Why marketers need a more data-driven approach to content marketing

As the content marketing space continues to grow and evolve, we hear a lot about how content marketing isn't like advertising. After years and years of advancement, display still gets hung up on the "engagement problem." Consumers understand the ambient buzz of traditional display ads, and they'll take them or leave them. In the history of advertising however, no consumer turns on their digital device and seeks out display ads to engage with a brand. What they're almost always looking for is great content. That's the core appeal of content marketing: Businesses and brands can speak to their target customers where those customers are already engaged.

There's a flip side to how content marketing isn't like advertising, though: Typically, content marketing platforms lag far behind the display space in their ability to target audiences in real time. Within the content marketing space, creating the content isn't the challenge anymore. In fact, with so many tools on the market to create content quickly and easily, we've ended up saturating and overwhelming consumers with content. It's easy to draw a line between where content marketing is now, and where display was during the era when it seemed like a good idea to load up as many pages with as many banners as possible (reminder: it wasn't a good idea).

The display space came to accept that the way to show results wasn't more ads, but better-targeted ads. In today's digital environment, content marketers need to expand their thinking beyond creating content. They need to be exceptionally strategic about building an audience and measuring that audience's response -- at all points in the funnel.

In short, brands need to take a more data-driven approach to content marketing. Content marketing may not look or feel like digital advertising, but its back end needs to work more like today's existing programmatic ad technology stack for brands to really succeed in a digital environment. This means having access to the huge amounts of consumer data that programmatic advertising relies upon to understand and predict consumer behavior, and leveraging the technology to target those consumers in a relevant, meaningful way.

A more data-driven approach is key for reaching consumers and moving the industry to the next generation of content marketing. We have the content, and the data is at our fingertips. The next step now is for content marketers to harness that data in the same way display has. Programmatic platforms sift through data troves quickly, gaining insights about consumer behavior to target at the impression level in real time. If content marketers were to take advantage of programmatic trading systems, its precise targeting capabilities and real-time delivery could help ensure that the right person sees their content not just with ads, but with content the exact moment in their path to purchase when it's the most relevant, interesting, and impactful to them. The digital advertising world understands this and has been rewarded for it. Now think about the effect programmatic advertising technology could have.

Programmatic technology, when handled well, offers efficient solutions for delivering consumers relevant and useful messages at every step along the path to purchase. This could be extremely valuable in content marketing. And the space needs to be better at leveraging data insights to determine where the consumer is at any given moment. The content they see needs to reflect whether that consumer is first browsing, has expressed interest in a brand, or has recently made a purchase. It's crucial now to break content marketers out of their more static confines and allow data and technology to help them and their content meet the consumer on the consumer's terms -- whatever those needs might be in that moment.

It's one thing to talk about how content marketing can learn from display's use of programmatic technology, but it's another to imagine what shape that might take for content. Programmatic technology works in display because the ad inventory itself is a blank slate, and any ad can load into it. For content to be as customizable, per what's useful and relevant to the consumer, we'll need to rethink how dynamic web content can be, and what kind of tech solutions we'll need to allow for truly programmatic placements of content.

For content marketing to succeed and thrive, we need to climb over the mountain of content we already have and allow data-driven insights to deliver that content to audiences that want to see it, when they should see it. And for that to happen, we must take a page from programmatic tech's playbook.

Steve Sachs is CEO of OneSpot.

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