Before Big Data Comes Big Content

Big data is all the rage—but instead, marketers should be thinking about big content.

Everyone in marketing is talking about big data. It’s an interesting and important topic but there’s another one that’s worthy of attention: big content. For without it, what would big data do?

Big data doesn’t appear spontaneously. Consumers engage and interact digitally with content, and marketers track and collect and make sense of those activities. Big data isn’t just a function of better data-tracking technology; it simply wouldn’t exist without the ever-expanding catalyst that is big content. Insights from big data should be helping brands create more, better big content.

Let’s define big content in marketing terms. Basically, marketing content refers to any artifact with which a consumer interacts that relates to a brand. Content gets "big" via its amplification, iteration and dissemination across multiple channels, devices and platforms. When content "jumps the tracks" and is no longer controlled solely by the brand, but can be summoned and even manipulated on demand by consumers themselves, then it’s "big."

The digital era has made big content possible by expanding the footprint of branded content from broadcast and print formats to web formats such as, online CRM, display ads, social-media posts, pins and tweets, custom publishing, SEM, mobile apps and SMS messages.

The growth of digital content continues unabated. The Internal Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that the digital universe, a measure of content, will have grown by a factor of 300 from 2005 to 2020. And Google’s own statistics show that its total number of indexed pages was one trillion in 2008 and is expected to reach 30 trillion in 2013. The average number of daily searches on Google, another measure of digital demand, has grown by a factor of four from 2007 to 2011, according to comScore.

Marketers have contributed significantly to this content growth. Based on a 2012 survey by Content Wise, marketers increased their total spending on content development by 45% from 2005 to 2012, when the percentage of marketers’ budgets allocated to content creation increased from 31% to 39%.

Content growth stems from the most basic of economic principles—supply and demand.

Consumers are hungry for more relevant content experiences, and some want a deeper experience with their favorite brands, which would drive consumption of brand-related content within social channels. That consumers can now participate in those conversations has also fueled growth. To feed this demand, marketers have increased their supply of content and continue to fill out the increasing number of channels with which their consumers engage.

For example, a 30-second Super Bowl ad is one piece of content that will live in multiple channels. It can end up on the brand’s YouTube channel which might also include several longer, re-cut versions or outtakes. The video can also live on the brand’s website and a special Super Bowl microsite created just for this campaign. Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr can carry photos from the ad shoot. And of course, all of this content can be placed on the brand’s Facebook page, which will likely be live before the spot airs on TV.

SEO and SEM terms will drive traffic to various destinations carrying the brand video, not to mention tweets during the big game. The brand could also embed the video into emails to its consumer database. With just one TV commercial, the brand could conceivably create dozens of pieces of content that live across 11 channels before anyone even shares it.

The variety and number of social-media channels is responsible for much of this growth.Prior to 2004 the key social-media channels were MySpace and to a lesser degree, Second Life. Fast forward to 2013, and there are more than a dozen social-media channels worthy of marketers’ attention. Rare is the marketing campaign without a strategy for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram.

It’s worth mentioning that the cost to create and support multiple pieces of content continues to decrease. That’s not to say good content is cheap—it isn’t. But the process of conceiving, building and deploying digital content becomes easier and cheaper each year.

In the last 10 years the cost to create, update and maintain a robust brand website decreased by approximately 30%. The broad availability of open-source content management systems (CMS), offshore development resources and increased access to and use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) have also contributed to lower costs.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s is a good example of a brand’s evolution in using big content. The Lowe’s Creative Ideas program (LCI), which has been around for 15 years, is designed to drive loyalty and purchases through increased engagement. A print magazine was the program’s original media channel but now its story-centric content can be accessed across various consumer touch points and channels including, a magazine, Lowes.com, an eNewsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and apps.

In this evolved approach, a story is at the center. The marketer takes into consideration the different channels through which the story will be distributed and what assets (visuals, video, podcasts, etc.) can drive deeper customer engagement. Providing so much digital content means Lowe’s can create a rich behavioral-data set illuminating what consumers have the most interest in.

An example of story-based content is "Dinner Time to Office Hours," in which Lowe’s demonstrates how a dining room can double as a home office. The story is made up of inspiring visuals, several ideas and specific projects. The online version of the story is delivered through a slideshow with a link to building instructions and a "how-to" video. This content is also featured in Lowe’s Apple Newsstand edition, in a more interactive format and in an e-newsletter, on Facebook and Pinterest.

It is easy to see how a story-centric rather than channel-centric approach could boost growth for Lowe’s content ecosystem. For instance, Lowe’s Holiday LCI 2012 issue had 286 pieces of content versus only 88 pieces for the same issue in 2010, a 325% increase.

Much of this growth is from additional content elements within digital. Lowe’s has determined that consumers who engage with this content deliver markedly more revenue, or ROI, compared to its customers who do not engage with its content. Other considerations for creating Big Content include performance measurement, budget allocation and agency selection.

These combined forces and marketers’ reactions to them can’t be ignored. We are living in a world of big content.

[Image: Flickr user State Farm]

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4 Comments

  • Tonio Lora

    Good article. Big Content and Big Data need to work in concert. The former is the customer interaction interface while the latter measures the effectiveness of the interaction and helps select the best content to maximize engagement. 

    The more complex the channels, content, and interactions, the more we need Big Data to maximize Big Content ROI.

  • K.D Williams

    Expanding the conversation playing field is still in the early stages for a lot of brands and content creators. Thanks for showing more examples of what can be done with a little imagination and consideration.

  • Anthony Reardon

    Interesting read. I guess it's only a matter of time before marketers draw the connection between "social" and "media".