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How to Turn Data & Creativity Into Great Content in 3 Steps

brad-miller
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Marketers seem to spend their lives trying to reconcile science with creativity.

Our marketing decisions are supposed to be driven by hard, scientific metrics based on ROI, signals and big data. Yet we're also supposed to create creative, engaging content that's driven by genuine human interest. It's a tug-a-war that very few ever manage to resolve.

So, what should be the major influencing factor when it comes to content creation? Can we ever satisfy both the scientific and creative approach to content marketing?

The Data Driven Approach

Using data to dictate the subject matter, writing process, and editorial calendar is an effective and valid approach. This includes looking at content that generates the most traffic, creates the best conversions or gets the most love through social channels. Modern tools also let us look at what the competition is writing and which subjects appear to be the most popular.

As well as dictating the content itself, when, how, and where your content is published and shared can also be driven by data alone. Both big-data and real-time, algorithm driven tools drive the majority of content publication and syndication for the world's leading brands. Nothing is left to chance.

It makes sense really. If you have access to data that tells you exactly what your community wants to be reading, and when they want to read it, it seems illogical to ignore it, right?

The Creative Approach

The problem with reacting to big data, even if it is supplied in real-time, is that you're always going to be at least one step behind. You will always just play it safe.

Also, how are writers supposed to write articles that'll capture the imagination of their readers if it's dictated purely by metrics and results? This approach leaves little room for creativity, passion, or originality. A purely data driven approach to content will eventually suck the soul out of your content, no matter how good the writer is.

I recently asked Rand Fishkin, CEO of the Inbound Marketing Software Company, Moz, for his thoughts on the subject. His reaction?

"It's so inauthentic to write about something that you don't give a crap about," Fishkin said.

Well, who can argue with that?

The problem is that the Internet now operates in a way that exposes inauthenticity like never before. With social media, content aggregators and a whole range of online apps designed to prioritize only the best content on the web, only great content will get you heard.

So, authenticity is the key to visibility. That means we need to "give a crap" about what we're writing about!

So, how can you reconcile the two approaches?

Advantages and Disadvantages

Let's start by looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both the scientific and creative approach.

Creative Advantages Creative Disadvantages
  • Inherent creativity produces content that is more unique.
  • Driven by real passion, real interest and topical subjects.
  • Writers are then more passionate about creating the content in the first place.
  • Higher likelihood of generating the post that strikes it big with your audience.
  • More difficult to forecast and apply to content calendars.
  • Decreased consistency in metrics like traffic, conversions, shares etc.

 

Data Advantages Data Disadvantages
  • Increased predictability and planning.
  • Higher rate of consistency in metrics.
  • Scalability.
  • Most organizations are metric driven and the value of content is more easily communicated.
  • Sacrificing the passion for the writer's interest in the first place.
  • Decreased motivation to create compelling content.
  • Writer dissent.
  • Threat of disengaging your audience by lack of creativity.

Unsurprisingly, each approach has its advantages but some major drawbacks as well.

Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions? Clearly, you can combine the data-driven approach with creativity, the key question is how much? How can you strike a healthy balance between the two? Where's the sweet spot?

During the aforementioned conversion with Fishkin, I got his feedback on how he combines creative ideas with data driven topics.

"I like to create a Venn diagram in my head," he said. "Here's what data says people are interested in; here's what's creative and unique and fascinating and no one has thought about or written about previously."

The sweet spot is where the two circles converge.

Great Content Venn Diagram

Clearly this is the ideal scenario. Fishkin has years of experience creating some of the best content on the web. He's also worked with some of the best minds in the content marketing industry.

The Process

So how can we take this approach and distil it into a practical process that all content creators can build into their own content marketing process?

  • Creative Brainstorming: Start by creating your ideas! Don't sterilize your content by making data and metrics your starting point. Start by cultivating a creative, imaginative approach. Have a regular brainstorming session with your team to come up with fresh topics and ideas. Don't base your ideas on anything other than what you think would make great content. Create a mind map if it helps.
  • Cross Reference: Once you have a list of topics from your brainstorming session, you then need to try and align the topics with those that are supported by analytical insights. This is where you need to develop a skill for recognizing Fishkin's sweet spot. Lead with the topics/titles where you see most crossover! This will be your most engaging, functional, and widely shared content.
  • Fill the Gaps: When you look at the data, you will see opportunities for content that weren't covered in your brainstorming session. Though this content might not be the most creative, it still has a part to play. Do this in a rotation format to ensure your writers don't get jaded.

By following this process you will naturally give precedence to the creative content that is most likely to perform. It also makes sure that you don't ignore the second level of practical content that will do the leg work day-in-day-out.

Summary

Data can be incredibly effective at communicating to your organization what your audience finds most interesting.

Data can also create a slippery slope that curbs the creativity that fuelled the content your audience engaged with in the first place. Unless you're careful to avoid it, this approach can lead to sterile, lifeless content that will draw you further away from your marketing goals.

A better approach is to combine creativity with metric-driven subjects and content. By embracing both approaches, you will encourage creativity and create the content that most marketers strive for.


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