The numbers add up: Why data journalism is vital to marketing

In 2018, there were approximately 90,000 journalists employed in the UK. Within the next year, 672,890 new businesses were registered with Companies House, adding to the 4m+ in existence.

Now what would be the correlation between those journalists who deal exclusively with data, and the companies wanting to be aligned with useful and trustworthy data in B2B marketing? And more to the point, if businesses aren’t leaning on data-driven content, then why not?

Data is at the heart of digital marketing. Not only in generating leads, but also contained within the marketing content used in campaigns.

And given data journalism uses numbers and statistics to offer a deeper understanding of ‘the story’, the two seem like a perfect fit.

Indeed, according to the Content Marketing Institute, “82% of B2B marketers use content marketing”, while the 6th annual B2B marketing data report from Dun & Bradstreet confirms that “89% of B2B marketers believe data quality drives the right B2B sales and marketing campaigns”.

So data journalism seems like a good fit for B2B marketers; essentially, aligning your company with respected, analytical content.

Why people should trust data in content

The notion of benefiting from using publicly-available data can be a little dichotomous.

According to recent research from Microsoft, 92% of consumers have concerns about the amount of data companies and brands have collected about them.

Yet, journalists and news corporations have used statistics in storytelling increasingly, with the numbers often coming from the surveys and public data. Interestingly, certain topics seem to be more aligned with data use than others, which is good news for B2B marketers.

Research from the Cardiff School of Journalism four years ago found that business (50 percent of which made reference to statistics) and the economy (75 percent) were most likely to use stats, while celebrity/entertainment stories were underrepresented.

There are many engaging arguments as to the benefits of a data-led business article, for example, above opinion pieces or, indeed, general marketing news reporting:

1/ Using data transforms an abstract into something everyone can understand – for example, how unemployment affects people based on their age, gender or education.

2/ Gaining knowledge in searching, verifying and cleaning data means less guesswork and looking for quotes to drive stories, which in turn makes the piece more analytical and considered.

3/ Data allows us to tell stories in different ways. They can be interactive and strongly tailored to the reader – another massive plus for B2B marketing.

4/ You cannot hide from the numbers. Of course, they can be manipulated, which is why the source of data journalism becomes vital – good, data-driven business journalism uses science, not prejudice.

Or as Courtney Fingar, Editor-in-chief, Investment Monitor, summarises: “By taking an empirical, quantitative approach driven by data, we are on stronger ground with our assumptions and therefore better able to make strategic decisions. That goes for marketeers and any professionals.”

How to use data in content

Data already dictates the type and amount of marketing content used in an individual campaign.

From targeting the right audience and discovering subject matters with buzz, to measuring traffic, engagement rates and conversations, smart B2B marketing celebrates statistics.

The next logical step is embracing data within your content:

1/ Use data that changes theory to actionable steps – the more ‘useful’ the content is to the reader, the greater the chance of affiliation.

2/ Visualise the data (ironic within a written article, we realise). Known as the ‘picture superiority effect’, it is commonly accepted that images are more likely to be remembered than words, and they help make sense of complex data. Think graphics, mapping, charts, timelines, word clouds, infographics.

3/ Ensure the data is foolproof. The sources for your numbers have to be credible (hence why publicly-available data is often the first step in research). If you cannot find the original source of the material someone has quoted, don’t use it.

4/ The numbers are important, the story is vital. It is not enough to find an interesting statistic that chimes with your targeted audience (although that might suit a social post). Data can drive the feature, but the narrative itself still needs to be captivating.

5/ Vary your data. It is easy enough (although time-consuming) to lay your hands on government, health, economics, entertainment, science and social media data. But some of the best insight comes from within, in the form of surveys and customer questionnaires.

Good places to start your data journey

Google Scholar makes it easy to search for scholarly literature and academic studies.

If your business is associated with YouGov – the British market research and data analytics firm – then check out their Content Data tool.

Whisper this one, but the European Union Open Data Portal is ideal for EU datasets.

Access global data from UNICEF Statistics and the World Health Organization.

For economics, start with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Open Data.

And finally, most of the UK’s most reputable health data is contained within NHS Digital.

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