There’s a way to make your content more credible, more interesting, and more trustworthy. It can help you stand out, fuel media coverage, and build a loyal audience who sees you as a go-to resource. It’s the closest you’ll get to a “secret ingredient.”

It’s data. There are a number of ways to use data to develop content, find the right home for your stories, and build resources that answer important questions in your industry.

Here are four ideas I heard at Content Marketing World 2019 on how to use data to tell better stories.

1. Question what you know about your customers.

In a talk about slowing down, Ann Handley told everyone to take a step back from the “content arms race.”

  • While 75% of companies are creating more content, only 35% are confident their content is working.

Ann suggested everyone slow down and question what they know about their customers.

  • What common ground unites your audience? What truth compels them emotionally?
  • Use data, listening, and instinct to identify segments of your audience that you might not have known were there.

2. Run an experiment to tell a story.

Michelle Park Lazette of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shared a way to gather data that will inform both content and provide fodder for media: design your own experiment.

Atlantic Credit Unions, a group of Canadian credit unions, left wallets lying around with money and contact info inside to see how many would be returned. The goal was to emphasize the credit unions’ values of honesty, trust, and fairness.

When nine of the 12 wallets returned, the credit unions spun those results into content and media coverage.


3. Find your brand-defining data.

“Data can be emotional,” said Clare Carr of

She said data can define your brand when you generate valuable information for your audience and publish updates monthly or quarterly.

  • For, that brand-defining data was how much referral traffic was driven from Facebook vs. Google, a question it had gotten repeatedly from its audience.
  • Now has a dashboard of referral traffic from a number of sources.

What data do you have or what research could you do that would bring an audience back month after month?

4. Double down on what works.

“Place heavy bets on your winners and start killing off what’s not working,” said Joe Pulizzi in the opening keynote.

In another session, Andrew and Pete shared how British broadcaster ITV made its reality TV show Love Island a hit through a strong Snapchat presence.

But when ITV started to see a decline in Snapchat engagement, it switched gears and went all in on Instagram, where it was seeing better engagement with its stories. It quickly doubled its Instagram audience.

The moral of the story: Don’t do what you think you need to do, or what has worked in the past. Do what your data tells you is working.

How to get started with data-driven content

Some data sources are better than others, but you have several options for how to get started:

  • Internal data. What data do you have access to that would answer interesting questions for your audience? established its referral traffic dashboard based on the more than 2,500 sites in its network.
  • Surveys. With the right question, a survey can uncover a counterintuitive trend or confirm an untested hypothesis. We ran surveys for client Sungard AS around airline outages that showed how little patience travelers have when IT issues delay or ground flights. It drove both content and media coverage.
  • Aggregation. By combining existing data sets, you can uncover new insights. At Orbit Media, Andy Crestodina pulled data from Glassdoor and Payscale to calculate the median salary for different marketing roles in 2016. Since then, he’s done the same thing each year and documented the percent change over time.

You might already have questions in mind that you can answer for your audience with data, or you might need to experiment and zero in on what data your audience wants through trial and error.

Either way, data can help you build trust, uncover newsworthy trends, and create content that becomes a go-to resource.t things differently will have an advantage.