The Best Time to Start Planning Your Original Research

Last week, Scott Fenstermaker, the VP of Marketing at PowerPost asked me, “Why is original research an opportunity for marketers today? Why is this something they should prioritize when they already have so much on their plate?”

In that moment, I realized I often talk about research as an “untapped opportunity” for marketers, but this doesn’t get at the fact that research presents an opportunity for you right here, right now—and it would be wise to start planning as soon as possible.

Here’s why.

Research works

The world of content marketing has shifted dramatically in the last 18 months. For many marketers, it’s more difficult than ever to get people to engage with their content. While there is no “silver bullet” fix for this, Steve Rayson recently analyzed 100 million articles and reported the findings in Buzzsumo’s Content Trends 2018 report. One of his conclusions:

“Authoritative research and reference content are the  . . . two types of content consistently getting links and shares.”

I talk to a lot of marketers who publish their own research, and their experiences echo this. In fact, I often hear that research is the best-performing piece of content.

For instance, Andrea Fryrear who conducted her first research report this year told me she can see a direct correlation between her report and new sales:

“Our State of Agile Marketing research has been a virtual gold mine for subscribers, backlinks, and real money-in-the-bank clients. In our CRM I’ll see someone has downloaded the report, and within a couple of days (sometimes a couple of hours!) I’ll see that same someone requesting a call to talk about becoming a client. There’s a clear correlation between reading the report and being ready to make a purchase.”

Andy Crestodina (who, by the way, spends 150 hours on his annual blogger study) exclaims:

“[Original research] may take 10x the effort to create, but you’ll likely see 100x the results of a typical article.” 

Andy is not simply feeling this way; when you look at all of the (really strong) content they create, their research tops the list—by far.


The “untapped” nature of research will only last so long

Considering how well research works, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the finding from our annual research with Buzzsumo, but I am. 26% of marketers are considering their first research project in the next year.

Broken down another way: half of marketers are publishing research. And, of the half who are not, a half of those are considering it in the next 12 months.

I fully suspect this intent is more aspirational than practical—and you could argue that the respondents of our survey may be more sophisticated than most as they are people who have engaged with Buzzsumo—but marketers absolutely see the opportunity and want to explore it.

While I am heartened to see this trend, consider that the best research topics “check” three boxes:

  • It is interesting to your audience
  • It aligns with your brand’s story
  • It has not already been covered

Pay close attention to that last question: the best topics are those that have not yet been covered.

If you are in a space and no research currently exists, your moment is absolutely now. This was the situation we found ourselves in in 2010 when we launched Content Marketing Institute. As Joe Pulizzi explained:

“One key reason we were able to build an audience for CMI so quickly and successfully is because of our annual research on the state of the content marketing industry. If you want to make more of an impact with your content marketing, consider publishing your own original research.”

But, if you are in a crowded space, your moment is also now. As Brody Dorland told me when they were creating their first research report last year (with the second annual report soon on its way):

“We did not want to do a state of content marketing report because others had already done so. Instead, we decided to focus specifically on content planning, which is something that had not been covered – and it’s something our business directly helps marketers with. This research was a way for us to better understand the challenges our customers face, validate the direction of our product roadmap, and provide insights that marketers can use to benchmark their own content planning process.”

Find your niche and own it before someone else does.

Considering publishing original research? Your moment is now. Be the authority in your niche before your competition is. Own it! Share on X

Research is repeatable . . . and it gets more valuable over time

Part of owning your niche is not simply conducting research once, but being that source of data over time. And research fits the bill perfectly.

When you repeat your research each year and publish an annual survey, you not only become more efficient with your survey process over time, but your research becomes more valuable year-over-year because you can report on trends.

In short, start now, learn and evolve every year.

While all original research has impact, consider an annual survey. Your research becomes more valuable year-over-year because you can report on trends--and you cement your place as an authority in your niche. Share on X

The beginning of the year is an ideal time to publish your survey

While you are hopefully beginning to understand why your moment with original research is now, it’s also now now.

If you want to get the most play from your research, consider posting it early in the year. Research dated in 2019 will play really well in 2019, so get as much mileage from it as you can.

And, to make that happen, you need to start planning now.

I talk to a lot of marketers who conduct their own research (and, of course, we work with clients to do this), and, on average, a big, survey-based research project takes 4 months. If you are new and you are taking a DIY approach,, this may take even longer. And, if you want to shorten your time, consider survey panels instead of getting responses on your own (here are 10 recently-tested ideas you can try).

Oftentimes it works well to publish your research early in the year to get the most bang from your timely data. Share on X

One survey can help you get a year’s worth of content

If you are still not convinced, keep this in mind: the one survey you do now can provide you with ongoing editorial throughout the year. In fact, our research has shown the majority of marketers see both more and higher-quality ideas spring up because of their research.

Learn about the approach we use with our clients to help them think through the best topic, questions and amplification ideas so they can use the findings from their research all year long.

How to get started

If research seems to scary or overwhelming to you, don’t fret. You can do this. Many marketing teams are executing their research in-house. Our mission is to help you successfully publish research so you can check out our blog posts including on comprehensive guide on how to create survey-based research. Even better, subscribe to our newsletter to get all new articles.

And, if you want help with some or all parts of the process, we can help with that, too. Learn more about our services or reach out anytime to schedule a call in which we’ll give you specific recommendations for your project.