Robert Rose on Why He Thinks Big Data is a Bucket of Nonsense

By Juliet Stott  |  September 30, 2015

Robert Rose on Why he thinks Big Data is a bucket of nonsense image

Robert Rose has helped to shape content strategies for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, SAP, Hewitt Packard and Microsoft. He is currently chief strategy officer for the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and is also a senior contributing analyst for the Digital Clarity Group.

Here he shares his views on why big organizations struggle to adopt content marketing as part of their marketing strategy and why big data is a bucket load of nonsense.

You’re the Content Marketing Institute’s chief strategy officer, what does this involve?

I have remit over two areas of business. I handle all of the consulting and advisory for clients—I help them operationalize and optimize the process of content marketing. This is the only consulting and advice we do. We go into businesses (usually larger, more complex organizations) and help them sort out how they might use content marketing much more effectively.

This usually encompasses some form of fundamental change to teams, processes and the technologies they use. The other side of my job is to run training and educational programs including on our online training platform as well as the physical workshops we deliver to corporate events. Our online training is a full on-demand platform with (now) more than 30 hours of professional development-oriented content from all manner of industry thought leaders.

I also write books (my second, “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” has just launched in March of this year) and, in all my remaining time, I help CMI develop its own strategy. Thankfully, that last bit is little needed with the incredible team we’ve got managing the organization.

You’ve worked with a large number of big brands. What have been the common pain points for these organizations when adopting content as a marketing strategy?

The biggest challenge that most businesses have found is they still view content in the same way as they did the creation of collateral sales materials. They just don’t know how to do it. Typically, they are still utilizing the same processes to create content but not branding it so much.

They may have tried to lean on their agency, but quite frankly agencies aren’t terribly good at it either—they’ve been spending the last decade writing persuasive ad copy. Adopting a content-marketing strategy requires them to make a fundamental shift in the way they research, create, iterate and publish content.

This new evolution of how to create content is much more like a media company or a newspaper — it’s less about campaigns and more about thinking of content as a product that the brands have to evolve in to. It’s a fully different way to create content and this is a new muscle for these organizations.

There has been a lot of talk about brands having their own content studios and creating content as part of their marketing strategy. Is this feasible for every company? 

I think it’s open to all in varying degrees. A small shop or accounting firm won’t have the same paid media budget as a Starbucks or Redbull, nor will they have the capabilities of those brands, but they don’t need to.

The key is for them to deliver value to their particular niche of customers in the way they want to deliver it. Content marketing is about servicing the needs of clients and customers, and creating experiences for them to engage with. Smaller brands can utilize their locality and create hyperpersonalized content in a way that larger brands can’t.

They can service their local communities — that’s something big brands will never be able to do as effectively. The advantage that small- and medium-sized businesses have over big brands is that they can deliver much more niche-orientated and focused-value content. They don’t have to be big; they just have to be remarkable for the audience they are trying to serve.

Brands are increasingly creating content experiences distinct from their products as part of their content strategy. What’s the purpose of this kind of content and which brands are doing it most effectively? 

Content experiences are marketing driven. They are really separate and distinct from the product but add value to the business in different ways. They are about giving customers interesting experiences, which ultimately drive more sales and/or raise the brand’s profile.

There are some wonderful examples — one of my favorites in B2C is Kraft’s food & family Magazine.

Kraft not only has a print magazine that people are prepared to pay for (via subscription) they also have their online recipes website which has around 3.5 million subscribers. Kraft then uses its audience data to drive value for the business — from getting better research and feedback on products to tailoring ads through accurate segmentation to garnering greater insight about their customers’ preferences.

In a B2B world, Indium, a mid-sized company with a niche audience, has used its blog to engage with its customers. It has created 27 different blogs, each written by individual and specialist engineers, about soldering. This specialist manufacturer of solder products and solder paste for electronics assembly materials has seen an uplift in audience engagement through that content which has also helped to attract a lot more business.

How useful is big data and what role does it play in content marketing? 

Big data is basically a big bucket of nonsense. What I mean by that is marketers today, in companies of all sizes, are not very good with the data they have, much less making it any larger.

And so, right now, data for the most part is used for measuring how we’re doing. But it’s a mistaken notion for businesses to use it this way because it makes most marketing organizations completely adverse to anything risky. The big challenge for content marketing, which is new and innovative, is that there’s not a lot of data to go on.

When I think about big data, I think the really the big opportunity is to use it in marketing automation (i.e., pulling data from our customers and using the insight to inform decision making/drive sales). But that is still a big challenge for many industries particularly the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and financial services companies, due to stringent regulations.

In your new book “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” you suggest we are moving into a new phase of marketing, how is this different from the previous six eras?

The new era “experiences” is evolving out of the “relationship” era — where we’ve been the past 15 or 20 years.

Since the early 90s, when it was all about the one-to-one future, our relationship with the consumer has been evolving. It’s not that any of the previous eras died. It’s just the best practices have been carried forward and have evolved.

The maturity of the Web and digital has changed consumers. They know how to use electronic devices to filter out noise, how to use mobile phones to take pictures and get better pricing of products. Consumers have become more sophisticated.

But the problem is lots of companies are still marketing like it’s 1995, and the classic example is they have a corporate website that looks like a billboard on the information superhighway.

What companies really need to ask themselves in this new world of mobile is: What is the purpose of our website? Do our customers really need our executive blogs? The focus of their website should be about giving their consumers something of more value. Brands are being forced to rethink their digital experiences to meet the demands of their modern consumers.

In this new era marketers have to create more sophisticated content experiences, because customers want to get more value out of their relationships with them. Websites should add value to consumers to keep them engaged. Some brands are really forward leaning and are leveraging the idea of the conversation and co-created content with their customers. All companies will have to start to do this in some degree in the near future in order to survive.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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