Crafting a Data-Driven Content Plan That Targets the Right Audience

At the recent Midwest Digital Marketing Conference, marketers shared perspectives on using data to inform content goals and measure impact.

Zig Ziglar once said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Without clear goals and a way to measure your success against them, a content marketing strategy is doomed.

This sentiment was strongly echoed at the 5th annual Midwest Digital Marketing Conference in St. Louis. Marketers from a range of industries and disciplines gathered April 12–13 to discuss best practices and successful ways to connect with their audiences to drive engagement and loyalty.

This year’s conference theme, “The Rise of the Digital Narrative,” speaks to how digital content can be an engine for personalized utility for audiences. Creating audience utility requires analyzing whether your strategies deliver value, and having honest conversations about how you’ll adapt if the tactics aren’t delivering the results you want.

Hitting the Mark

Manifest’s Lucas Miller, a senior manager of performance marketing, participated in a panel discussion titled “Layers of Content: The Nuances and Evolution of Today’s Content Marketing Universe.” He spoke about how data and insights drive content creation at Manifest, and the continually iterative process of crafting the very best for audiences and clients.

“When we provide metrics and data, we don’t want to make our creative teams feel like they’re boxed in or that we’ve thrown a wet blanket on their ideas,” Miller said. “We use data to provide guidance and set parameters for creating content that’s going to hit the mark for our clients.”

Instead of dreading data and viewing it as a restriction to creativity, information gleaned from performance analytics can make content creation a more fruitful pursuit. By using these insights, writers, editors and designers can make better choices about what their audiences are craving and how to better reach their goals by monitoring key performance indicators.

The UMSL panel
Members of the panel discussion, “Layers of Content: The Nuances and Evolution of Today’s Content Marketing Universe.”

The More the Merrier

Panelists also discussed content quality versus quantity, emphasizing that the only way to know what’s right for your brand or organization is to test things.

“We’ve discovered that more isn’t actually better,” said Kelsey Meyer, president and co-founder of Influence & Co. “We’re focusing more on creating cornerstone pieces of content that can be used in different ways; instead of spending 10 hours creating a piece and one hour distributing it, we’ve flipped that formula and are getting more mileage out of each piece.”

Miller agreed that quality was key but added that by producing a higher volume of strategic content, you have more chances to succeed. “You’ve got a bigger data set to provide information for testing,” Miller rebutted. “You’ve got to stop and ask yourself, ‘Is what we’re producing really good? Is it hitting the mark? Or are we just trying to deliver on our promised 10 articles per week?’”

The takeaway: Setting an arbitrary requirement for content volume, and sticking to it no matter what the feedback is telling you, is unwise. Instead, consider the results of your testing to be a direct response from your audience and adjust accordingly. The best thing you can do is, be honest about what’s making an impact and what’s missing the mark.

Begin with the End in Mind

Another panelist, Janette Lonsdale, principal content strategist and developer at The Red Stairs, encouraged marketers to have a content mission statement to help determine what aligns with their goals.

“If you go to the supermarket without a recipe in mind, you can come home with a lot of food and nothing to make an actual meal,” she said. “There’s never a shortage of ideas, but there’s often a shortage of which ideas are most relevant to the audience,” Lonsdale added.

With so many ideas, how do you know which ones deserve an investment of time and effort?

When brainstorming, keep your content mission statement and goals close at hand and carefully consider what will net a return for your brand. A blind read of raw data can be dangerous without context, and it takes thought and interpretation to apply relevance to numbers.

“You can get whatever you want out of Google Analytics,” said Joe Duffin, creative director at Spry Digital. “You might have 90,000 visits per month to your site, but if your bounce rate is 99.7%, your sales won’t grow.”

Lucas Miller at the panel
Manifest's Lucas Miller before the panel discussion on the role of data in content marketing.

A Leap of Faith

There’s much to consider when crafting a content plan. Relevancy is one key part. When building your strategy, consider what your audience will engage with, how they might view it (mobile, desktop), and what you’re asking them to do once they’ve processed it (a call to action).

Knowing as much as possible about audience behavior can keep you from a “shooting in the dark” approach to content creation, and give you a more precise vision.

The message at the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference was loud and clear: Commit to creating helpful, engaging and beautiful content, and keep the user at the center of your efforts. Be patient when performing analysis, and give your strategy a chance to provide some solid results and guidance for future efforts.

Another speaker, Katie Krum, senior director of engagement at Under Armour, summarized the sentiment: “You must make a leap of faith that if you provide people with appealing and interesting content, you will stick in their memory and they’ll eventually purchase from you. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”