By Bob Finlayson and Paul Brunato

  • The changing media landscape has resulted in brands self-publishing an increasing volume of content. But this content often fails to engage and resonate with target audiences.
  • With proper analysis, readily available digital tools can provide tremendous insight into the topics your audiences will find compelling.
  • Data-driven content campaigns can help you create messaging and content customized to the interests of your audiences – establishing thought leadership for your brand and driving increased engagement among your audiences.

Yes, Content is king. . . but without an engaged audience, it’s the monarch of a lonely realm.

You’re a marketing visionary.

You read the writing on the wall. You recognized early on that the changing media landscape requires companies in all industries to “publish or perish.”

But press releases and traditional advertising campaigns just don’t cut it anymore…

So you invested in talent. Creative writers, social media managers, graphic designers, video production specialists.

You converted your marcom department into an in-house content production juggernaut. And the volume of content you produce and promote is formidable.

But the Battle for Attention Is Intense

With so many companies producing their own content, you are now competing with your industry peers and even ‘traditional media’ for the attention of your customers and other stakeholders. Not to mention the growing legions of industry bloggers, social media influencers, and all manner of subject matter experts, thought leaders and aspiring pundits.

To get your company the recognition it deserves, you have to actively engage your stakeholders with compelling, multi-dimensional content that stimulates their interest and drives engagement while communicating your brand’s unique value propositions. It’s no small challenge.

And this challenge is compounded by the variety of stakeholder groups you need to engage and influence. Groups ranging from prospective and current employees and customers, to public officials, investors, suppliers and partners. Everyone who believes they have – or should have – a stake in how you run your business, the products or services you provide, and how you interact with your local communities.

What Stakeholders Care About

What do your stakeholders care about? What content do they consume for professional development and in their leisure time? What topics are they inspired to comment on and share with their colleagues, friends and even family?

To win the race for thought leadership, you need to answer these questions. And implement a messaging and content strategy designed around your audiences’ unique content preferences and engagement behavior. So how do you answer these questions and start winning the race?

Digital Tools + Actual (not Artificial) Intelligence

Over the past few years, a suite of sophisticated digital tools have become readily available, offering deep visibility into every aspect of online behavior. When used skillfully and coupled with discerning, human analysis, these tools can provide highly nuanced insight into your customers’ and prospects’ interests, concerns, challenges, and passions.

These insights can then be converted into a strategic ‘roadmap’ of the messages and topics that will expand awareness of – and drive interest in – your brand, products and services. A data-driven content program can identify the most compelling messages for your different communication channels and create smarter, more effective content for marketing and sales campaigns. Done correctly, these campaigns maximize the appeal and resonance of your story with your customers, stakeholders and other target audiences.

How Data-Driven Content Works

Digital tools make it possible to develop the insights needed for powerful and effective content programs, but they are just the starting point. Data is only as valuable as the intelligence applied to understanding it and the knowledge of what to do with that understanding.

A successful data-driven content strategy first requires an analysis of your company’s business goals and your existing positioning and messaging platform.

Next you need deep insight into your stakeholders’ and target audiences’ digital behavior and preferences. Popular hashtags and trending topics in your industry can provide a starting point for identifying a ‘panel’ or ‘focus group’ of individuals who are both actively engaged with the key topics, and influential within their professional communities. Digital tools help identify these individuals, based on their actual behavior. The members of this group will evolve over time as individual interests change, their influence waxes or wanes, or the focus of your marketing and sales efforts evolves.

Keep in mind, creating an audience panel is the opposite of the “social listening” most companies implement. Social listening is interesting, as it tells you what your audience might or might not be saying about your company, products or executives. But for our data-driven content strategy, we find greater value in what they are talking about as it relates to topics they care about. Their professional development, trends in the industry, challenges they face at work and at home, and opportunities they see for themselves and their peers.

These stakeholder audience insights are then applied to the prior analysis of your positioning and messaging platform to develop content that is strategically aligned with the insights gleaned from social listing and other data.

Digital Audience Panels

Analysis of the trending topics, discussions and engagement of your audience panel provides insight into the issues and topics where your company can join the conversation – in real time – with appropriate content that will resonate with and engage your audience, while establishing a position of thought leadership.

Similarly, by identifying and tracking topics that have limited volume, but are aligned to your business objectives and/or should be of interest to your target audience, we can uncover ‘white space’ opportunities. This white space represents an opportunity for your company to lead the conversation through carefully crafted thought leadership campaigns. Content ideas can be tested through your audience panel, validating campaign concepts before committing substantial time and resources to them.

Potential Obstacles

The current organizational structure of your marketing and communications departments can be an obstacle to effectively implementing a data-driven thought leadership content strategy. As we noted in The Strategically Structured Communications Department, examining the structure of these departments and aligning them to the realities of the current media and influencer landscape are important for two reasons. First, such a realignment will make it easier for department leaders to access critical financial resources, implement necessary training programs and identify talent needed to transition to data-driven marcom campaigns. Second, it will support integrated marketing objectives, driving the cross-team coordination needed to make such campaigns successful.

Winning the Race for Thought Leadership

With consumer advertising becoming more and more ineffective, B2C companies have taken a lead in data-driven content campaigns. But we believe the value of such an approach for B2B companies is substantial. Thought leadership has long been a key objective of B2B marketers and communicators; today, readily available data can inform and drive such campaigns in ways that make them far more effective, delivering outsized ROI. By employing data-driven content campaigns, you can win the race for thought leadership in your industry.

Need help implementing a data-driven thought leadership program for your organization? Contact us through LinkedIn.

About the Authors

Bob Finlayson is a seasoned marketing and communications executive with 20 years’ experience working with many iconic brands, including Microsoft, HP, SAP, Salesforce, Gap, Activision-Blizzard and Adobe, among others. He has held senior positions within several of the leading global marketing and communications agencies, including Edelman, Burson-Marsteller and Hill+Knowlton.

Paul Brunato leverages two decades of in-house corporate marketing experience driving thought leadership and managing PR campaigns for companies ranging from startups to multinational powerhouse brands, including Flex, Juniper Networks, AT&T, Blockbuster, Motorola, Disney, and Frog Design. Since January 2019, he has been advising high tech and B2B clientele as an independent communications consultant.