Content is, and always will be, what gets people to engage, but in many cases it’s become a figurehead. You need content in the same way you need a king for your kingdom: to provide a figure of authority. That figure of authority is a symbol, but in most cases the kingdom is run by a select few who understand the people and can provide the right combination of what’s necessary for them to rule (call them the council). No single person truly makes all the decisions -- and they never will.
In the case of digital publishing, the content is what the audience sees and engages with, but the data is what determines exactly who, when and where they should be seeing it. Many publishers use data in a twofold manner. First, they use it to determine what types of content they should be investing in, by better understanding the needs and interests of the audience. On the flipside, they use data to determine which audiences are coming to their site and what they are engaging with, in order to feed the beast to drive more traffic -- while also segmenting that audience and monetizing it in a premium fashion whenever possible. Data drives decision-making as well as yield optimization, ensuring that content will still be viewed as valuable, and the monarchy of content can survive!
It seems that every media company under the sun is repositioning to be a data company even while the press proclaims content is still king. Many articles mention “me-too” strategies where publishers look to leverage or sell their data in open and private marketplaces. Much of this data is quite valuable, but lacks the volume to be effective. But even when you use data in conjunction with other sources to create volume, you still need modeling and other analytics to derive valuable, actionable insights. Just because you have data doesn’t mean you can use it. This is where the concept of “signals from noise” arises – there are more data streams than we know what to to do with. How do you make sense of it all?
Data by itself can’t solve all your problems, but data plus content comes pretty darned close, partnering like peanut butter and chocolate, or peas and carrots. It's valuable for publishers to use data to refine the content they offer. Marketers benefit by using data to determine what content they could create or should be partnering with. Your success will be intimately tied to how well you align these. If you don’t, you might lose a head!