Of data and content

24 Sep 2023 » MSA

Since I became a multi-solution architect back in 2016, people around me kept on talking about the two distinct areas in digital marketing, almost adversaries: data and content. In their view, there should be two types of architects, one for data and another for content. I always said that I was against this differentiation and that an architect should work across both. However, I was alone in this quest, and, to this day, this wall still exists.

So, although I do not agree with it, I want everybody to understand this way of separating tools and projects. In this post, I will talk about them and how Adobe tools align with these two worlds.

Bits and bytes

The first thing that I want to say is that, even if conceptually they are different, both have in common that they carry information that can only be used with digital technologies. At the end of the day, data and content are long arrays of bits and bytes. It is just the way we interpret them where the differences lay. For example, a JPEG image and a profile are both binary data, but the interpretation of these bytes is completely different in each case.


I will start with data, which is where I have spent most of the last 12 years of my life. This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines this term:

1: factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation
2: information in digital form that can be transmitted or processed
3: information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful

The first thing I will say after reading these definitions is that the term itself is probably not the best, it is too generic for what we mean by data in digital marketing. I think that the 2nd definition is the closest to what we understand data is.

While I cannot give a more precise definition, this concept may be better described as “the information we have about a customer or prospect”. This can be almost anything, like:

  • Demographic information
  • Records of clicks on emails
  • Website pages visited
  • Purchases
  • Etc

The previous examples are what we could call primary data, data coming directly from the individual. We can also generate secondary information based on the primary data; let’s see some examples:

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
  • Propensity scores
  • Demographic groups

Now that we understand what data is, we need to answer the purpose of this data:

  • Segmentation. I have written multiple times about why creating audiences is the best way to run digital marketing.
  • Personalization. A message that relates to the recipient is going to be better received than a generic message.


As opposed to data, content is easier to understand. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary has a more precise definition:

1.a: something contained — usually used in plural
1.b: the topics or matter treated in a written work
1.c: the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website

Option 1.c nails it. If you want a more layman’s description, content is one of the following:

  • Text (with or without formatting)
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Combination of the above

We have not invented yet a way to send smell or taste and sending touch is too cumbersome and limited. So, I do not expect this list to be extended any time soon.

The why we need content is also encapsulated in 1.c: it is the basis of the messages we want to send to our customers or prospects.

Adobe Experience Cloud

Now that the differentiation has been made clear, I wanted to show how each of the Adobe Experience Cloud tools relates to both of them. For each row, there is a budget of 10 points and I will distribute them between data and content. Let me remind you that this is my point of view and I have excluded Magento/Adobe Commerce, as I do not know it enough to give it a score.

Tool Data Content
Adobe Analytics 10 0
Adobe Audience Manager 10 0
Adobe Target 6 4
Adobe Campaign 7 3
Adobe Experience Manager 0 10
Marketo 7 3
Adobe Experience Plaform 10 0
Adobe Journey Optimizer 7 3
Real-Time Customer Data Platform 10 0
Customer Journey Analytics 10 0
Offer Decisioning Engine 7 3

In case you are wondering why some tools have a bit of both worlds, let me clarify:

  • Adobe Target is about creating experiences for audiences. It needs content to create the experiences and data to create the audiences.
  • All marketing automation tools tend to be thought of as data tools, with the implementation project being very heavy on data. However, sending an email, an SMS, or a push notification… requires content.

I think that this table shows why I am against such a separation between data and content. While some tools will only work with one or the other, many will span across both. Besides, as architects, we have to link multiple tools to satisfy a set of use cases, therefore linking both worlds. In summary, We should always remember that digital marketing requires both data and content.


Image by rawpixel.com

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