By Jodi Harris published October 6, 2013

Should Your Content Marketing Process Make Room for Big Data?

hand holding out content possibilitesLooking for help with your biggest content marketing challenges? We’ve invited some of the experts who spoke at this year’s Content Marketing World to share what they’ve learned from their experience in the industry.

At Content Marketing World 2013, one of the most popular topics of conversation was Big Data — in particular, how to make it actionable without letting it overwhelm your other priorities and strategic content marketing goals. But does the Big Data feeding frenzy require equally big changes to existing content marketing processes, or does it all boil down to an overhyped term for a consideration that is already part and parcel to any successful content strategy? 

For some additional perspective on the topic, we asked some of the experts who presented at Content Marketing World 2013 to answer the question, “What strategic changes do you think need to be made to accommodate the directive to make Big Data actionable, or do you feel content marketers are already well-prepared to meet the data demands?

Stephanie_Leffler_Photo-150x150Big Data will continue be a large part of a solid content strategy. It’s not necessarily the buzzword pressure that will lead to strategic changes, but it’s the understanding that Big Data can help businesses succeed more quickly, driving marketers to pay close attention to factors like social, local, mobile SEO, and so on.

That being said, I think we’ll begin to see the roles of content and digital strategists become an integral part of every marketing team. Researching, planning content in advance, clearly defining benchmarks, and optimizing throughout campaigns will need to become a standard process — not just for those who are dominating the content marketing world. Stephanie Leffler, CEO and Co-founder, CrowdSource | @CrowdSource

Amanda MaksymiwThis is a topic that I follow closely (and even wrote about in a recent CMI post). I think content marketers are ready for the shift to the new directive. The changes that need to happen include shifting the focus on the problem rather than just the data sources, and fostering a curiosity for the insights that come from data. Amanda Maksymiw, Content Marketing Manager, Lattice Engines | @amandamaks 

Heather Meza head shotBig Data should support your content strategy, not change it. I <3 Big Data!

Heather Meza, Head of the Digital Media Solutions Center, of Expertise, Cisco | @HeatherMeza 

Lauren Moler head shotGood marketing has always been centered on evaluation, so in some ways, I feel we’re doing what we’ve always done, just with more data. The strategic change that I see is that companies are now staffing positions to help us parse and find patterns in that data for more informed decision-making.

Lauren Moler, Content Strategist and Information Architect, National Instruments | @merrymoler

paolo_mottola_REI_highres-150x150I don’t see any strategic changes. Marketers should always lean on data to inform direction. Marketers are only as well prepared as they know their analytics tools! Paolo Mottola, Digital Engagement Program Manager, REI | @paolojr 

Jodi NavtaThe value of Big Data can mean different things to different stakeholders within an organization. First and foremost, make sure you understand what’s important within your organization. I think smart marketers understand this and are already aware that they need to have a direct line into all areas of the business, especially IT. Jodi Navta, VP of Marketing and Communications, Coyote | @jodinavta 

PHIL-PARANICAS-150x150There are two sides to the Big Data discussion: 1) gathering it and 2) applying it. Often, more than enough data is being compiled, whether companies realize it or not (hence the “big” in Big Data). The tougher part of the equation is “knowing” how to best apply the data in line with your content marketing goals. For example, website traffic data is incredibly useful and can give deep insight into your customers/prospects behavior and demands — without them even realizing they are telling you! Big decisions can be made from this data — such as where to put your next retail location, or what products you should develop or discontinue. Phil Paranicas, Director of Digital Media, ThomasNet | @Flip2Market

Roger C. Parker head shotMy concern is that Big Data might be used to undermine, rather than enhance, a firm’s ability to effectively deliver deep, relevant content, custom tailored to market and interest niches. The quest for the “most efficient” solutions serving the majority could lead to a form of “tyranny of the majority,” working against a firm’s efforts to create meaningful personal connections and loyalties with smaller subsets of clients and customers.

It’s the content marketing equivalent of trying to buy a mid-sized car with a manual transmission. The “numbers” aren’t there, so automobile makers focus on bland designs with automatic transmissions that may satisfy the middle, but don’t appeal to those who want more of an engaging, hands-on driving experience. Roger C. Parker, Content Coach, Speaker, and Mind Mapping Resource | @RogerCParker

Justin Premick head shotHonestly, I’m not convinced that Big Data should be a part of most content marketing teams’ strategies. I see the promise in Big Data, but in my opinion, the resources and scale required to make it work are larger than most teams have available.

There is so much low-hanging fruit in content marketing… yes, it’s data-driven, but not Big Data-driven. Content driven by Big Data strikes me as what you should do after you’ve plucked that fruit. Justin Premick, Director of Education Marketing, AWeber | @justinpremick

Paul Roetzer head shotTo make Big Data work for you, consider creating original research reports, based on proprietary data, which can serve as the foundation for wildly effective content marketing campaigns. When done right, these branded reports can drive website traffic, build your subscriber base, produce valuable inbound links, generate leads, improve lead-to-conversion rates, and enhance customer loyalty. Consider what unique information your organization has to offer target personas, and then devise creative ways to package, publish, and promote the content. Paul Roetzer, Founder and CEO, PR 20/20 | @PaulRoetzer

Jeff Rohrs head shotThe best “Big Data” is actually about the smallest of data — the relevant bits of information that make a moment more meaningful for an individual consumer. To that end, content marketers would be wise to begin thinking about who owns audiences in their companies in order to positively impact the type of data collected and used to personalize experiences across platforms. Jeff Rohrs, Head of the Marketing Research & Education Group, ExactTarget | @jkrohrs

Buddy Scalera head shotData has been available for a very long time, but recently we’ve seen great strides made in how this data can be analyzed. Big Data is useful for many companies, so they understand the context and scope of their opportunities.

Big Data can be especially useful if you can make sense of it. But let’s not talk exclusively about Big Data, since there’s still a lot to learn from small data.

Small data can help you narrow the focus of specific segments of your audience. I’ve been in the room when teams have presented both big and small data that was interesting and enlightening. But when we applied analysis from large and small data sets, we got a better picture. We understood what our customers wanted, what we could provide to them, and how they were responding to our content solutions.

That kind of big + small analysis resulted in better reports that actually helped the brand team to understand the ROI of their content assets. Buddy Scalera, SVP of Content Strategy & Media, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide | @MarketingBuddy

Craig Waller head shotEveryone talks about Big Data. We’re focused on big insights. Making the case that most marketers don’t know what to do with all that data, and you can derive amazing insights from smaller data sets if you hire smart people and use good tools. Craig Waller, Head of Content Operations, Pace | @jcraigwaller

Michael Weiss head shotDavid Ogilvy said it best: “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post: for support, rather than for illumination.” Michael Weiss, Managing Director, figure18 | @mikepweiss

Rob Yoegel head shotThis was actually the premise of my session at Content Marketing World. Putting the focus on the customer. You can do that without worrying about Big Data. While Big Data has put the focus on what we know about our customer, marketers shouldn’t get lost in a sea of data. You can’t boil an ocean. Focus on what can have an impact quickly, analyze, and iterate. The consumer (B2C or B2B) will tell you if you’re doing it right or not. Rob Yoegel, Content Marketing Initiatives Lead, Monetate | @RobYoegel


It seems that the experts (mostly) agree. Whether you create a plan for leveraging Big Data, set your sights on smaller, more customized insights, or take a hybrid approach, the key is to never lose sight of the big picture: how you will analyze and apply the knowledge you gather to deliver on audience needs more effectively and efficiently.

Though the online data deluge shows no sign of slowing, here are some considerations to help keep your head above water:

  • Data is meaningless in the absence of a strategic plan: It provides information that will guide you in the right direction, but won’t solve challenges in and of itself.
  • Focus on data points that will help you determine which actions will have the quickest impact, then analyze and iterate from there.
  • Think of Big Data as a tool that, with careful analysis, can reveal the context and scope of the content marketing opportunities that exist.
  • Consider who on your team is equipped to identify data patterns that can lead to more informed decision-making.

Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World this year? Visit our Videos on Demand portal to get virtual access to keynote addresses, presentations, and more fantastic content from the event.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As a content strategy consultant, Jodi helps businesses evaluate their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create compelling stories to be delivered across multiple media channels and platforms. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

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  • Henley Wing

    Great compilation of expert quotes, Jodi.

    I think data should guide, but not dictate content strategy. Otherwise it’s easy to get stuck in a local maxima and optimize the wrong metrics.

    I actually want to get your feedback on a tool I developed that is in beta. It uses “big social data” to give you engaging content ideas based on what’s trending in the social web. Would love to hear if this is what you would consider big data mixed with content marketing?

    • Jodi Harris

      Thanks for your note, Henley. The tool you describe sounds like it would certainly apply to the intersection of big data and content marketing. If you’d like to contact me directly (jodi [at] contentinstitute [dot com]), I’d love to hear more details.

  • Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

    Good piece of work, thanks for putting it together.

    Being in China we are not always in touch with these meetings, but of course, in so far as digital and everything with it, China marketing is at the head of the pack.

    But just as at your meeting, many here came to the same conclusion some time back, indeed, it became a focus of our Email news letters and blog in June ~ July of this year where we tried to break BIG DATA down and explain it as we found many SME’s, and not so small, were either confused or had been sold an overhyped buzzword. Many think it refers to size rather than quantity,

    Personally, and I understand others have a different view, I see it as an extension of what we have always had, “Research & Analysis” except now we have rather a lot more data and it is incredibly more accurate.

    But back then in the dim dark ages of 30 years ago and “street or door to door ” surveys, what you got wasn’t as important as how you used it. Has anything changed?

    There is no doubt, in my mind, big data will continue to be an important factor, but by itself it is not so important, it is the small data that you distill from it and how you use use that will propel your business. A bit like crude oil, straight from the earth has to go through certain processes to propel a space shuttle [I know, but you see the point!]

    So from that aspect, for content marketers it is another tool to gauge the feeling and temperature of subscribers, followers or clients and tailor the content accordingly. Which is where I think Henry Wing is coming from…CIC do something similar here in China, [ ] make contact with us Henry when you have time please.

  • TechGuy1313

    Very cool way to do the article. The quotes from the experts in the field certainly help to give an idea where every stands.

    I wanted to share a video that I think can be helpful for your readers that deals with planning and executing a Big Data program. ( This video is based off of TEKsystems research and delivers the message in a cute way through multiple sci-fi references. Though this is mainly delivered in terms of how IT departments can use it, I think there are plenty of things here that content marketers can glean of use as well.

  • Tatiana Aders

    I attended a Big Data Summit in San Francisco earlier this year and heard a little nugget of brilliance from the experts there, which was something along the lines of “It’s not big data sets that matter, it’s relevant data sets that matter”.

    I believe this also applies to using big data (er, relevant data) in a content marketing context. Content marketers need to focus on the most relevant data sets, which might not always be the biggest data sets out there.

    We also need to remember that big data analysis can give us clues, but we really need to use the unique pattern recognition machine between our ears to tie data points into actionable knowledge.

  • Tamar Weiss

    Big data means many things to many people. As I see it, there can be too much of a good thing. Only when you are able to turn insight from this data into action does it become something meaningful. In bigger organizations, this means closed-loop solutions that track a prospect’s interactions with the brand throughout all online interaction.