The Line Between Data-Driven Marketing and Creative Content Marketing

Effective content marketing is about walking the line between data and creativity. Here are a few tips to help you execute your strategy.

Updated: May 12, 2023

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The term data-driven marketing is a popular buzzword used to reinforce how strategy and planning are critical to developing great content. David Welch, former VP of Marketing Insights & Operations, once summarized the future of marketing in six words.

“Creative thrills but data pays the bills.”

Is it that simple? In regards to a strategic planning perspective, absolutely! Data allows you to analyze the market, segment your audience, develop a positioning strategy, and create customized messages for targeted prospects.

The question becomes – how do you make the best use of all your data? Once you have your strategy in place and understand your target prospective clients, how do you reach them? Here are a few ways to align your creative instincts with the data you have on hand.

Analyze Your Customer Journey


The customer journey is the path a client navigates between awareness to purchase and advocacy. In simple terms, the customer journey should answer four key questions in the prospective client’s mind:

  • What do I need to achieve my business goals?
  • Why is this product or service better than other options on the market?
  • How will purchasing this product or service improve my business?
  • What is the ROI of making this purchase?

When people search for solutions to their problems, they want easy-to-digest answers. Content marketers learn a lot about the people in their target audience by reviewing their online behavior. This means analyzing keyword searches, search intent, average time spent on web pages, and where prospects dropped off your site.

This type of data helps you and your team develop buyer personas to summarize the needs of your ideal clientele. Once you have these personas, you can create customized content that speaks directly to the questions and concerns of your target audience.

Rebecca Lieb, a strategic advisor on digital marketing innovation, has discussed in length the importance of aligning content with the various phases of the consumer journey. In her report “The Eclipse of Online Ads” — which is downloadable here — Rebecca shares insights from 17 fellow influencers about how to develop more valuable content, and move prospective clients through the conversion funnel.

Support the data with real conversations


Solely relying on data to develop a strategy can actually be detrimental to your long-term marketing and business objectives. Numbers and insights are your foundation to help brainstorm new and creative ideas, but it takes more than just data to bring people towards your brand.

At this year’s Content Marketing World, one of the biggest topics raised was the need to connect with prospective customers. This theme was repeatedly raised in sessions and seminars by some of the most influential content marketers in the industry. The takeaway from those discussions – companies are struggling to connect to their audiences.

I believe that part of this problem is an over-reliance on data to make decisions about what content to create. It’s easy and all too common to assume that one successful campaign with impressive numbers will resonate with people again and again.

If that were true, there would be no need to engage with existing clientele.

One of my favourite things about content marketing is that, by definition, the practice encourages marketers to move away from the old ways of traditional advertising. Whereas mass advertising disseminated one message that would hopefully appeal to a large audience, content marketing is about creating custom messages for a select niche of prospective clientele.

Nowadays the successful marketing team takes the time to:

  • Understand clients and their buying triggers
  • Identify the real challenges that obstruct customer objectives for growth
  • Engage in an open dialogue with customers
  • Complete original research reflected within targeted buyer personas

All of these points are crucial to becoming an effective content marketer. Who better to acquire feedback about the most interesting and engaging types of content than the people who are already engaged with the content you create?

Use these conversations to develop content that directly addresses the needs of your clients. Remember that customers are more likely to advocate for your brand if they feel connected to your organization. Reading and receiving content that speaks directly to their concerns inspires people to share that content with others in their networks. This process is an organic and natural way to increase the reach and visibility of your brand.

To attract like-minded prospective clients, the content should be bold, make a definitive statement and most importantly, be unique from other types of content. Many thought leadership pieces are similar in style and context, but the way those messages are communicated within your marketing materials should be easy to differentiate from other marketers.

As a content marketer, it’s my opinion that this creative process of collaboration and development is what draws so many personalities towards content marketing as a career.

Focus on what you can give rather than what you can get


Content Marketing World had many great sessions, but one of my favourite written pieces came after the event. This content discussed the work of comedian Michael Jr., one of the celebrities invited by Content Marketing World Founder Joe Pulizzi to speak to the audience of 600+ attendees.

In a post-event story written by Janet H. Cho of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Michael discussed his philosophy towards comedy and how marketers should apply the same principle towards the content they create. He brought up a story about performing at a centre for neglected and abused children in Colorado. After completing part of his routine, one little boy with significant facial burns shared how he was delighted by both the material and the presence of a comedian.

Michael said this experience changed his whole outlook on what he does and how he does it.

“If we could just stop asking the question ‘What can I get for myself?’ and start asking the question ‘What can I give from myself?’ I think people would learn that they don’t have to be a comedian to deliver a punchline.”

During his performance at Content Marketing World, Michael encouraged marketers to think about what their content is ultimately providing to the people who are reading the material. I think this perspective is a very bold one and relates back to the biggest theme at the event. Marketers are too focused on what other people say are best marketing practices, and too hesitant to go outside the box by developing content that is completely unique and creative.

Remember that creativity has led to some of the most astounding products and innovative brands in history (Apple, for example). The companies behind these innovative movements took the time to analyze the market, develop their buyer personas, conduct primary research, accept customer feedback (positive and negative), and even learn a few lessons from past failures. In the end, companies like Apple learned how to put the needs of their customers ahead of their own business objectives, which led to scalable and sustainable profitability.

Innovation + collaboration = compelling, creative content


Deloitte recently published their second annual Business Confidence Report that highlights innovation within organizations. The key takeaways of the report are also presented within an infographic.

Jonathan Copulsky, CMO of Deloitte Consulting, discussed the findings of the report in an interview with Mobile Marketing Watch. When asked about how marketers prioritize innovation within their organizations, Jonathan encouraged all members of a marketing team to embrace collaboration with other marketers and influencers.

“Effective marketers understand that great, innovative ideas and capabilities can sometimes come from outside their own walls or can come from combining the expertise of their own people with new ideas or approaches from elsewhere – other individuals or organizations, business models, geographies or industries.”

Contacting other marketers opens the door to collaboration, which you can then communicate to your audience. Collaborating with others brings the best of the best from both teams together to produce a visionary piece of content that stands out from the competition. This is a great opportunity to expand the visibility of your brand as both teams are more than willing to promote the co-produced content to their own networks and databases.

Take the time to find the right partners whose objectives and messages align with your own strategy. This way you can tap into a whole new pool of potential clients while maintaining the best practices and thought leadership that your existing clientele has come to expect from you.

Walk the line between data and creativity


Creativity doesn’t need to take a back seat to data, and a data-driven marketing strategy shouldn’t prevent you as a content marketer from flexing your creative muscles. As with many things in life, there’s a thin line between the two practices that you must walk to achieve success.

Consult with your team from the C-levels to your fellow producers in order to find an agreement on the line between data and creativity. It’s best to keep your entire team on the same page. Then you can feel comfortable expressing your creative ideas when new demands are placed on the table.

Use your data to conduct the background research and determine who you need to reach. Analyze what triggers led existing clients to purchase your products, and what messaging brought them into the fold. Then you can brainstorm creative ideas with your team and extend the reach of your content to a whole new pool of potential buyers.

This process will take time to pay off but remember that your primary job as a content marketer is not to sell. Your job is to build awareness, gain respect, develop trust, and establish authority to help convince those who are interested in your solutions to become users of your solutions.

Looking for a content-marketing-focused tool to help your team deliver high-quality and converting content? Try the Content Cloud!


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