­Data Is Great, but You Are the Secret Ingredient to Content Marketing

Just as I thought, it’s happened. The pendulum in the content marketing industry urging creators to operate from a metrics-driven content strategy is swinging in the other direction, to one that leans more on gut, instinct and ingenuity.

While I attended Content Marketing World in Cleveland, it was remarkable how many times I heard speakers advise attendees to break the mold and focus on what matters.

In a session titled “How Brilliant Brands Create Less Content and Deliver Bigger Success,” Andrew Davis, author and CEO of marketing talent agency Monumental Shift, pointed out that the best and most valuable content comes when the audience least expects it.

Andrew Davis speaking at Content Marketing World.

“Create the content your audience doesn’t know they need, but when they see it, they love it!” he said.

Sounds great. Which custom variable in Google Analytics will tell me what that content is again?

What brands and organizations really need to focus on when they measure content marketing’s effectiveness isn’t just page views or shares. It’s on their ability to build relationships as a result of the content they create.

“What if we valued long-term relationships over views or likes?” asked Davis.

What if, indeed. After all, traditional media publishers like BuzzFeed, The New York Times and The Washington Post rely on page views because they garner their revenue and livelihood from display ads. But the beauty of most content marketing programs is that they derive their value from something else, such as leads generated or sales attribution.

So why do we still chase after the thousands of page views as if that matters?

Because: It feels good and big numbers make it feel real.

But more metrics doesn’t always translate into more value for content marketers. Davis made this crystal clear with the example of Jenny Doan and her Hamilton, Mo.-based Missouri Star Quilt Company. She built her brand and her business little by little with a weekly quilting video on her YouTube channel. As her audience and influence grew, so did her revenue, to the tune of more than $20 million per year. She is now the largest employer in her county, has 200 full-time employees, owns 17 buildings downtown and receives 3,000 online orders on average per day, said Davis.

All of this accomplished on the strength of a weekly YouTube show. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed has an army of millennials in Los Angeles cranking out massive amounts of video daily. Although, to be totally fair to BuzzFeed, they’re rethinking the way they measure success too, as we all should.

Still, the point stands: As a content marketer, which example is more relevant to your objectives? In many cases, it might be Jenny Doan’s and not BuzzFeed’s.

Trust Your Gut, Believe in Yourself

As I sat in Jay Acunzo’s session at Content Marketing World called “How the World’s Most Creative Content Marketers Do What Others Wouldn’t Dare,” I started to wonder if I was watching a Disney movie. Jay, who is a vice president at NextView Ventures but a seasoned content marketer as well (with stints at Google and Hubspot), was earnestly urging attendees to believe in themselves.

I almost mistook him for Jiminy Cricket, but alas, he was a bit taller.

Jay Acunzo speaking at Content Marketing World.

“Creativity is not a lifestyle. It’s a work ethic,” he said pointedly.

“Are you willing to bet more on you? Are you willing to turn your intuition into action to create great work?” he asked searingly.

Now he was getting personal.

To be clear, it’s not that Acunzo or Davis eschew measurement or data. In fact, both used data quite effectively in their presentations to highlight success stories and further their points. But just like with content, context is everything with analytics. And while metrics like page views, social shares, average time on page, opens and clicks can be helpful and useful information, being a slave to them without leaving room for human creativity can be dangerous.

Also: The truth is that creativity requires whimsy, experimentation and a lot of times, trial and error. There’s no data that’s going to give you “the magic feather,” as Ann Handley said in her session at Content Marketing World called “How to Level-Up Your Writing & Make It Ludicrously Spectacular.”

But above all else, great content requires human interest and investment. Otherwise, it becomes unbearable.

“Content marketing has turned content into a chore. A telic activity,” said Acunzo. “It needs to be intrinsically motivating.”

As Acunzo wove an analogy between content marketing and his favorite pizza shop, Sally’s Apizza, recalling how he asked his server what differentiated the Sally’s chain from other pizza chains, the server pointed to the starter. No starter, as he pointed out to Acunzo, is the same. That’s when the lightbulb struck: The same is true of us as content creators.

“YOU are the starter. You are the differentiating factor,” said Acunzo.

So rise, content marketers, like the crusty, flaky dough at Sally’s Apizza — and make content marketing great again.

Want more on Content Marketing World? Be sure to check out what Manifest did at the show by visiting manifest.com/cmw.