Content Marketing: Can Data Really Spark Creativity

Content Marketing: Can Data Really Spark Creativity

Those who can create something original and resonant are those who are the most successful in digital content marketing, Nichola Stott looks at features which define effective content marketing.

Published 14th August 2015

A good content marketing project can generate so much more for a brand than pure visitor metrics, though of course this is the immediate attraction. Done well, digital content can extend our audience by attracting visitors, although real benefits can extend even further. Content enables us to provoke emotional reaction, which tends to last. There are many neurobiological studies which look at the connection between emotional reaction and memory, be it positive or negative emotions. In the 2003 study, Memory & Emotion: The Making of Lasting Memories, author James L. McGaugh observes that most of us recall exactly where we were on September 11th 2001, a very tangible and relatable example among many others. From a marketing perspective though, we’re looking to create positive connections which too create an emotional reaction. Humour is a really tangible example of an emotional tactic in marketing content – mirth being the emotion provoked - but then how can we use data to inform humour? Isn’t this almost a contradiction in terms, like planning for spontaneity? Before we consider how data can inform that creative spark, let’s first consider the common traits of successful content marketing.

What kind of ideas catch on?

I’m yet to come across a comprehensive and well-researched study in content marketing. Specifically however there are two excellent marketing resources I’d recommend which have transferrable lessons. The first is Made to Stick, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and the second is Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Prof. Jonah Berger. Both of these books look at an extensive range of marketing campaigns, slogans, philosophies, advertisements, stunts and more, and seek to determine the common characteristics of the most successful (See Figures 1 and 2).

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Figure 1: Made to Stick - list of characteristics
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Figure 2: Contagious – list of characteristics

As you can see, the characteristics identified in each of the two books are either synonyms of each other or are exactly the same. At theMediaFlow, we too have found our most successful content marketing campaigns for clients possess one or more of the characteristics described in these two resources. To simplify things further we condense this into just two characteristics:

  • Practical Resonance
  • Emotional Resonance

By practical resonance, we mean content that answers a question, presents a new solution or an easy way to do things. You may have seen examples of video content of this nature, such as separating an egg yolk using a plastic bottle and the force of suction created in filling a bottle with some of the air squeezed out of it with air (and egg yolk). On the other hand content that has emotional resonance can range from humour (mirth) to hard-hitting social injustice that prompts a sense of outrage. A great example is the legendary Kony 2012 video, which broke all the other rules of “best-practise” previously touted. It was way longer than the three minutes conventionally recommended for video and the subject matter did not spare any sensibility.

Data input to content marketing

When you begin to plan a piece of creative content marketing; be it a strategy of standalone piece, there can be a host of ideas flying about or you see the dreaded tumbleweed roll across your screen. Whether you’re looking for inspiration or trying to select the best out of many ideas, you can use data to inform and direct a creative campaign.

  • DataMiner

Forums provide a wealth of data on the questions that people are asking and discussing. If you select the right forums, you will be able to directly tap into the conversations your target market are having. Using Advanced Query Operators to refine your searches of forums will enable you to find a list of the most relevant posts to your brand, and as a result provides a list of suggestions for crucial problem-solving content. In order to process these results efficiently there is a Chrome extension called DataMiner. DataMiner enables you to download the whole page of results - title, meta description and URL - which will give a rough idea of the theme of the post and whether it needs to be looked at further. Using the export from DataMiner, it is then a quick job to analyse the common themes in the results; group them into taxonomic types and strip the noise words from them in order to give a clear data-driven idea of the most popular topics for discussion.

  • Google Trends

Google Trends provides a graphical representation of how often particular search terms are entered, relative to search volumes around the world. The data runs from 2005 to present, which gives a longer measure of the popularity of a term than most other tools. If there is a choice in terminology for a content idea (e.g. payday loans versus short-term loan) then you can see which one has grown over time and which has declined, to help inform your decision. If you use Google Trends in conjunction with a topic found in DataMiner, it can help you refine a question someone has asked to the highest search volume equivalent.

  • Google Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner provides more detail in the average search volumes for terms over the past year, and provides a month-by-month segmentation to enable more accurate scheduling of the content you produce. It’s important to aim to have your content ready before the search volume around that term peaks to ensure maximum coverage for your brand’s content.

Creative ideation techniques

Once you’ve collated as much data as you can around the types of content and topics your audience want to read, you still need a creative way to represent those high search volume terms in your content. So just how do you turn data into creativity?

  • Mind Mapping

A traditional way of coming up with ideas, the mind map is often one of the most useful tools for content creation. Start with your central theme for the content and expand outwards with branches of the different elements that make up the topic; from here you can add in the mechanisms you’d use to cover that topic and watch your idea grow. Pass the mind map around your team and allow each person to contribute branches to it to ensure a breadth in the types of ideas you collate.

  • Free Association/Brainstorming

Open up your brainstorming in groups to allow for free association. This means that everyone is welcome to suggest any idea they like or thought that pops into their head without logical connection to the previous thought. By eliminating the structure to a brainstorm, it allows ideas to flow more freely and develop far quicker, helping you access a much broader range of ideas to work from.

  • Distraction

In order to maximise creativity you need to understand that there are two sides to your brain; a left-side analytical element and the right-side creative brain. Whilst it’s clear the right-side is the one you need when developing your content marketing, if you want it to be most effective you need to utilise both sides of your brain at the same time. Find an activity that will distract the left side of your brain and get you using more of your mental capacity; such as playing with Lego, it will keep your hands and brain busy whilst you think about the creative element of your marketing. In essence, data and thorough research can spark creativity, or at least kick-start the creative process. However, we have found over the past five years of content marketing that there’s no substitute for experience and a willingness to take risks and analyse your failures.

“Understanding what kind of content delivers the most desirable end-result is only part of the equation. How can we reliably create ideas that have the potential to resonate emotionally or practically, every time?”