Data And Content Marketing - Raising The Arrogant Barrier Between Craftsman And Artist

Data, and the insights we can draw out, are iProspect’s stock-in-trade: we live and die by the numbers. So we were happy contributing to the launch of the Content Marketing Association’s report on Content Marketing and Data Intelligence, the first in a series by the UK’s trade body, looking at the big trends in content. I think it’s a smart choice by the CMA to lead with data in this traditionally creative sector, and it highlights one of the key questions agencies and brands are wrestling with – art vs science? Art AND science? Science first, art second, or vice versa? Maths men not mad men?

Our own contribution looks specifically at Facebook, and how the format used and device on which a piece of communication is consumed affects performance. There are solid findings there, based on a robust set of almost a billion Facebook ad impressions – for example, that an iPad user’s average conversion spend is more than double that of someone on an Android tablet; or that a completed video view is twice as likely on mobile as on a desktop device. This kind of hard, empirical information is the bedrock on which a marketing plan is built and optimised.

But for all the talk of data being the new oil, or new soil, or new [param:buzzword], it is all too rarely gathered and applied to the creative end of the digital spectrum, despite the absolutely fundamental role that creative work – be it copywriting, imagery, code – plays in shifting perceptions of brands and products. For a long time there was a pretty reasonable argument that such subjective responses were just unmeasurable. That argument no longer holds water, given the oceans of data we hold on the actions driven by the content. Aggregating those subjective responses to a piece of content, across millions of interactions, generates our data. That data can be objectively analysed, and can be used to evaluate, plan and forecast. Content marketing demands that the output is aesthetically pleasing, certainly - but measured by efficiency in terms of output, gauged against business needs.

So, to the question ‘Art or science?’ let’s simply say ‘yes’.  

One of my favourite parallels for content marketing’s hybrid nature is with the Bauhaus – the Weimar school of art and design of the 1920s and 1930s which influenced pretty much everything now designated ‘modernist’. The key idea behind Bauhaus was to reconcile design and art into a unified, pragmatic aesthetic. Beauty flowed from utility, practicality and economy of material – where ‘form ever follows function’, in the phrase of 1930s American modernists architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. German (of course) has a compound noun which sums up the idea – Funktionslust, the joy of simply doing something well. That sense of satisfaction when something just works, functionally and aesthetically – UX, you might say.

Our goals might be somewhat less lofty, but content marketing is, I believe, at the forefront of challenging the counterproductive divide that too often persists between creative and media. It’s high time we retired the Maths Men vs Mad Men dichotomy – in fact, Walter Gropius’ founding manifesto for the Bauhaus in 1919 aimed to “create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist”. Content marketing should look to play the same kind of transformative role between media and creative. Let’s view art scientifically and build beautiful content that works - form and function in harmony.