3 ways to create data-driven content – Formative Content

3 ways to create data-driven content

Every client I work with has a data story to tell. From combining weather data with AI in order to accurately trade renewable energy, to using data from smart vehicles to lower insurance premiums, there are so many businesses doing exciting things with data right now.

But what about using data as an integral part of a marketing and communications strategy? Instead of simply creating content about how data is being used in the business, how about using data to find out what stories an organisation has to tell, and what stories its audiences are interested in hearing?

Here are three main ways to do this and create data-driven content:

1. Using public data

When we talk about data journalism, it usually refers to the interrogation of publicly available datasets in order to find a story.

One of the main methods employed by journalists is requesting data from public bodies under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

Making the request is the easy part. When the data arrives it is rarely collated or organised how you want it; instead, it is sent in a variety of formats, from spreadsheets to photocopies of letters.

The journalist will then need to clean up and organise this data in such a way that the story starts to reveal itself. For example, to produce this story on police out-of-court settlements, The Guardian contacted the UK’s 43 police forces. It then pulled together all of the responses into a single dataset to reveal that settlements had totalled £30 million in four years.

While traditionally the preserve of data journalists, there are some more adventurous companies now using FOIs to generate their own stories. For example, cloud services provider NetApp sent FOI requests to the UK’s NHS trusts about their use of AI. After collecting the responses from 61 trusts, NetApp was able to generate substantial press coverage on its story that 52% of NHS trusts were already using AI in some form.

But FOI requests aren’t the only way that organisations can generate stories from publicly available data. There are many public bodies, especially at the global level, that make their data freely available and easily accessible. For example, we worked with the Wellcome Trust to interrogate World Health Organisation data and created three data visualisations that told the story of the importance of vaccines.

2. Using a social listening tool

Social media gives every organisation a wealth of information about their audiences. Using tools that ‘listen’ to conversations is a great way of identifying hot topics and trending themes.

For example, social listening tool Pulsar ran a search of Chief Information Officers (CIO) on Twitter to find out about the key themes and topics they are interested in. It then used that data to publish content on its own website revealing those trends.

Tools such as Pulsar not only offer a way to pinpoint broad themes, they can also be used to deliver more nuanced insights that may not yet have played a role in any content strategy.

We used Pulsar to identify the topics being discussed on Twitter by a target audience of one of our clients. This audience was tech-focused and made up predominantly of CIOs. Many of the results of our search simply confirmed our editorial hunch that themes such as Blockchain and AI would be an extremely important part of the content strategy. 

However, it also identified that a topic gaining a good deal of traction among this audience was ‘women in tech’. This was something that the client had not previously considered as part of its content strategy. As a result of this insight, we were able to build women-specific and gender equality-focused content into the campaign.

3. Using your own data

Companies today have a vast array of data at their fingertips, telling them everything from the demographics of customers to how their business and assets are operating and performing. 

This data can be mined to create stories. To date, this approach is rare in business-to-business organisations, but it is common among tech companies that analyse their app data. 

For example, fitness app Strava revealed that 19 January is “Quitters Day” – the day that most people give up on their New Year’s resolution to be more healthy. Airbnb, meanwhile, went through its data to reveal that Wales was the trending region for those holidaying in the UK. 

However, there is a reason that few companies beyond app developers mine their data to generate content: data on its own is never enough. Reams of statistics won’t magically conjure up increased engagement on social media. There still needs to be someone with the ability to interpret that data, someone who understands what resonates with audiences, and what makes a great story.

For example, technology company NTT runs the data analytics for the Tour de France. Despite having a wealth of data at their disposal, their executives admit that they must still work with journalists to find the most compelling stories among the numbers. 

Ultimately, the only organisations likely to successfully generate data-driven content are those that have realised the value of applying journalistic values to their marketing and communication strategies.

And while it may be difficult to directly link brand journalism and thought leadership to sales, the body of evidence around their importance is growing: Edelman’s 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study found that 88% of decision-makers believe that thought leadership is effective at enhancing their perceptions of an organisation.

It’s also important to remember that data will never give you the whole answer, and content strategies shouldn’t be built on data alone.

As Formative Content CEO Gay Flashman points out in her book Powerful B2B Content, building up a steady flow of content that connects with your audiences requires multiple approaches to “story mining”, both inside and outside your organisation. This will still include old-fashioned concepts such as having conversations with colleagues and customers, as well as setting up processes that enable those conversations on a regular basis.

But in 2020, data should at least be part of the process for creating content that connects with your customers.


About the author: John McKenna is a Senior Content Editor at Formative Content. An experienced business journalist, John now combines journalism with data to help global organisations tell their stories.

Formative Content is a corporate digital agency working with some of the world’s most widely known and well-respected multinational organisations. If you’d like help with your digital marketing campaigns, get in touch.

John McKenna - Senior Content Editor, Formative Content
Author:John McKenna - Senior Content Editor, Formative Content