What Zillow Taught Me About Data Driven Content

I had the great pleasure of attending this year’s PSAMA Marketing Mix. Needless to say, it was very interesting. With every workshop and speaker who I heard from, the topic was overall the same: Data drives sales.


WHAT? I thought it was all about Content?!

Now don’t be freaking out just yet. Storytelling is still the driving force for getting people to your business. If the content isn’t good, you aren’t going to get any customers. However, if that content doesn’t have data to support it, then it’s all a bunch of baloney. People like to feel smart–if they are armed with knowledge, they can make an informed decision and not be swayed by all the advertising. If you give the people what they seek, they will come to you. People are emotional shoppers, but data driven buyers.


That is what Zillow did. Our keynote speaker, Zillow’s CMO Amy Bohutinsky told us how her team got 5 million users in Zillow’s first month without spending any money. How did they do that, you ask? With data driven content. Zillow has tons of data on house values, neighborhoods, schools, etc, and all they had to do was turn those numbers into a story.  With social media, blogs, and connections with journalists, they managed to get on Jeopardy, a reality TV show, and hundreds of blogs and magazine mentions. Zillow’s goal was to inform, and with that promise, they managed to attract millions of users (literally).  They are even the leading experts on celebrity housing! Want to know who has the most expensive homes on the market? Zillow’s blog could tell you.

With that, here are the top 3 tips I received while at the conference:

1. Data is an asset, not a solution

Data isn’t going to be your Superman to help save your business–it’s more of a sidekick. In the seminar “Big Data, Smart Data”, one speaker talked about how businesses should sell solutions, not tools to make big data work. What he was talking about was selling the story, not so much the data. Data is useless if it can’t be turned into information. Don’t make the mistake of thinking data is the solution, it’s an asset to help you find it.

 2. Why so Serious?


One of my favorite things Amy said during her presentation was that they weren’t always so serious when building up their brand. If you haven’t notice with my blog, while I do speak a lot about marketing trends and being up a lot of statistics, I usually wrap it up in a fun article about something nerdy (See my Uncle Ben, Zelda, and Justice League posts). Just because you have data, doesn’t mean you have to be so stoic in presenting it. Zillow created a trick or treat housing index where they show parents the safest (and richest) neighborhoods near them so that their kids can get the most candy. They also started reporting on the White House’s value, and would see how it fluctuates during each President’s term. The content wasn’t focused on pushing the product, but instead a nicely packaged story that promoted the product naturally. That’s what consumers want. Be serious only when you need to be.

3. Start Small

I know with all this talk of “big data” it can seem that you need to go big or go home when conducting your marketing campaigns. Don’t let that idea seduce you. You always want to be sure that the data you are using is proven worth to both your customers and you. I’m not the only one who thinks this. Bill Franks from Teradata released this article talking about how to get your firm started with big data, and it starts with beginning small. The idea of using “big data” is still new, so you want to start small to see exactly what data benefits your business the best.

Now as I have mentioned before, you can’t just rely on content to get you thousands of sales; the content just gets you started. With Zillow, Amy mentioned that while they were doing well, 60% of American households had no idea who Zillow was. In order to grow their brand, they needed an accelerant; they needed advertising. This is when you start to use paid media to help with your earned media. be cautious You don’t want to start with advertising when trying to build your business. Amy used the following metaphor to explain it best, “You can’t start with the accelerant to build a fire. You first need to build a small fire that has room to grow.”

I strongly suggest that if you have never been to a marketing conference, to sign up with a nearby AMA chapter and get to one quick. Being able to learn and network with other marketers is an invaluable experience.

Do you use data to drive your content? Let me know in the comments below!