Using Data to Create a Successful Content Strategy

It’s fair to say that content marketing is both one of the oldest and newest disciplines in the marketing world. A content approach, which is typically more about addressing the customer’s needs than product-centric advertising, has been the bedrock of magazines, direct mail and email newsletters for years. But the ways in which we can tailor and target content to be truly relevant has never been newer. And with the rise in online marketing now eclipsing TV, it has to be. There are simply too many competing messages in the marketplace not to drive for better relevance. Enter content’s love affair with data…

adam-braxton-250x250.jpgAnd yet, using data to develop a results-driven content marketing strategy and prove its value isn’t a walk in the park. In fact, proving the ROI of a content marketing program is something that keeps many people in the industry up at night.

But while other marketing professionals are tossing and turning, Adam Braxton, VP of Strategic Insights, sleeps just fine. Adam knows what goes into developing a content marketing strategy based off of research, insights and legit business objectives. Yes, legit, because that’s where creating a solid strategy that gets results all begins: at the business objectives.

In your new role as VP of Strategic Insights, what’s your main focus?

Here at Pace, one of the core goals of my job is to help determine how we constantly maintain relevance to our changing audience. Part of how we do that is through editorial expertise, as well as strategically analyzing data—not just website data, but also data pulled from all the various forms of the content ecosystem that contributes to the entire customer experience. Together, these allow us to make a more informed strategic decision so that we can get closer to truly understanding what our audience wants. We’re investing in building true editorial insight tools and developing some of the smartest analytical individuals in content. Just like our content, we optimize constantly as well.

At its core is the concept of ‘design thinking.’ Design thinking is all about how we may/should fail often, but also win often, so that we are constantly learning and adapting to our audience to drive relevance. We mitigate that failing by learning constantly as we go and starting off with a solid research foundation. Some content that we create isn’t always going to work for an audience, but it’s not considered a ‘fail’ if we learn from it. We work with analytics, account strategy and editors to evaluate our content and what’s working and what’s not. It’s a cyclical process that, depending on the client and ‘the ask,’ plays out over and over again. A lot of the content we produce is evergreen, and whether we’re pushing out new content weekly or monthly, our design-thinking process ensures that we continue to learn and tailor the content back to the audience.

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What happens when you discover that the audience you were originally targeting isn’t the audience that’s engaging with your content?

Our main focus is to follow the audience and be where they are, and provide them with content that they’re interested in. Sometimes that doesn’t always go as planned, and we have to adjust. For example, we may start out targeting millennials, but find that boomers are the ones who are most engaged with our content. There’s nothing wrong with engaging an audience that we weren’t originally targeting. It just means that in order to engage the millennial audience, we have to change our strategy and adapt our content. As long as the changes we make drive our KPIs (key performance indicators), which are determined by our business objectives, adapting the strategy or content is key. It’s pretty much impossible to ‘get it right’ the first time, and every time after that.

Can you talk a little bit about the role that business objectives play in a successful content strategy?

No two industries, companies or brands are alike. Even the definition of ROI can change across each client. As a result, insight will vary (and may do so widely), which is why there isn’t and will never be one way to ‘do content marketing’ that can be applied to every brand across the board. Our job is to figure out how to evaluate the success of a content program in terms of each individual brand.

We tie everything back to business objectives, which take into consideration what the brand wants to achieve, as well as what their target audience wants. Not what the brands hopes the audience will want—what their audience actually wants. Is the audience looking to learn how to do something? Are they interested in doing something different, or improving the way they already do something? Are they looking for a brand like yours to help them with these things, or do they just want your brand and others like it to leave them the heck alone? Understanding the target audience’s needs, habits, priorities, values, lifestyle and more helps shape the business objectives in a way that ensures it’s not just a one-sided list of stuff the brand hopes to achieve through content marketing.

Once business objectives have been determined, they’re used to inform the KPIs. Our measurement plan is based off of the KPIs, and insight is pulled from the measurement plan. Insight then drives us back to our strategy to meet those business objectives. It’s a cyclical process that is repeated over and over throughout the lifetime of the content program.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Sometimes I have to make a decision even when I don’t feel like there’s enough data to support it. In situations like this, I think back to something my strategy professor at Wake Forest used to say: ‘You can’t not do something.’

Analysts will tell you, ‘We don’t have enough data! We can’t make a decision based off of what we have.’ At the end of the day, I have to make that decision. But it’s much easier to do so when all the decisions and choices made up until that point are in support of the content strategy, which ties back to the overarching goals and business objectives. So even in times when there isn’t enough data, I can use what I do have, and take it into consideration with the goals of the content program, to make an educated recommendation.

What’s your opinion on the value of brands posting organic social media content, if “pay-to-play” is now the name of the game?

First of all, there is still value—lots of value—in creating organic content for a social media audience. Just because brands have to pay to get their content seen now more than ever before doesn’t decrease the value of creating highly sharable, engaging content for your social audience and posting it organically.

Social media users don’t want content to be stuffed down their throats. They don’t want to be sold to, or told over and over again why they should switch detergent brands, take advantage of an ‘exclusive sale’ on a clothing website or ‘click to learn more’ about a product they’re not currently in the market for.

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Content should be used to create conversation on social media. Content is conversation. It’s not about throwing a product or service at people; it’s about finding out what they want, what they’re interested in, what they want to learn about, and then using that to create content and deliver it to them on a silver platter in a way that makes it as easy as possible for them to engage with it.

This is why the ‘test and learn’ model is so important. Try a few things out, see how they perform, and adjust. Social media is very similar to SEO in the sense that they both take time to build properly.

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Have a comment to share, or a question you’d like to ask Adam? Let us know by posting it in the comment section below.

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