Martin Adams

Why data is the answer to creating content that emotionally connects

While data might seem to be the antithesis of creativity, it can actually help brands understand more about their audience.


Many brands still persist in obsessively counting Facebook likes as a measure of engagement disregarding the fact that to click the blue button requires little thought or effort and is more often a marker of the poster’s popularity than true resonance with the content producer.

Yet we live in an age of declining publisher revenues and an increasingly fragmented media landscape, where a GIF of a giant watermelon can be as popular as the latest Hollywood blockbuster. With the openness of the internet, it’s not only the traditional players who are publishers – brands and content marketers also have the resources and the will to produce original content in an attempt to build engagement.

Content marketing requires better storytelling than we have had so far if it’s to succeed in creating real relationships with the new prosumer. Audiences are cynical, they can sense inauthenticity, try-hard storytelling or stories with no substance from a long distance. We know a great story when we see it - we go out of our way to find out what happens, read the next chapter or binge watch the box set - but how can content marketers use creative content to produce great stories?

Building emotional empathy with your audience is the backbone of good storytelling. This used to happen when a writer or producer had a good idea or gut instinct for a story - there are natural born storytellers. But now we have the advantage of data. Netflix and other data-driven producers have become experts at creating stories and characters that capture our attention. Netflix has built a relentless data collection machine that reports on every aspect of our viewing behaviour and feeds that intelligence into the next binge-worthy production.

House of Cards for example, a hugely successful Netflix series, wasn’t commissioned because it was a great story. It was created because it hit the perfect segment in the Venn diagram of Netflix’s audience needs. The company analyses everything from when you switch on and off, (date and times), to how much of each programme or series you watch and whether you fast forward, to the device you use, your searches and your scrolling behaviour. It analyses its own content to see what genre works best, what actors are popular and what type of programme will work best at what time. All this data combined is how House of Cards was born.

While data might seem to be the antithesis of creativity, it helps directors and producers understand more about what their audience like and therefore build an emotional relationship with the viewer.

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in this space presents a great opportunity for brands to blend the rationality of data with the emotionality of context.

Brands are already able to learn how audiences react to different articles at different times of the day, and by doing so help them decide what and when to post. But it’s not just about practicalities of what, when and where. AI and machine learning can be used to listen to the signals from social media and contextualise them to better understand an audience’s emotional DNA.

Whoever you are marketing to, building a rounded profile of your audience based on how they interact with content online helps you produce more engaging content. As its anchored in emotional connection and insight into what the audience cares about it will be content that resonates and triggers action, engagement and connection, and not just likes.

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