A good content marketing strategy always starts with a good story. A really good one also comes with great data to back it up.

Data-driven storytelling that draws on your organization’s proprietary information can help you distinguish yourself from competitors and connect more deeply with your audience, says Kristin Gribben, senior content marketing manager at Aon. “The philosophy on our marketing team is that content marketing needs to be telling good stories, and it needs to put the audience first.”

During her session at Managing Editor Live 2021, Kristin shared her take on how content marketers can tell better stories with data

What’s Your Data Trying to Tell You?

When you first look at your proprietary data collection, it can be intimidating. It may not be obvious what’s useful for marketing content. Start with your goal, Kristin says. When you understand that, it gets easier to narrow things down and find the interesting story.

“A common mistake that people make when they look at data is, ‘Let’s include it all,’ or, ‘’Let’s just rely completely on the experts,’” Kristin explains. “They give us a chart? ‘Okay, I’m going to trust you that this is saying what it needs to say. And I’ll just include it in this piece of content.’”

Before including data points, ask yourself: Does this information support the position I am presenting? If the answer is no, eliminate it. Otherwise, it just risks distracting from the point you’re trying to make or even potentially undermines it.

Watch Out for Data Overload

Kristin cautions against information overload in your stories. This can lead to people being turned off and simply giving up on you.

She suggests asking yourself three questions as you organize your data-driven story:

  • What data will bring credibility to your story? You don’t want data that make a post seem “credible” in a superficial way. (For instance, your reader is initially impressed by all the statistics you cite, but gives up when they realize the piece lacks an underlying point.) If the data doesn’t support your assertions, you don’t need it.
  • What kind of data is your organization best with (if you have proprietary in-house data)? If that in-house data isn’t available, Kristin suggests that you ask, “What kind of data is the right type of information to gather from the outside?”
  • What is your business’s value proposition? You need to determine why telling this story will set your firm apart, and find the data to support that. If your story doesn’t set your firm apart, you might want to tell a different one.

3 Keys to Creating Data-Driven Content Marketing

Creating engaging content based on data requires three key elements, Kristin says:

  • You and your team have spent hours learning what the data meant, but it’s important to remember that your audience hasn’t. “Although you are living in the story, you have to keep in mind that others are not. So you have to immediately answer the question, ‘Why do I care?’ in the content you produce.”
  • Just because you might explain a story using data in an elementary way, it doesn’t mean your insights will only appeal to a second-grader. This is a reminder to be certain your data doesn’t make your work inaccessible. “If you have a piece of content that includes a decent amount of data, I think you need to make sure that it’s easily understandable.”
  • Reader-focused. Understand who your target audience is and focus on what they care about. This is especially important when you have to do a deep analysis with different elements. You don’t have to include all the charts and graphs you could “Consider breaking it into pieces or just saying, ‘You know what? Yeah, that’s an interesting tangent. Let’s save that for something else.’ It’s not core to this piece of content.”

Play the Long Game

Many organizations are reluctant to share their proprietary data via marketing assets, fearing this could cost them paying customers.

Of course, this is shortsighted. If you claim to have superior data, consumers everywhere will have the same response: Prove it. There isn’t a lot of trust in the world right, particularly for businesses. You have to share enough of your data to prove its value, as well as build trust and loyalty with your audience.

How do you accomplish these goals in an environment where misinformation is rampant? The best way is to tell great stories, backed up by facts. The trick is to include enough data so that consumers will be convinced of the story’s truth and your capabilities… but not so much that the story becomes convoluted or just boring, so people decline to engage with it at all.

Proprietary data is an essential and valuable tool when creating content. When you find the right approach to utilizing it, you bring your content to the next level.

Watch Kristin’s full session here.