How to Harness the Power of Data to Elevate Your Content

Meghan Lockwood
Meghan Lockwood



If you were going to ask your CEO for more inbound marketing budget this year, which argument would be more convincing: “I ‘feel’ it’s the right thing to do,” or, “48% of marketers are increasing their inbound budgets this year, and it’s the third year in a row the industry is expanding at almost a 50% rate. We need to capitalize on this trend.”

The second, right? It’s hard to dispute an argument when it’s rooted in facts.

As marketers, we don’t just have to convince people to be on our side about an issue -- we need to convince them to take action. Here’s where data-driven content comes in: it’s the rationale that makes people, particularly potential prospects and leads, sit up and pay attention.

So to help you make the most of the data you have at your disposal, we wanted to explain why people love it and give a few tips for using it in your day-to-day marketing. Bonus: If you really love data, you can be part of our latest research project. Take our latest survey on website redesign here.

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Why People Like Data

Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian believes, “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. Because now, we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complementary factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.”

While the jury’s still out on whether a data analyst’s job is “sexy,” Varian is right about the importance of data -- your audience expects you to use it when marketing to them. And in order for you to properly use data in your marketing, you need to know why it’s so compelling to your audience in the first place. Here’s why people like data so much:

  • It provides concrete details. Specific data points give context for your audience and allow people to better understand what you’re saying. Instead of trying to convince people with sweeping statements, including data makes your argument more interesting and credible to your audience. And it works in practice too: according to research by our resident social media scientist, Dan Zarrella, articles with digits in their titles are about 175% more likely to be shared than those without them.
  • It can help predict the future. People always want to be on the cusp of the latest and greatest in their industry … and data can help them do that. Looking at trends gives you insight on where your industry has been and where it might go. Let’s use the common bell-curve graph as an example: If we noticed that a social media trend was flat, then increased exponentially to a peak, then started to level out, we might predict that that trend was about to be on it’s way out. You can use this insight to help your audience understand current and upcoming trends -- and maybe even establish yourself as a thought leader in the process.   
  • It provides social proof. According to Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, people are much more likely to do something if they know someone else is doing it to. Data provides a benchmark for people to measure themselves against -- and makes them conscious of what “everyone else” is doing.

Moral of the story here: people eat up data. But you can’t just slap a few stats throughout your marketing and expect data to bring you improved results.

How You Can Use Data in Your Marketing

With all this data out there in the universe means, we have terrific marketing opportunities at our fingertips. Why then, are so many data-driven reports and articles so boooorrrrriiinggg? There are few things worse than reading a long diatribe on data findings where every sentence is mired in academia-speak or when a speaker rattles off data points without any context.

If you’re looking for some information on storytelling with data, check out this recent article by Harvard Business Review. But we’re going talk more about how data can help your marketing efforts overall. Here are some guidelines for using data in all of your marketing activities:

Use the data to frame your story angle.

In any good story, you’ll offer a thesis, establish proof, and then give a takeaway for the audience. Data can be used to support your angle -- either as the introduction of your thesis or as proof for your initial statement. Keep in mind that the data point alone won’t prove your case for you. If your angle is your data point, make it easy to understand but unique -- this is the one hook that makes your reader think and read on.   For example, as the lead-in to a speaking engagement on the rise of mobile marketing, I started with the stat that there are more mobile phones on the planet than toothbrushes. That’s a much more interesting comparative statistic than just the number of mobile phones in the world. The key is to make people think.

Use visual data as a jumping-off point for your presentations.

In the modern business world, tons of people slap random stats into presentations, hoping to make you say “wow.” Remember, if pictures speak 1,000 words, data must speak 1,000,000 -- so don’t overwhelm your audience by cramming a ton of stats on a slide. A better technique for using data in your presentations is to go simple: use one chart as the jumping-off point for a point in your talk. Using charts is visual, compelling, and allows your audience to focus on listening to your speech -- not on reading the slides. If you’re interested in some charts to use in your presentations, you can download a deck of 86 shareable charts from the State of Inbound Marketing Report.

Create content with the magic number seven in mind.

If you have been in marketing at all, you have probably heard the idea that people like odd numbers, and that lists should include roughly seven data points. According to psychologist George Miller, our memory can only remember seven pieces of data (plus or minus two, depending on the individual and situation he or she is in) -- so it’s best to create your content with that in mind. For what it’s worth, I’ve also personally seen this study hold true in real life landing page conversions.

Increase landing page conversions by using specific numbers.

As I mentioned earlier, people like specific details. From a conversion standpoint, countless A/B tests have proven that adding specific numbers to headlines and subject lines increases conversion rates. Specificity breeds trust and credibility, so think about adding clear data points to your content in your next A/B test and see how your audience likes it.

Increase press mentions with original data.

Are you trying to get your content noticed by the press? One of the best ways to do that is to launch new, interesting data. When developing articles, the press needs to answer one question with every article: why now? New data gives you the chance to answer it: data can be both the justification and the driver of urgency -- as long as it’s truly interesting and relevant to what the reporter writes about.

Even if you’re not a huge numbers fan, the era of big data and all the cool analytics reports you can run in digital marketing is the answer to your prayers. Data allows you to find a common thread in the universe to engage with people and maybe even have them buy your product. So rejoice in the change, and start getting down with data -- your leads and customers will thank you for it.

How do you use data in your marketing? Share your tips with us in the comments! 

Image credit: kenteegardin

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