Being data-driven is a very valuable quality to have as an inbound marketer. And while we usually talk about data in terms of using analytics to make better marketing decisions, there are definitely other areas of your marketing that can benefit from a little data here and there.
In your content, to name one. Are you consciously thinking about ways you can incorporate data into your content creation efforts? If not, peppering your content with data can help you boost the quality, credibility, and interest factor of your marketing content -- leading to more views and conversion opportunities! So are you ready to add a splash of spice to your content? Here are 13 ways to do it with data.
13 Ways You Can Use Data to Enhance Your Content
1) Provide Benchmarks
When drafting educational content such as a blog post or an ebook, you may include tips for your audience to improve upon, increase, enhance ... well, something. But sometimes people just have trouble knowing what "good" is. In these cases, providing readers with industry benchmarks can help them wrap their heads around how certain results stack up to the industry standard. This makes it easier for them to understand whether they're above or below industry norms, providing them with insight into how they're faring compared to others. For example, the following excerpt from our article, "A Marketer's Complete Guide to Launching Mobile Apps," provides helpful benchmarking information to give readers a sense of what success might mean for the launch of their mobile app.
2) Demonstrate Change/Consistency Over Time
Data can be a great tool for showing changes -- or consistencies -- in trends over time, giving your readers more context and insight into the effects of those changes/consistencies. In HubSpot's 2012 State of Inbound Marketing report, for example, we combined data from years past with our brand spankin' new 2012 data to show how inbound marketing-generated leads have consistently cost significantly less than outbound-generated leads.
3) Show Connection/Correlation
Use data to show the connection or correlation between two things, as HubSpot's Dan Zarrella does in his Science of Presentations research where he highlights the positive correlation between the length of SlideShare presentations and the number of views they accumulate. Just be careful with this, and understand that there's a difference between correlation and causation. Always make it clear that you're simply showing the connection between two things, not that one is directly leading to the other, which implies causation.
4) Prove a Point/Show Credibility
Making a point is one thing. Backing it up with data is another. Using data to help you prove your points not only shows you took the time to do your research because you care about producing high-quality content, but it also shows that you're not just spitting out "facts" that can't be backed up with some study or research to support them. No sir -- your point is credible and valid! Take the following example, for instance, taken from our blog post, "How to Tailor Lead Nurturing Content to Suit Individual Personas." We use data about the effectiveness of email personalization to back up our point that successful lead nurturing campaigns deliver content specifically tailored to the needs of different personas. Without it, our readers might wonder whether we're just spewing out random conjectures rather than actually highlighting data-driven best practices. But with the data, there's no question about it.
5) Emphasize Why Your Audience Should Care
Trying to convince your audience that a topic or issue should be important to them? Well, it's a whole lot easier to do if you have data on your side to help you emphasize why they should care. Take a look at the example below, which is an excerpt from our article, "12 Ways to Create a User-Friendly Website Registration Process." If you're a reader who isn't quite convinced that number seven on our list -- "Make password recovery easy" -- is an important factor in creating a user-friendly website registration process, the data we cite will probably make you realize why it should be. "Wow -- 45% of people will just give up and leave my website if they forget their log-in information? I should probably make the password recovery process stupid simple!" Mission accomplished; data to the rescue.
6) Back Up Your Opinions
Content written about controversial topics tends to make some pretty good link bait. But no one is going to be convinced of your position on a hot button issue if you're not backing up your opinions with credible data that supports your stance. If you've ever watched a debate, you know that the debaters who back up their opinions with compelling data are usually the ones who win. For example, when we published our article, "Dear U.S. Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail!" we made sure to include plenty of data about the cost and importance of inbound-generated leads vs. outbound-generated leads to back us up. As a bonus, this was even original data (more on that later) procured from HubSpot's 2012 State of Inbound Marketing report -- and it was featured visually (more on that later, too!).
7) Show Discrepancies
Isolated on its own, data can fall flat. But put a set of data into context to highlight discrepancies, and you have a strong narrative on your hands. By showing discrepancies between perception and reality -- or between two sets of data -- you can highlight gaps that lead to clear calls-to-action. HubSpot's own Dan Zarrella uses this technique in a lot of his own research. For example, in his Science of Email Marketing research, Dan emphasizes the discrepancy between the perception of when emails should be sent during the week vs. the reality of when effective sends take place. Do you agree with the common perception that your marketing emails are more effective when sent during the workweek? You might want to think again.
8) Include Social Proof
Social proof, also referred to as 'informational social influence,' is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior. In other words, it's the mentality that, if other people are doing it, and I trust those people, that's validation that I should also be doing it. Social proof can take many different forms, and one of them is -- you guessed it -- data! Incorporating social proof into your content not only adds to its credibility, but it can also help improve conversions. One of the easiest places to include social proof data is in your product content. At HubSpot, for instance, we leverage quite a bit of social proof data on our product pages, particularly on the page pictured below. This gives visitors the sense that, if they used our marketing software, too, they can achieve awesome results like the ones featured on the page.
9) Show Success
Showing success can be a great way to back up your points and add more credibility to your writing. As I'm sure you know, customer case studies, for example would be pretty poorly done without data that clearly indicated the subject's success. Using data to show success doesn't have to be limited to full-blown case studies either. Maybe you're just pulling in a piece of data from a case study to support a tip you're making in some ebook or blog content, for example. In the following example from our article, "8 Ways to Boost Ecommerce Shopping Cart Conversions," we pulled in some data about a couple of ecommerce companies' successes with creating visually interesting product pages. The data supports our tip about showcasing products with more oomph because it shows how beneficial it can be to do so.
10) Clearly Explain Something
Sometimes data -- even hypothetical data -- can be a great way to more clearly explain a concept you're discussing in your content. Take the following excerpt for example, which is an excerpt from our article called "The 5-Step Test to Determine Optimal Email Frequency." The first step requires readers to establish a hypothesis about the results they expect to see from their frequency testing. But wouldn't that statement be so much easier to understand if we used some example data to put it in perspective, like we did in the next paragraph? Yup -- we thought so, too.
11) Show Scale
Using data to show scale is a great way to add context to your content and show the true scope of its impact. Do you have enough customers to fit snugly into the average professional football stadium? That's an example of scale, and it gives your readers a much better sense of how big, small, significant, or insignificant something really is. A real-life example of this concept put to use in content comes to us from a post we published before the Super Bowl this year, called "25 Things You Could Buy With a Super Bowl Ad Budget." See what we did here?
12) Include Original Data
Nothing packs a bigger punch than original data. That is, data that no one has seen before because it's completely new data that you pulled together yourself. Sure, referencing other people's data can definitely enhance your content, and chances are, that's the majority of the data you'll be leveraging in your content. That being said, if you can get your hands on some original and compelling industry data, it can make a big difference -- and possibly even get you some media coverage! Our blog post, "LinkedIn 277% More Effective for Lead Generation Than Facebook & Twitter [New Data]," for example, features original data that HubSpot pulled from a study of 5,000 businesses -- HubSpot customers leveraging inbound marketing. To date, the article is one of our most popular blog posts and has accumulated more than 46,000 views since it was published in January. If you're not a company that has access to original data, consider partnering with a research company to commission a study that uncovers some interesting original data that your audience would find compelling and helpful.
13) Portray Data Visually
As you saw in our last example, you don't have to limit the use of data in your content to citing stats and numbers in text form. Creating compelling visuals using data is a great way to increase the social shareability of your content. After all, visual content is shown to drive engagement and is evidenced by visually oriented websites such as Pinterest and Facebook. According to Simply Measured, for instance, just one month after the introduction of Facebook timeline for brands, visual content -- photos and videos -- saw a 65% increase in engagement. You can think simple in terms of communicating data through basic charts, graphs, or alongside an image like we did in the example below, or you can get more complex and turn all that data into a meaty infographic.
A Note About Selecting & Attributing Data
Before we send you off with visions of data dancing in your heads -- and how you can leverage them in your marketing -- here are a couple of friendly public service announcements to take with you.
- Select High-Quality & Credible Data: There is such a thing as bad data, and there is also such a thing as data that isn't credible. When sourcing data for your content, be critical. If the company that conducted that research is just some random Joe Schmoe, there's a good chance that data isn't so credible. Also take a good look at the sample size and makeup of the study's research subjects, and make sure the data is applicable to what you're using it for.
- Attribute Sourced Data Properly: Always give credit where credit is due -- with a mention of and a link back to the company/person/source that originally published the data. And if that particular source has established, published guidelines regarding how and how not to use and/or attribute their data, follow those guidelines. For more about proper source attribution in content creation, check out this guide about how not to steal people's content on the web.
In what other ways can you use data to spice up your marketing content?
Image Credit: Kyle May