When it comes to content marketing, is it best to create or curate? That's a question that plagues many marketers, and opinions are often strong on both sides of the equation.

Although marketers today might argue passionately for one approach over another, in reality, the very question of creation versus curation is a flawed one. When it comes to content marketing, wise marketers acknowledge that it's not about them but about the wants and needs of their audiences.

Blend Expertise With General Interest

When it comes to content creation, marketers face a number of challenges. The Content Marketing Institute's annual survey of B2C content marketers found that top-ranked content challenges for marketers in 2016 range from creating engaging content to getting creative on low budgets.

In the face of these challenges, having a properly crafted content approach enables companies to position themselves as experts on appropriate topics, while bringing in other voices to fill the gaps on issues of interest to their target consumers. Let's take a look at the factors that need to be taken into account when striking this balance.

The Case for Content Creation

There is great value to be found in positioning a brand as a subject matter expert on focused topics. Carving out an authoritative voice on the matters that tie most closely to your product or service just makes sense. Content creation isn't easy, and it isn't cheap so it’s best applied to those instances in which your brand truly has something unique to say.

Do people want to hear what H&R Block has to say when it comes to new tax regulations and how they can be tapped for a bigger annual refund? You bet they do. But do they want H&R Block giving them a rundown of the hottest spring break destinations? Probably not. It's just not an area where the company wields credibility.

But that doesn't mean that it would be inappropriate for H&R Block to share Travel + Leisure's recommendations for beach getaways, with the suggestion that a trip might be a nice way to spend that federal tax refund. In other words, write — or create — what you know. Then look outside your brand to fill in the gaps.

The Case for Content Curation

For most brands, it would be logistically impossible to create every piece of content needed to support a robust marketing program. But even when a brand's resources are ample, curation still plays a vital role within the content mix.

In fact, the best content curation achieves a halo effect by leveraging other voices to add value. After all, your brand can't be an expert on everything. Curated content can fill in expertise gaps for your brand and lend a variety of opinions and voices to your content.

Curation is often wrongly viewed as a lazy approach to content marketing but if done correctly, it's far from that. That’s because curation lets you stay in front of your audience on a regular basis without burning out your resources or their attention spans.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking out valuable content from other outlets and queuing it up for your audience. The key lies in making it clear to your audience why they should care — and why your brand is choosing to share a particular piece of content with them. That way, every piece of curated content actually has a bit of creation behind it, even if it's only a brief comment in your brand's voice.

Striking the Right Content Balance

Even though content marketing has a great deal of art to it, it's not a process devoid of science. Some have endeavored to answer the creation versus curation question with analyses of the effectiveness of branded content in social media. For example, an analysis of 150 thousand tweets and status posts by the now-defunct Argyle Social suggested that the optimal balance is linking to your own content about 40 percent of the time.

Of course, it would be nice if deciding between content creation and curation were that easy and formulaic, but it's not. There’s no single magic creation-to-curation ratio for marketers to follow. Indeed, the best content marketing strategies today are those that strike a balance between the two — a balance that’s different for every brand. 

Follow the Data

That’s why marketers need to take a data-driven approach to finding the right mix of creation and curation for their brands’ specific needs. Relying on guesswork when it comes to the content needs of your audience just won't cut it.

You need to tap into quantifiable tactics for understanding the types of content and — most important when it comes to curation — the influencers that your audience trusts. Only by moving past your own assumptions and leveraging data-driven insights about audience needs can you hope to find your own brand's own "magic number" when it comes to creation versus curation. 

Title image by Jason Rosewell