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The first time I fell in love, it was with only 500 people.

Those 500 people provided the insights for an infographic Cheryl Loh developed for my Harvard Business Review blog, based on a project I did with Vision Critical. From Pinterest to Purchase was shared all over the web, and still attracts a steady trickle of tweets and pins two years later.

That's what made me fall in love...with data-driven content marketing. Infographics are a huge part of this, but so are blog posts, reports, ebooks and even individual tweets sharing a key data point. Combining content marketing, data and infographics - three of the hottest trends in marketing - will help maximize your company's marketing reach, social media mentions and earned media.

Tweet this!Combine content marketing, data and infographics to maximize your reach, social media mentions and earned media. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Your online community of customers can give you and your marketing team an incredible leg up on this phenomenon. During a workshop at the 2014 Vision Critical Summit, I shared some tips on how customer intelligence professionals can start thinking of their insight communities not only as a source of insight but also as a source of content.

The key to using data for content marketing is to stop thinking like a data analyst and start thinking like a storyteller. The big opportunity lies in telling a story that can attract widespread public attention.

Tweet this!To use data for content marketing, stop thinking like a data analyst and start thinking like a storyteller. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Here are 8 tips for transforming customer-intelligence data into useful content-marketing materials.

  1. Use factory seconds.

When my friend Jacob worked at Ben & Jerry's, he used to use factory seconds to hitchhike home. He'd stand by the side of the road, holding out a pint of ice cream, and he'd give it to whomever offered him a lift. And as far as I know, he never had to walk home.

This "factory seconds" strategy can also work in content marketing. Do you have any non-confidential data that you can share with the media and the wider public? Look for your "factory seconds"—the data you haven't had a reason to share or use and turn it into content.

Some Vision Critical customers run "engagement studies" to keep things interesting for their members. The purpose of these studies isn't necessarily to get insight for business decisions; their primarily purpose is to keep people engaged. This is a great source to get factory seconds.

If you don't have data lying around your own shop floor, you may find what you need through third-party data sources. And if you don't have the dollars or designers to make your data look pretty, you may still be able to use it as useful backup for the story you are telling in a blog or opinion piece. All that matters for marketing purposes is whether it helps you tell the story that you're trying to tell potential customers.

  1. Create linkable assets.

Use data to drive inbound traffic off of other PR or social media activity. If you have an executive or a team member who comments frequently on an issue, your community can be a great source for original data asset that all those talks, posts and guest columns can link to.

Last year, we threw a couple of questions about email onto one of our Voice of Market communities so that we could publish a blog post. I then linked to that post in my ebook on email management.

Your content marketing campaign shouldn't necessarily be about you. In fact, the most effective story to tell is usually something that relates to your brand, but isn't about your brand. For example, Home Advisor's "The Cost of Home ImprovementÛ infographic shares interesting stats about frauds and scams. It's a great resource for customers thinking about home improvement, but it isn't about Home Advisor. Putting your customers' needs first in your content marketing efforts will help you create assets that media outlets, bloggers and social media users will want to link to.

  1. Turn by-products into content.

You may have the ingredients for a great media story as the by-product of your core work in customer insight. Tell an interesting story by creatively using what you already know about your customers.

Jawbone, a fitness tracker company, recently released an infographic on the sleeping habits of people in major cities. An interesting insight from Jawbone's data is that New Yorkers actually go to sleep at a reasonable hour compared to Tokyo and other cities. Jawbone's technology tracks people's sleeping patterns, so this data is a byproduct of its service. The folks at Jawbone were simply sharing interesting data about what they already know about their customers.

  1. Find a timely hook.

Last year, just before Black Friday, we tapped into our Voice of Market communities to find out about the season's various archetypes. This provided a timely and relevant hook for us to approach various media publications.

A Black Friday study conducted by Price Grabber in 2012 took a different approach, asking people what they were looking for during the Black Friday sales season. That let them tell a story that much more directly underlined their brand as a way to find the best price.

To take advantage of the World Cup fever, UK-based Exterion Media turned to its award-winning insight community to learn about people's media consumption habits. The results not only earned media attention, but also helped community members see the value of their input.

These examples provide a crucial lesson about using data for content marketing: think like a journalist and look for opportunities to use data to "newsjack" major events and holidays. Map out the various events in the year when your company can naturally join the conversation. Once you've identified those opportunities, it's easier to look for or produce data that you can use to for content.

  1. Find the media angle.

Give your data an angle that will appeal to media. For example, break your data down by regional or demographic differences, or home in one or two provocative insights.

To find out what the media would find interesting, it helps to get back to your customers. Consider what people want to know about your products, and then build content materials that address that interest. For example, in 2013, the NFL found its data-driven hit when it created an infographic based on player statistics.

If you're not in an industry where people already trade stats about your brand, you have to get creative. That's what we learned last year when we decided to dig deeper about people's media-viewing habits during the Emmy season. The idea to do the study was born from a speech Kevin Spacey gave at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Shortly after fielding the study and getting the results back, we had the materials we needed to approach VentureBeat. The study was not just covered by online publications, it also gave us timely material to share on our social networks.

  1. Release recurring data.

An insight community allows companies to build a long-term relationship with customers. Doing follow-up studies is often easy with insight communities since you're building off what you already know about your customers. With an insight community, companies have the ability to build a longitudinal data set, or even just to set up the expectation of a recurring report.

For our Pinterest to Purchase story, we saw an opportunity to expand the study to include Twitter and Facebook. The result is From Social to Sale, a report that has been featured in the Harvard Business Review magazine and numerous other publications.

  1. Create a virtuous circle of engagement.

Last year, Joshua Katz, a grad student in North Carolina, repurposed the results of a previous Harvard study of American speech patterns to create a series of U.S. dialect maps. The maps inadvertently went viral, finding their way to Reddit, Business Insider and other outlets.

Katz was eventually hired by The New York Times as a graphics intern; the Times turned his project into an engaging reader survey. That survey collected hundreds of thousands of additional responses, and became the paper's top article of 2013.

Starting from what many would have seen as a stale data set, Katz and the Times were able to to turn old data into content, and to turn that content into an engaging reader activityÛ_.which led to still more data, and even better content. With some creativity, marketers can collaborate with insight professionals to create a similar virtuous cycle of engagement.

  1. Use small samples.

If you're going to use your insight community for content marketing, don't think you need to put your entire community behind these projects. Data from smaller samples can be just as useful. For example, a 4th of July study from Manta, which runs a small business community, was based on 1,105 responses. With an engaged insight community, it takes 24 hours or less to get more than 1,000 responses. Often, that sample size is good enough to tell a compelling and statistically valid story.

With 77% of B2C and 86% of B2B marketers already using content marketing at their companies, standing out from the crowd requires creativity and the right strategy. Thankfully, the same people you're trying to reach can also provide the data and the insight you need to win at content marketing: your customers.

A Turning Point in Data Collection

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