Content Marketing: How Much Data Do You Need

I was talking recently with a marketer from a Fortune 100 company who had spent a full six months diving deep into creating incredibly detailed buyer personas. Six months! For most companies, that’s just too much time to spend on a project that will be moving towards obsolescence soon after it’s completed; after all, the audience keeps changing, doesn’t it?

The enterprise was committed to having a deep understanding of its audience, but six months seems like an absurdly complex project. After all, aren’t you paying professionals because they already have some level of understanding of the audience? Aren’t they being compensated because of their experience and the understanding they’ve developed over time? Or are we just looking for clerks who can read spreadsheets?

Truly epic content is both an art and a science. If you try to make it too scientific you lose the human element. (I assume we all agree that going too far down the art-for-art’s-sake path is not good marketing.) As Contently Managing Editor Joe Lazauskas told us recently, human talent is needed to execute a winning content strategy, and bypassing the human aspect of creating connections and relying on algorithms is both cold and doomed to fail: “Good editors have great instincts when it comes to content strategy. And a lot of brands are having their content strategy dictated by CMOs who have never worked in editorial. It’s insane.”

Hubspot content chieftain Joe Chernov agrees, telling Spark Sheet last year “I still think that there is room in marketing for people to trust their instinct. Just because I have no data to support it makes it no less true.”

So, how much data do you need to drive your content strategy?

The unsatisfying answer is “some.”

Obviously, the more information you can have, the better. However, there is very obviously a point of diminishing returns in obsessively collecting data. At some point, you need to take action. Consider this – the Fortune 100 marketing professional I mentioned in my lede was let go by his employer; that’s right, ouch.

It’s hard to not think that he spent too much time investigating, and not enough time doing.

And that is the danger of falling in love with data collection. At some point, you need professionals who can interpret the data and turn it into action.

Data without action equals death.

Please please please don’t think this is the argument of a Luddite; data is really important, and today it’s possible to know far more about the audience than ever before. You’d be a fool to ignore that possibility. But if we fall in love with the idea of merely examining the data and making ourselves feel smarter, we fail.

I said, “We fail.”

But gee whiz, we sure will look smart while doing it, won’t we?