dice and see what happens. Instead of crafting one headline on that landing page, come up with four from the very beginning. Watch the headline horse race unfold.

By bringing testing into the mindset this early on into the creative process, the creators can pivot from trepidation of being second guessed by data to actually having fun with data.

14. Don’t Confuse Data with Simon

When Simon says take two steps forward, we take two steps forward. Data may suggest it’s better to send visitors down path B, but that doesn’t mean path A isn’t better for business – in the end. Data is great at giving us insights into direct, “cause and effect” relationships. But we humans are better than data at sizing up more complicated nuances and dependencies that often make up the bigger picture.

It is important to understand that data-producing practices such as A/B and multivariate testing do not preclude humans from making the ultimate decision. Data can be the exclusive decision maker. This is where recommendation engines, AI and machine learning shine. There is a place for that. But when nuances and dependencies are at play, we humans can interpret the data and still make our own decisions.

The key here is that a commitment to regular testing does not take decision making powers away from us. The data should be viewed simply as a strong input into our collective decisions.

15. Build an Optimization Layer

To be truly data-led, data-driven mentalities have to permeate the key parts that make up the whole. This doesn’t require putting every individual contributor through data-driven boot camp. But there should be an optimization red thread that cuts across functional teams.

For example, in Marketing, an optimization layer would cut across teams that design, write copy, source and create content, drive social media messaging, develop site navigation, manage paid media, map out the user journey – the list can go on and on.

Sure, testing practitioners can set up the experiments, analyze data and socialize the results. But without involvement – and some skin in the game – from the different functional groups in the optimization process, a widespread data-driven culture will be difficult to take hold.

16. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

Testing in digital often validates great ideas. What is equally great about testing though is that it acts as a safety net for when our ideas don’t pan out as expected.

When combined with stashing the ego in the dumpster, “failing fast” means you can think BIG. Big thinking breeds success. The sheer existence of a solid testing platform should be an enabler to big thinking.

As Mike Damone once said “it’s like riding a bike. Fall off; you’re right back on.” This applies to iterative testing in the digital world. Take a hit in the form of a negative lift. Keep testing and you’ll steer your way into success, more often than not.

For example, maybe you need to focus more on blog content frequency? Or thought leadership? Brand Storytelling? Snark in your content marketing?

17. Have an Executive Sponsor Who Believes in Data

While individual contributors must also buy into a data-driven process, there is no denying the fact that success in building a practice of anything often stems from leadership’s belief in that thing. From a purely practical standpoint, an executive sponsor is needed to foot the bill to build the core practice.

But equally important they need to drum the beat – repeatedly evangelizing the importance of producing data and letting data be a key a contributor in decision-making processes. Having leaders that are wired with this mindset can make the development of a data-driven, data-led culture, much easier.

But it start with us building the solid business case first.

18. Understand Conventional Data Analytics

What was once a seemingly abstract concept used only in science fiction movies and software development textbooks has now become a sort of secondary currency in the world of business.

In effect, a company is a little data factory. Every interaction with a customer, every new product launch, every marketing strategy creates a wealth of data points and reports ripe and ready for analysis. So, it’s not so much that we don’t have enough data; it’s just that some of us aren’t wielding that data correctly.

To really understand your customers and to move toward a truly intelligent experience, you need to combine the information we receive from a variety of different points, and use that data in your marketing campaigns.

IBM’s own experts identify four distinct categories for conventional analytics:

Journey: Journey focuses on how customers arrived at your store page. It also considers the number of visits they made and the devices they used.

Behavioral: Behavioral analyzes where in the process customers got stuck, which items they browsed without purchasing, and how many times they tried again.

Sentiment: Sentiment looks at how customers feel about their experience. What are they saying? What points do they care most about?

Predictive: Predictive involves mapping out customers’ next moves. This is where you can decide how to re-engage them, and how to provide them with what they need.

Your organization needs to be collecting and analyzing data in all these areas and then combining it. This combined data can then be applied directly to each of your customer interactions going forward, achieving truly advanced customer intelligence.

19. Take Action on the Data You Collect

A healthy data-insight-action pipeline has a massive snowball effect on business value. It’s increasingly common to have analytics and testing practices. But what often gets lost through organizational deficiencies and competing priorities is the notion of actually doing something with the newfound data that testing is uncovering.

Pivoting from data and insights to driving widely scaled implementations often requires coordination with other groups – that manage and publish the websites, for example. Particularly if the aforementioned “Optimization Layer” is not established, competing priorities can get in the way of the data-driven action.

The distinguishing factor of a data-led Marketing organization is the existence of a healthy data-insight-action pipeline that is clog-free. One where the process of testing and optimization doesn’t stop when the tests are over.

20. Monitor ROI Effectively

In the past, it was difficult to accurately track and monitor ROI, as well as campaign impact once it’s been launched. Big data and database marketing have allowed campaign managers to monitor ongoing campaigns, conduct A/B tests, measure results, and analyze the impact. This, in turn, helps them optimize their efforts and improve performance on a regular basis.

21. Integrate Big Data with Contextual Marketing

Big data analytics has evolved to a point where it’s able to provide insights based on data from sales, services, and target customers. The right affiliated technologies can help you create scalable analytics and systems to keep up with these evolving requirements.

Having access to this data can also help determine what content works and what doesn’t for your audience at each stage of the buying process. This knowledge can then be used to develop more relevant/personalized content in the future.

22. Enhance Your Brand Image

Big data allows you to observe how users interact with your brand by monitoring websites, social media channels, and customer’s digital footprints. You can find honest reviews, testimonials, and unbiased criticisms about your company, products, and service offerings.

These pieces of information can be invaluable resources for managing your brand reputation or improving your image. Data solutions basically mean that brands can monitor their social proof and respond to issues that can be quickly resolved.

23. Keep an Eye on the Competition

Social monitoring technology can be used not just for reputation management or gaining target audience insight, but for observing and analyzing your competitor’s marketing strategies as well. These big data tools for competitive analysis can be an effective way to get creative/strategic inspiration, improve your current practices or learn from mistakes committed by your peers.

24. Reduce Overheads with Location Based Targeting

Marketing and administrative costs can be optimized by aligning your selling and go-to-market strategies with locations that have the best sales potential. Observe the sales reports and feedback you’re getting about your brand. Review which among your products are selling the most, which ones aren’t, and decide on your next steps based on those reports.

25. Optimize Pricing

It is now possible to differentiate and optimize your pricing strategies based on what you see on your data solutions system. Considering how a 1% price increase could result in an 8.7% increase in operating profits, you would be remiss not to take advantage of big data’s potential contribution to your company’s bottom line.

26. Leverage Agile Development Frameworks

When a program is cranking out dozens or several hundreds of experiments a year, it is hard to pivot from data and insights to implementation in a waterfall development process. When there are fewer development releases spanning a yearly cycle, the prioritization battles are likely to get in the way.

Optimization is often seen as a “nice to have” relative to core, fundamental content and functionality. So when push comes to shove, core content and functionality gets pushed and optimization gets shoved.

What can address this is a commitment to agile development processes – shorter, more nimble, more frequent bodies of work – that can enable optimization work to “hook in,” in a more seamless and sustainable fashion.

The Case for Data-Driven Content Marketing

According to this Harvard Business Review article, one thing many brands are missing out on to improve their content marketing success is data journalism. In the world of traditional media, data journalism is one of today’s hottest trends, and big publishers like The New York Times and The Guardian are investing heavily in this form of reporting because they recognize its storytelling potential.

Drawing on existing data sets and data analysis tools, data visualization offers content marketers opportunities to uncover new insights and to tell fascinating stories in a visually appealing and compelling way. And it is precisely this “X factor” that makes data-driven stories so effective on social media in capturing people’s attention and eyeballs.

But data visualization has largely been a missed opportunity for most companies as original data are often treated as top secret and used exclusively to drive business decisions internally only. But what if companies start opening their kimonos of data and offer some of that value back to customers through data-driven marketing?

What benefits can brands expect from data-driven storytelling?

Traffic: People love infographics, and that may explain why they are on average the most shared content type on social media. That’s why data visualizations which offer value to your readers are a great way to amplify your marketing messages and increase traffic to your site.

Value: With so many individuals and brands publishing every day, this has led to an explosion of content online. So what can you do to compete with all this noise out there and stand out from the crowd? Sharing original, relevant and actionable insights and numbers is the way to go. And that is exactly what data-driven marketing is all about – producing fresh, insightful content that offers real value to people.

Authority: Analyzing and sharing data that has not been shared before establishes your brand as a thought leader and authority in your space. And by offering new insights on market trends or issues that are important to your customers, your brand ultimately becomes the go-to source they turn to for these given topics. Fresh data-driven content may also earn your company media coverage and interview requests, which further establishes your credibility and expertise in your industry.

New Perspectives: Just as customers can learn something new from the data you share, you can also gain new insights and perspectives into your own data sets from the responses and analyses your readers share. When viewing with a fresh pair of eyes, people may uncover new trends and insights that you would never have thought of, which may provide more topics and ideas for your content marketing.

Transparency: Today’s consumers are increasingly more concerned about how their personal information is being collected and used by companies. And data-driven content offers an opportunity for brands to help consumers understand how their data is used. By collecting consumer data in a way that protects their privacy, and sharing fresh, original insights that are relevant to consumers, data-driven content is a great way to help brands build transparency and trust with consumers. Data-driven content also shows consumers that they receive just as much value from the information they give as the companies who receive it.

Most importantly, when using a data-journalism strategy in your content, it’s important to think like both a data analyst and a storyteller. The former ensures you take an unbiased approach to sourcing and interpreting the data while the latter helps you pull and discuss the most interesting information for an angle for your content. A data-savvy storyteller that can analyze Big Data to uncover a new angle for a brand’s next story humanizes information-heavy content, which proves to be key in engaging audiences and publishers. And a final word to the wise: be sure to include a clear methodology for transparency.

How Data Driven Content Improves Engagement in All Verticals

Some industries and verticals have a much easier time creating engaging content compared to others. Highly regulated verticals like finance won’t usually see viral engagement for a narrow, industry-specific content marketing campaign like a campaign for a travel brand would see, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create great content for every industry. Strategies, goals, and benchmark metrics need to be tailored to the specific vertical to avoid comparing apples to oranges.

In order to avoid holding content marketing strategies and campaigns to unrealistic standards, our friends at Fractl sifted through nearly 350 of our own client campaigns across 15 industries to help establish benchmark metrics defining success by vertical in a recent study. While the overall average campaign earned 90 media placements, that number varied drastically when looking at campaigns in different verticals.

Each of the campaigns analyzed follows a data-driven research approach to content ideation and production. Beyond establishing these performance metric benchmarks, Fractl further dissected the data sources and research methods to decipher which verticals saw the best engagement for each.

Data Journalism

But let’s back up for a moment: Why should you turn to a data-journalism approach for producing content in the first place? We’re all aware of the ever growing sea of content and the issue it presents since audiences only have a finite amount of time (and honestly shortening attention spans) to consume it. Much of the content we come across is dry, bland, unoriginal, and repetitive, and therefore fails to grab the attention of an audience overwhelmed with choices.

Quality content created with a data-journalism strategy is different, and it’s predicted to be the next big thing in marketing. Because audiences crave originality and publishers want exclusivity, content that revolves around original statistics, new findings, and unique ideas will attract more attention and often reach a broader audience. So naturally, this strategy earns media placements and social shares regardless of the vertical. Like our research revealed, however, some verticals prefer certain data sources and research methods over others, so let’s dive deeper into that.

Data Curation

Sourcing secondhand, publicly available data helps your content establish authority while allowing your brand to add value to an existing data set by simplifying the information and pulling interesting findings. Government databases, research institutions, and even social media networks are goldmines for finding such data that can be analyzed and repurposed in any vertical, however, the Drugs & Alcohol, Politics, Crime, & Safety, Automotive and Education verticals saw higher than average engagement when utilizing data curation more than the other eleven verticals.

Databases accessible to the public are a goldmine for content inspiration, and keeping an eye out for the latest studies helps keep your content timely and relevant. National governments and private research institutions offer a plethora of authoritative studies across a variety of often “dry” verticals like crime or education (which not so coincidentally happen to the be the top performing verticals using this research method.) One top performing campaign earned over 150 media mentions from national and regional publications by combining both verticals: the number of drug and alcohol arrests on college campuses.

Original Data

Firsthand research or even turning to internal data is a great way to add originality to a data-driven content ideation strategy. Procuring firsthand external data through research like surveys and field studies allow a brand to have more flexibility and creativity when finding new data to inspire a campaign. Business & Finance, Fashion, Home & Garden, Travel and Technology verticals saw higher levels of engagement with original data more than the other verticals.

While surveys are becoming easier and faster to conduct online, going out into the field to collect samples can yield great data that sparks a lot of engagement for a campaign. For example, collecting bacteria swabs from various areas of a plane for Travelmath’s Airline Hygiene Exposed campaign yielded a promotional trifecta: the results’ element of surprise, the topic’s wide appeal, and the data’s originality. With nearly 200 media mentions, this campaign quickly earned regional, national, and international attention.    

A second way to acquire original data requires arguably less leg work. Most brands are already sitting on top of a plethora of internal, proprietary knowledge and data that can easily be turned into thought-provoking campaign. From consumer habits to market research, brands can pull from their own databases to create unique content no other brand or agency could produce. Internal data, however, doesn’t always have to be strictly numbers and statistics; it can come in the form of internal knowledge and experience as well.

Over to You

Advanced data analytics and metrics are at your fingertips. There are various tools, both free and paid, that entrepreneurs and companies can employ to study the marketing behavior of users. To improve every marketing campaign, you really need to know everything about your users. That’s what target marketing is all about in this digital era.

Implementing these solutions can completely change the way in which you do business. With the right creative minds on board, now freed of the burden of doing busy-work, you can see your marketing strategy take off instantly.

The truth is no matter how good a marketer is, they can’t really perform miracles. If you want to see improvements in your marketing strategy in just one day, you’ll have to plan for them carefully beforehand. But if you have a solid outline of goals and steps, implementing them is going to be easy. And once you’ve done your homework, you will see immediate results.

One thought on “Why Your Marketing Needs to be Data-Driven

  1. Amanda Maurer

    Hi Johanna,

    Thanks for the great info. I come across explaining this to my clients often. They say they want to do Facebook advertising, and AdWords (just a few examples), and they are surprised to hear that you can track the data and targeting. It’s almost like they are so used to old marketing methods that don’t have any targeting involved, that’s it’s hard for them to transition and grasp that we can pinpoint so many metrics now.

    Thanks again for the great post,

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Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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