Original Research: An Untapped Content Marketing Opportunity

Many years ago, I was hired by a marketing research company to cold-call hospital system CEOs and conduct 30-minute interviews. The interviews were to be packaged into a research series about the emerging field of electronic medical records.

My job was simple: Dial people who ran massive hospital systems, and ask them to speak to a complete stranger about strategic challenges and future plans.

What I found amazing was that I had about a 25 percent hit rate. One in four executives (remember, I’m talking men and women who ran large hospitals and healthcare systems with 1,000+ beds) were willing to answer my questions openly and honestly–and some even stayed on the phone for an hour, sharing the complex challenges of healthcare management. Call it research + therapy.

The research gathered from that project was profoundly valuable to the client. Not only did it feed the client’s content marketing engine, but it also swayed business development and strategic decision-making.

Since that time I’ve managed dozens of research projects–from large-scale quantitative survey-based research to smaller qualitative studies–and what I still find surprising is just how few companies use original research as part of their content marketing efforts.

Don’t believe me? The Content Marketing Institute publishes a series of annual research reports called Content Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends. Among other things, it documents exactly which tactics content marketers use–from blogs and videos to webinars and in-person events. It shows fewer than half (37%) use research reports as part of their content arsenal, even though it’s viewed as an effective tactic.

What a missed opportunity!

There are many reasons to consider original research:

Research helps your customers make better decisions

We all want to publish content that influences our prospects and customers — and research does this. A 2017 study from CMI and SmartBrief, How Content Influences the Purchasing Process, found that 74% of B2B buyers consider original research from brands to be influential with purchasing decisions. The only type of communication that ranked higher was peer-to-peer recommendations.

One of the pioneering brand-sponsored research endeavors is PwC’s annual CEO Survey, now in its 21st year. In it, PwC expands on the key issues CEOs across all industries face; it’s a bellwether of CEO sentiment about the economy, disruptive technologies, talent and globalization. PwC’s audience comes back year after year for insights about their industries and domains.

Research enriches your relationship with top customers

Some research studies can deepen your relationships with customers–particularly qualitative studies. We’ve worked with clients that produce annual research studies; as part of those quantitative studies, they also interview a small subset of their customers to give the data on-the-ground credibility. Those customer interviews not only add credibility and nuance to the research, but they also deepen relationships with customers.

Research keeps on giving

Consider the PwC program named above. From that single research endeavor, PwC publishes dozens of assets–be it industry specific reports, geography-specific reports, or analyses of particular subject areas. The company’s annual CEO study generates an entire library of content–enough to fuel a 12-month editorial calendar in multiple markets. If it’s true that marketers worry they don’t have enough content to feed the content engine (and they do), then research is a lovely antidote.

Research is the ultimate serial content type

Another big plus is that research projects undertaken annually gather strength by uncovering trends over time. While one survey offers a useful snapshot, a cyclical research study–such as an annual salary survey–can uncover important changes in attitude and behavior over time.

As Andy Crestodina explains in his fourth annual blogging survey:

“A multi-year survey is the only way to discover these blogging statistics and trends. Each year, we have new questions, more data, and a few unexpected insights into the changing world of content.”

Research is shareable

A single research report can generate dozens of shareable sound-bytes and visuals, each acting like a breadcrumb leading to your library of content (and setting your customers on a journey to find you). And don’t get stuck thinking the only thing original research will give you is boring charts and graphs. Research is an amazing source for highly shareable infographics and datagraphics (think of datagraphics as an infographic that can easily fit on a social sharing card). If you want to see how this is done, see how Udemy creates shareable graphics from its skills gap research.

Research nabs backlinks

Buzzsumo recently released its Content Trends 2018 report, and it found half of all content published in 2017 got zero inbound links.  While disconcerting, Buzzsumo’s founder Steve Rayson has an antidote:

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

As Steve Rayson explains in a different article, “Shares are great and create initial visibility but ideally we want our content to gain links as well as shares. Links stay around longer and provide an indication to Google that our content is valuable. Generally people share and link to content for different reasons.”

And, we’ve seen data that backs up this point as well.  SEO PowerSuite’s Link Building in 2017 survey found that data and research are the most efficient type of content for building links.

Journalists love original research

Journalists seek out research data to help tell their stories — and these media mentions also lead to increased backlinks. You’re much more likely to get attention by publishing research-driven insights than by pitching self-aggrandizing stories about your company or industry.

These are just some of the reasons why research works. If you want to learn more (or need more information to share with your team), view the SlideShare, Original Research: The Missing Ingredient in Content Marketing.

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