Marketers continue to face a series of content-creation challenges, ranging from the amount and value of their content to the way they approach content creation.

Some 44% of respondents to an Aberdeen Group survey say they approach content creation in an ad hoc fashion, and 51% say they focus on the pressure of creating enough content.

The top concern for marketers, however, is how they might be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

In a world of cluttered inboxes and inflated promises, marketers can no longer rely on their marketing instincts alone to reach and engage audiences. The success of your marketing strategies largely hinges on the quality of your content and how well the content engages your audience.

Aberdeen Group research has found that organizations that develop and execute data-driven content enjoy nearly five times more marketing-attributed revenue than those that do not.

Embarking on a content science strategy can be daunting, but it will ensure you win more and leave less revenue on the table.

I'd suggest starting with a detailed understanding of your customers (who they are and what they are interested in). That might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised: only 38% of best-in-class companies implement a personalization experience across all channels.

By taking the following series of steps, you'll not only better understand who your customer is but also identify areas where your sellers are more likely to win. These four steps are the beginning to establishing your competitive advantage.

1. Audience: Buyers' expectations are evolving, and broad-based content marketing alone just won't cut it anymore. Best-in-class companies (they may even be your competitors) are able to take action based on each buyer's preferences. That ability begins with doing a full analysis of your marketing database. Identify who's responding and converting, and ask, "Are these my best customers?" Firmographic data is important, but your understanding of additional data sources, such as social data or installed technologies, for example, will allow you to segment better than your competition and eventually close more deals.

2. Placement: You need to be where your customers are, and offer content that is proven to engage. It's crucial that you apply this understanding to where the market is, and never more crucial than at the top of the funnel (remember, this content is all about help, not hype!). Your goal is to win mindshare, views, and engagement in a competitive market.

3. Message: Our customers' sellers tell us that what they really want to know is, "What can I use to get my prospects to pay attention to me in a world of never-ending options?" If you can present a compelling story or message (that's supported by trusted third-party content) after you've identified someone as being a good target, you'll be more successful than if you'd cast a wider net toward just anyone, with a message that won't entice. When done properly, the message will be tuned to the preferences of your targeted audience.

4. Timing: All of the previous three steps won't amount to much if you don't understand where your buyer sits in the buying cycle. For example, you're just not going to share a 10-page research report on all the implementation details of blue widgets to a chief technology officer during a top-of-funnel communication. So how do you begin to use data to support buying decisions? Really dig into your data to determine the type of content that the buyer is engaging with or even the frequency/intensity of return visits. Other, enhanced data sets might indicate the person is far down the funnel, such as media interest classifiers, social behavior, public data, and modeled data.

The beauty (and benefit) of a content-science approach is that it is actually a blend of art and science. What it boils down to is creating a continuous improvement cycle to keep your content-science strategy in check (a process we at Aberdeen Group support).

Content will always come from a creative environment, but by treating content as data objects, you move from just an art to art and science. And that is truly revolutionary.

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The Four Critical Steps You Need to Master Content Science

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image of Gary Skidmore

Gary Skidmore is the CEO of Aberdeen Group, a technology and services company that helps tech sales and marketing executives distill smart data science into actionable moments.

LinkedIn: Gary Skidmore

Twitter: @gskid