Data-Driven Content In Practice

I’ve been pushing the “data-driven” content idea for almost three years at this point.  Everyone I talk to agrees that it is great “in theory.” But “in practice”? They remark how it is still a foreign concept.

Then they usually ask me for an example of “data-driven content.” And for over a year and a half now, I always provide the same, incredible example…

House of Cards from Netflix.

How this show came to be is the perfect example of pulling from data sources to come up with an incredibly relevant content idea for your target audience.


You take an established and popular director – David Fincher in this case – and look at the behavior of the people viewing his content through Netflix.

You see what kinds of content they are viewing in addition to his content. Does a “political thriller” seem like a relevant interest to the audience, based on what else they are watching? In this case, the answer was, “Yes.”

And you take it a step further to validate whom you want to star in the series. Do people who watch David Fincher movies, and who watch political thrillers, seem to be viewing Kevin Spacey movies as well?

The answer: YES

Data validated the content idea before a camera even began rolling. It was a calculated risk that they knew had a high chance of success, simply by looking at the data.

And they were right.

Beyond the awards the show has won (a Golden Globe, a few Primetime Emmys, a Peabody), it has also won in the number of viewers. The estimated traffic that the show gets – while not officially known – is alleged to be massive… With the second season being viewed eight times as much as the first season on release weekend.

How to Begin Data-Driven Ideation

Translating this concept to brands in the digital space can seem overwhelming. There are immense amounts of data. There are a number of groups responsible for the performance that leads to this data. There are various tools that track this data.

So how do you even begin to pull it together to reap insights?

Step One: Building Your Digital Stack

No one tool can do or provide you with everything you need in order to be successful. The idea of the “stack” has been around for a while. With a “digital stack” or “content stack”, it should include the following:

  • Keyword Visibility Tool: To track ranking performance in the search engines for a brand and its competitors.
  • Keyword Research Tool: Provides volume estimates for theme opportunities. Helps determine how “relevant” a theme is overall.
  • Analytics Tool: To understand where traffic is coming from, and the pages of the site it is going to.
  • Social Listening & Measurement Tool: To learn what the conversation happening around a brand’s topic or theme, as well as what kinds of conversations and engagement competitors are having with this audience.
  • Paid Media Performance Data: What do the various match-types of keyword performance tell us? Does broad-match provide some insight into related topics that we haven’t uncovered before for the brand?
  • Facebook Insights: What does the page’s performance data tell us about engagement on the page?  What types of content are working for this audience?
  • Google Trends: Indicates what topics have historically resonated with the online audience, and allows for side-by-side comparison of themes.

Step Two: Using Your Digital Stack

Parsing through the insights and data from the stack is time-consuming the first time you dig in and go through the process. But with a regular schedule of pulling the data and taking time to analyze the themes across the digital areas will make finding opportunities that are relevant much more efficient.

And it is important to note that what you are looking for are:

  • Common Themes: Are there similar conversations or themes popping up in multiple digital streams? Are you noticing, for example, a conversation about something relevant to your brand on social media… And then also seeing a lift in the terms your paid campaigns are being broad-matched to that are similar?
  • New Themes: Are there iterations of new keywords, topics, and content types popping up when analyzing the social conversations, paid media activity or competitors?

Step Three:  Share the Data

This is where data-driven efforts are lacking. It’s the collaboration of sharing the data with other digital areas.

We know that what is happening in organic search has a direct impact on paid search – in terms of both performance and cost. We know that paid search can have insights into related themes for which content may need to be built out on site. And we know that when used as a research tool, social listening provides a goldmine of opportunities that both SEO and paid can leverage.

Step Four: Allow the SMEs to Take the Data & Run With It

This is where Netflix allowed House of Cards to really run with things. They used the data to validate and find the initial opportunity.  But once that connect was made, data was no longer used. Original, genuine content ideation took over. And that should be the same process for digital strategy.

Allow data to find the overarching opportunity… But allow the subject matter experts to strategize and create from there.

It’s a hefty effort to do all of this, but one that is proving to be the “go-to” for getting the most relevant efforts in digital driving efficiency. And one you’ll start to see agency partners – like IMI – offer clients.

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