Original research for content marketing - why aren't more brands doing it?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 6, 2019
The data is in: original research is effective for content marketers. So why aren't more brands doing it? Here's Barb's answer - and six tips for content marketing teams.

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In the B2B Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America report from the Content Marketing Institute it states that the top three goals marketers have achieved through content marketing are brand awareness (81%), education (73%), and building credibility and trust (68%).

One way to build brand awareness that is still not on the to-do list of every marketer is to provide original research.

Original research can build brand awareness

The State of Original Research for Marketing 2018 from Mantis Research and Buzzsumo found that 50% of B2B marketers had created and published original research in the past twelve months. Of that 50%, 58% of the research was survey-backed, 54% analyzed owned data, and 42% analyzed and reported on third-party data:

"Original research means analyzing data in a new way and publishing the results with the intent of getting attention, changing how your audience thinks, and elevating your brand authority. The data you analyze could be entirely original (such as what you collect through a survey), or it could be you're analyzing data that already exists (such as publicly available data or owned user data)."

There are many benefits to publishing original research, including:

  • An increase in website traffic (74%)
  • Social shares (63%)
  • Media mentions (56%)
  • Leads (50%)

And there are also important benefits for content development:

  • More content/editorial ideas (64%)
  • Higher quality content/editorial ideas (70%)
  • Ability to learn more about customers and prospects (58%)

If the benefits of creating original research are so clear, then why aren't more brands doing it? The answer lies in the fact that it takes planning and effort to do it well, and time does not seem to be in abundance when content marketers are under pressure to deliver.

Tips for building your original research

To help you design and create your own original research, Mantis Research, which was involved in the CMI content marketing research from 2010 to 2017, created Ultimate Guide: How to Publish Survey-Based Research for Content Marketing. Here are a few tips from that guide:

Finding your why is important

Instead of thinking about the data you want to collect first, think about why you are creating the survey. "How do you want your audience to think differently as a result of reading your research?"

Think about the responses you expect and what kinds of stories you can tell with it. Outline possible themes and how your audience will respond to them. The point here is not to create a survey that will produce the results you expect because you can't do that. But it helps you understand what you want to find out, similar to testing a set of predictions.

You'll also want to identify one or two marketing and business goals to measure the success of your published research.

Selecting the type of research

The guide identifies two primary types of original research: State of the Industry and topic-based. State of the Industry reports are very popular in marketing and can make your brand the go-to source for industry benchmarks. The Content Marketing Institute's content marketing reports are one example. Altimeter's State of Digital Marketing 2019 is another example, as is Salesforce's State of Marketing report (if you are in marketing, it might be wise not to do a State of Marketing report).

Stick to a topic-based report if you are in a crowded space, and you're trying to find a niche for your research, or you are looking for data on a specific issue, the guide suggests.

I mentioned doing an annual original research report because you get not only data for that year but can identify trends over years that provide even more value. One point in doing annual research is to not change your survey questions drastically from year to year, or you won't be able to find trends.

Identifying your audience and creating your list

You have to decide the primary audience for your survey so you can design the survey around them. The guide suggests to partner with a company that has a large audience if you don't have a big enough one to get an adequate survey sample. And if you want to know how big your survey group should be, the Mantis guide says there is no golden rule. Take into consideration if you want to report on segments of respondents, how many respondents actually meet the basic requirements, and if using your own list only will present biases that will skew results.

Designing the survey

Designing a survey is not simple. Most of us who have embarked on this process have learned the hard way that survey design is a craft. It's not just about limiting the number of questions to ask but also about how you ask a question and the way you want respondents to answer it.

One suggestion from the guide that I liked was to think about each question as its own story. In thinking this way, you ask questions that can support additional content later on that builds on that story or expresses the story differently.

Collect and clean

Like every piece of content, you create, have someone review the survey before it goes live. Testing the survey allows you to catch any problems before it goes out to your full audience. Also, provide unique URLs for different channels. For example, Survey Monkey lets you create Collectors that let you send your survey to different channels - website, email, social media, etc.

Cleaning your responses is critical to ensure your results and analysis are as good as possible. The guide recommends to disqualify and not delete, so you don't lose the responses permanently. You'll also have to decide what to do with incomplete responses, responses by people that don't meet your pre-defined profile as well as other problems you might find.

Analyze and present

All survey tools provide some way to summarize the responses. Survey Monkey gives you options like a spreadsheet of all data, filtered data by a question, PDF summaries with visuals, and more.

Then you need to decide how you plan to present the data. For one client, we produced a quick Powerpoint presentation with each question on a slide along with a quick note about the results. Then we prepared an in-depth research report with the findings, backed with guidance and quotes. But these are only two ways you can present the findings.

The guide suggests the simple presentation with each page pointing to a single important finding; a detailed analysis in the form of a blog post or a paper, as well as other ideas.

My take

What's interesting it that Mantis/Buzzsumo survey found that most marketers are falling short on using original research past the basic report.

Research for marketers

From State of Original Research for Marketing 2018

Developing additional assets is only one challenge marketer's face with survey-based original research. Other challenges include reaching an adequate audience sample size, list generation, designing the survey, identifying the best stories, and visualizing the data according to the Mantis/Buzzsumo report.

But the effort to create and publish original research is worth it. Thought leadership is a primary method for B2B customers to learn about and find answers to their questions. Thought leadership that includes data is even more important because customers believe that data is from trusted sources - people like them.

Considering that only half of B2B marketers are creating original research, there is an opportunity to create new reports that will drive awareness to your brand. You just need to figure out what the best topic is - and make sure it's not something half your competitors are doing too.

Image credit - Feature image - Working on laptop computer PC with creative light bulb ideas, by @MyLifeGraphic - from Shutterstock.com. Marketing research graphic linked and credited above.

Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner.

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