I once spoke with a marketer from a Fortune 100 company who had spent a full six months – every working hour of every business day – diving deep into creating incredibly detailed buyer personas. Six months! For most companies, that’s just too much time to spend on a project that will be moving towards obsolescence soon after it’s completed; after all, the audience keeps changing, doesn’t it?

The enterprise was committed to having a deep understanding of its audience, but six months seems like an absurdly complex project. Yes, we want to have some level of precision when figuring out our audience, but it’s very easy to go down a rabbit hole when trying to create personas.

If you have professional content creators and communicators, they should be able to intuit what will work with the audience; after all, that’s a significant aspect of the skills they are supposed to be bringing to the table.

If you have the right data on hand, building comprehensive buyer personas is a project your organization should be able to make good progress on rather quickly.

The Art and Science of Data in Content Marketing

At the 2017 Marketing Innovation Summit, Google Cloud VP of Marketing Alison Wagonfeld reminded the crowd that “marketing still needs art to go with the science.” If you try to make it too scientific you lose the human element. (I assume we all agree that going too far down the art-for-art’s-sake path is not good marketing.) As Contently Managing Editor Joe Lazauskas shared with Scribewise, human talent is needed to execute a winning content strategy, and bypassing the human aspect of creating connections and relying on algorithms is both cold and doomed to fail: “Good editors have great instincts when it comes to content strategy. And a lot of brands are having their content strategy dictated by CMOs who have never worked in editorial. It’s insane.”

At the same event last week, DemandBase CEO’s Chris Golec advised that “all marketing is better when you know who you’re marketing to.” He’s absolutely right. There’s no excuse for not backing up your marketing decision making with data about your audience’s behavior and preferences.

So, how much data do you need to drive your content strategy? The unsatisfying answer is “some.”

A Lesson from Big Data for Content Marketers

We won’t pile more criticism on FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver for he humungous whiff he took when predicting Trump’s chances during the last election, other than to use it to talk about a tool content marketers should be using themselves. Big data calls it “Transfer Learning” and it basically means you learn from observing what else is happening around you. Based on the data Silver had, it may have seemed like a Trump victory was unlikely. But going beyond that data and looking at what was happening globally with Brexit and the success of other populist candidates should have given him pause.

You may not have every last bit of data on your customers. But you do have an understanding of what’s going on in your marketplace. You see what’s happening with your competitors and what’s driving their success. And you have your gut feeling, too.

The more information you can have, the better. However, there is very obviously a point of diminishing returns in obsessively collecting data. At some point, you need to take action. Consider this – the Fortune 100 marketing professional I mentioned in my lede was let go by his employer; that’s right, ouch!

It’s hard to not think that he spent too much time investigating, and not enough time doing.

And that is the danger of falling in love with data collection. At some point, you need professionals who can interpret the data and turn it into action.