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Data can undeniably help marketers to make complex problems digestible by uncovering patterns and providing insights. Its scope in content marketing is huge and ever-growing. With the digital realm taking over marketing and advertising, there is an increased need for data to be the backbone of any decision. But can it be the absolute answer to all the complexities of content experimentation?

Content initiatives which rely only on data are in danger of alienating consumers and considering them as a homogenous population rather than a range of behaviours and sensibilities, each of which needs to be addressed. Additionally, what will happen if organisations go with the algorithms only to determine which product to sell, which market to approach?

While data can help marketers to make better judgements with the help of the research, the gut instinct at the end of the day helps marketers to interrupt, understand and compare content at a much better level. In data-driven age, gut feeling still has found its relevance.

BuzzInContent.com in discussion with industry pundits tried to figure out how exactly a content specialist should strike a right balance between the two: gut feeling and data for their content marketing strategies. As a handful of experts say there is a risk that data can stifle creativity, which might produce content that’s not engaging, experts discussed what role both play in designing a creative piece of content.

Data is a great starting point for any creative content idea. The ability to understand consumer behaviour and drawing qualitative insights from it helps to build great creative. The depth one can go to is immense but what’s important is to find the balance between data and creative idea, said Varun Duggirala, Co-founder of Glitch. 

Data helps arrive at broad content buckets that you could plan your content around. It helps zero in on what the consumer is looking for, said Sandeep Balan, Partner, Branded Content, Spring Marketing Capital.

With data in the picture, there is very little excuse left for clumsy targeting or below par product development.

Asif Upadhye

“Right from the basic audience segmentation between rural and urban, millennial and Gen X, up to something as detailed as women’s purchase habits according to their stage of life – even though data overall shows consumer behaviour, it points to so much more, including the economic and social state of the consumer base, and even, the pressing issues that are important to them. So, yes, in many ways, data does go beyond simple consumer behaviour,” said Asif Upadhye, Director and Darth Vader at Yellow Seed.

Objectively, data is a great creative tool. When applied correctly, it can both speed up the creative process or act as a core part of the creative idea itself. So, the need of the hour is to not antagonise data as something that restricts the creative process and present it in ways that is easier to absorb, interpret and apply.

PG Aditiya

However, gut instinct is needed even to trust the data, or reinterpret it differently, said PG Aditiya, Executive Creative Director, Dentsu Webchutney.

But, at what point exactly does the role of data end in content marketing and gut feel takes over the charge?

Bhavya Sadrani

Bhavya Sadrani, Sr. Exec. Digital Marketing at Bisleri, said that experience, analytics and research is what an ideal marketer would combine to take a call on any content. The whole game is about how well marketers can break big data into small insights and have a deep understanding of the consumer they are reaching out to. As there is no sure-shot mantra of effectiveness, it is always test and try.

And this test and try comes with the gut feel/instincts of any experienced content marketer.

Girish Bindal

Girish Bindal, Director, Content Marketing, Housing.com, said if any marketer wants to try something new, going to uncharted territory and the numbers that data gives are not well understood, marketers should give into the gut instinct.

“Gut feel is not only important for a deep understanding of the consumer but is also important for us to succeed in actively eliminating unconscious biases from our data interpretation process. Additionally, content initiatives which rely only on data are in danger of alienating consumers and considering them as a homogenous population rather than a range of behaviours and sensibilities, each of which needs to be addressed,” said Upadhye.

Sandeep Balan

Data just gives you a direction, gut feel helps you build on it, said Balan.

What exact pain point within that identified bucket you want to focus on has a lot to do with gut feel, which is nothing but a wealth of experience you have garnered over the years from observations, etc.

Gut always holds a strong position in building anything in a creative business, because gut is every creative person’s internal data engine. And when that is balanced with strong consumer data then the balance of that builds the right content in the end.

Apart from that, all machine learning processes, such as data analysis, are derived from what the AI system is taught. And paradoxically, AI systems are taught by humans. Often this means that human biases creep into what should be only hard number based. And when data is used as a predictive tool, it is reliant on past trends and consumer habits. So, even if it can be used as a reference, it cannot be the absolute answer for the future.

Varun Duggirala

“To eliminate gut is to pretty much replace a human from the equation, and there have been experiments on this. How successful they have been is subjective but I’d still say that even if it’s just 1% or even 0.1% gut will always be important in this equation,” said Duggirala.

But for the new-age marketers, who are grooming themselves under the umbrella of data or rather Big Data, to find the right balance between leveraging data and gut feeling at the same time can be tough. Gut-feeling, or intuitive synthesis, is an essential aspect of decision-making and successful companies are capable of combining the two.

So, how should the content specialists strike the right balance between the gut instinct and data for creative content?

As once Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, said that the ultimate decisions come down to smart intuition; a combination of big data analytics and gut feeling, the content strategy has to be a combination of an analytical and experience-based approach, suitable to solve complex problems related to content.

Duggirala said that gut largely builds on experience, and understanding data helps bridge the gap. So, the right way is to keep data as a constant tool and keep evolving one’s gut over time and that helps build better content with every iteration.

Anybody who's dealing in content has to experiment a lot. And this experimentation comes along with the gut, said Bindal. When deciding on your content side, specialists should go with the gut, then when they are sharpening the strategy, it is data.

“While the technical aspect of data analysis is specialised, the actual interpretation for implementation purposes must involve the creative team and the data team together. A mix of approaches will only make the brainstorming that much more multidimensional and ensure that a balance is struck between hard numbers and gut instinct,” said Upadhye.

Additionally, it’s important to assemble a team of data specialists who are culturally and socially aware as well. This helps to eliminate sampling bias and improves the applicability of the data in the real-world scenario. Ultimately, if these aspects are in place, the main thing to remember is: Respect the data, but also respect the humans whom the data is about. 

Content@BuzzInContent.com