Data is not a four-letter word

There are two types of people in this world – the creative, and the logical. The latter love data, but for us creative types, data can sometimes feel like a scary word.

Journalists and writers are naturally creative, but have our jobs come under threat because of data? No. In fact, no creative job has, because data doesn’t hurt creativity, it complements it.

That doesn’t stop some creative types worrying though, and it’s not just an issue affecting journalism; the war between technology and creativity has been raging for some time in the advertising industry.

I believe that data and creativity can live harmoniously and in this article I hope to show you how.

No more guesswork

A few years ago, if you wanted to know an answer to a question, you had to look it up in a book, or ask someone more knowledgeable than you. Now, imagine that question was a bit embarrassing, or indeed a lot more complicated than simply, ‘Why is the sky blue?’

You might not want to ask someone, and it may take you far too long to find the right answer. Google has made answering questions incredibly easy and, better still, we’re able to know exactly what people are searching for.

This is vital when you’re crafting content for your business – one of the best ways to bring potential customers to your site is to answer questions they’re asking. Sure, we can make a good guess at what people might like to know, but guesses are rarely successful. At Vertical Leap, we use our own platform, Apollo Insights, to see exactly what your customers are searching for. The Words function allows us to find this data and use it to create content that people actually need, rather than what you think they need.

words example

We can also identify any gaps in the data – maybe people are searching for a topic you have not covered yet. You might even choose to email your customer database a questionnaire about what they’d like to see more of; the results are still data!

Businesses that use big data analytics are twice as likely to enjoy top-quartile financial performance as those that don’t. They’re also five times more likely to make faster decisions. You can’t argue with that data.

Use data to refine great ideas

Just because we use data to help us come up with content ideas doesn’t mean that we rely on it completely. Whilst we look at the data before attempting to conjure up ideas, we listen to what our own brains tell us too.

When we need to generate ideas for the next quarter’s editorial calendar, all the journalists and designers get together to discuss suggestions in an open forum. During these sessions, it’s common for at least one person to come up with an idea inspired by something someone else has said. We don’t dismiss these ideas because they weren’t born from hard data, we just use the data to refine them.

One such idea for a packaging client came from one of these discussions. One of my colleagues Liz suggested we conduct a biscuit survey for the client, to determine which crunchy treat is the nation’s favourite. This campaign would not only be fun and shareable, it would also increase brand awareness and tie in with the business’s food packaging solutions. We used the data from the survey to create an infographic and article, which generated press coverage, featuring in national and industry press publications, including The Mirror.


Because it was such a success, we decided to continue this momentum and new approach to the campaign, by following up with an infographic on cupcake trends. The data garnered from these two surveys showed that the business’s audience prefers content that’s entertaining as well as informing. As a result, the type of content we create for the client has changed dramatically.

Data doesn’t stunt creativity, it just provides evidence that the creative risk we’re about to take stands a good chance of succeeding. After all, no business is going to want to invest in something just because we say we’re experts. We need to prove ourselves. Data gives us – and you – that extra confidence that the content we produce will have a positive impact.

Get to know your audience better, and quicker

You may have an idea of who your target audience is, but do you know who’s really interacting with your site and content? Apollo Insights tells us who’s retweeting and liking your social posts, and Google Analytics (GA) shows the hobbies, likes, age and gender of your audience.

We can also use GA to see what sort of content your audience prefers. For example, when coming up with content ideas for a postal business, we logged into GA to see which content had performed well in the past. We had already written a whole series of blogs about the differing postage rules when sending items to each country covered by the business.

Naturally, the blogs covering the closer to home countries, such as France, Spain, Germany, etc. had all performed well. Outside of those locations, the blog about China received the most traffic. Our next series of blogs will inform customers what products they should send to relatives/friends living in different countries. Since content about China has proven to be a success, we’ve decided to lead with this country first.

china ipost

Without data, we would never have known that such content receives this level of traffic and interaction. This is exactly why companies split test ideas – humans are fickle and may not like what you expect them to like. Only through looking at the results will you know where their preferences lie, and only then can you improve what you do.

Expertise still plays a vital role

When a client has a brand new website, and therefore little or no historical data to show, it can be difficult to know what type of content is going to work for them. This means we have to create our own data and depend on the creative side of our brains, as well as knowledge gathered from past campaigns for other clients.

We may have to depend on our instincts rather than data to craft campaign ideas at first. Over time, we’ll be able to measure what’s working and what isn’t. It’s then we can begin to refine our efforts and better target our audience. This may take time, but good things come to those who wait (and measure).

Analysing this data takes time, as there’s just so much of it. An estimated 90 per cent of the world’s data was created in the past two years, according to IBM. When you have this much data to analyse, the task becomes impossible. You’ll either end up ignoring the data, or just picking and choosing the bits that you want.

You need a tool that does the analysis for you. PR professionals have started to use apps that do all the complicated work for them, allowing them to get on with their jobs, but with increased insight.

At Vertical Leap, we are also keen to spend the majority of our time doing, not analysing. Apollo Insights helps us do just this. Finally, we creative types will have more time to be creative, to come up with those award-winning ideas, and to have the data to back them up.

There are lots of people out there that will (wrongly) tell you that data is a threat to creativity. A lack of confidence is the biggest threat, and data helps all that self-doubt fade away. Finally you can justify every decision you make, instead of praying and hoping like the marketers of old.

Simply put, data:

  • Makes creativity measurable
  • Gives journalists’ creativity a boost
  • Gives marketers confidence
  • Proves content is working
  • Shows who your audience is
  • Shows you what your audience needs

Want help using data?

Delving into data can be overwhelming – there is so much of it in so many places, it’s hard to know where to start. If you’d like some guidance, simply call our digital marketing advisors on 023 9283 0281. In the meantime, these related articles may be useful:

The digital marketer’s big data dilemma

Five things you need to know about big data

Why every marketing manager needs a dashboard

Laura Varley profile picture
Laura Varley

Laura was a Content Marketing Specialist at Vertical Leap. Laura joined us in 2013 and was responsible for managing the content produced for various SEO clients.

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