State of Original Research for Marketing in 2018

Time to read: 11 minutes

When we launched Mantis, we knew anecdotally that publishing original research is a great opportunity for marketers, but we wondered: Can we back it up with data?

We had seen several studies pointing to the effectiveness of research, but as marketing evolves quickly and so much has changed in the last year, we wanted to understand what’s working right here, right now.

At the risk of getting too meta, we partnered with BuzzSumo to conduct our own research. We set out to find answers to these kinds of questions: How common is it for marketers to publish original research? What type of research are they publishing? And, most importantly, is it working?

Nearly 700 marketers participated (a big thanks to all of you!), and we are now thrilled to present our findings in State of Original Research for Marketing in 2018.

The short summary:

  • About half of marketers are using research—and it’s working well. Only 3% say their research did not meet expectations, and more than 9 out of 10 marketers using research plan to conduct additional research in the next 12 months.
  • Marketers have an opportunity to do even more with their research—and get even better results.
  • Even those who are not using research see its value, and a significant share of those say they plan to invest soon.
  • Marketers find research logistics challenging (particularly getting responses), as well as coming up with interesting insights and stories from the data.

You can learn about all of the findings below.

Just want the highlights? You can download the PDF or browse the key points.

Before we dig in, let’s get an important definition out of the way: What do we mean by “original research”?

For purposes of this survey, original research is defined as research published to your website or other platforms to gain attention, get leads, retain your audience, etc. Examples include industry benchmarks, salary guides, “State of” reports, and analysis of public or private data to look for trends, among other things. It is NOT market research, reader surveys, or competitive research that is used to create your marketing plan.

State of the industry

What portion of marketers are using research—and what type of research are they using?

Are marketers publishing original research?

We first wanted to understand how common it is for marketers to publish original research. The latest CMI and MarketingProfs annual content marketing research reports that 37% of B2B and 20% of B2C marketers are using original research for content marketing purposes.

Our study uncovered higher adoption rates, which surprised us slightly, but this could be because of our specific definition of original research (see above). About half of marketers have published research in the past 12 months, but this varies based on the type of business.

About half of marketers have published research in the past 12 months, but this varies based on the type of business. Click To Tweet

Differences across segments:

  • B2B marketers are using research far more often than B2C marketers.
  • 75% of marketers at large companies (1000+ employees) are publishing research compared to 32% of those at the smallest companies (1-9 employees).

“Original research is the most powerful format for content. It’s crazy that more people don’t do it.”
– Andy Crestodina | Co-founder | Orbit Media | @crestodina

Are non-users of research considering it?

We were surprised to see how many non-users think publishing research has promise. 49% of those who are not using research are considering using it in the next 12 months (this is 26% of all respondents). An additional 19% are considering research, but they need more than 12 months to invest. 32% of non-users are not considering research.

Key differences across segments:
Marketers at technology companies are most likely to consider using research. 64% indicate they plan to try it in the next month and an additional 20% say they plan to try it, but it will take longer than 12 months.

“Organizations that take on original research can accomplish a great deal, for content marketing and beyond. Obviously, research creates opportunities for thought leadership in a field. It’s also an opportunity to generate content that can be ‘recombinant,’ in not only a research report, but also in a blog post, PowerPoint presentation, speech, infographic, video, etc. Beyond ‘just’ the content part, research can also reveal new opportunities, in the marketplace or for the product, that can drive a business forward or generate PR value or gain traction with influencers.”
– Rebecca Lieb | Co-founder | Kaleido Insights | @lieblink

What type of research are marketers conducting?

There are two types of research marketers can execute.

  • Primary research is any research based on new data you gather, such as from original surveys or interviews.
  • Secondary research is research based on existing data. The common data to analyze includes:
    • Third-party private and licensed data
    • Owned data
    • Public/government data

Creating survey-based research is the most popular option, while analyzing owned data is a close second.

Key differences across segments:

  • Tech companies were most likely to use owned data for research (66% do so).
  • Companies with more than 1,000 employees are most likely to publish survey-based research (65%) and analyze owned data (67%).
  • The only research type that is more popular among smaller companies is analysis of third-party data sources. This may be a cost issue as these sources can be low-cost or free.
  • Survey-based research is particularly popular among B2B marketers (62% use it) while B2C marketers are more likely to analyze owned data (55%).

Research effectiveness

The next thing we set out to learn is if research is working. The short answer: it (mostly) is.

Is research meeting expectations?

Those who use research say it is a strong performer. The majority of marketers (56%) report it has either exceeded or met all/the majority of expectations. Even more telling: Only 3% say it hasn’t met expectations.

It’s interesting that a third of those using research report that some expectations are met. We questioned why there is not more rousing support, and we have a few suspicions:

  • Marketers are publishing their research findings, but they aren’t doing as much with their research as they could be. We continually talk with marketers to learn how they are fielding and publishing research, and there are always opportunities to do more. Here are some common missed opportunities with simple fixes.
  • It’s increasingly difficult to get results from content marketing. BuzzSumo published its Content Trends report in March and reported that social sharing is down from 2015—and more than 70% of posts get zero backlinks from outside domains.

Key differences across segments:

  • Technology marketers report the highest level of success with research. 62% say it either exceeded expectations or met the majority of expectations—and no respondent says it has not met expectations.
  • Marketers who work for companies with more than 1,000 employees report the highest level of success. 71% say research either exceeds expectations or meets the majority of expectations. Surprisingly, only 40% of those who work for mid-size companies (100-999 employees) think research meets or exceeds expectations.

“Publishing research has worked extremely well for us. I believe the keys to success are:

  1. Complete and utter dedication to letting the data tell the story. We never let our preconceived biases influence the conclusions.
  2. Focusing our efforts on high-value research on current hot topics.
  3. Doing studies that others have not done before.
  4. Patience. You don’t publish one study and suddenly everyone loves you. You need to do it on an ongoing basis for a while.”
    – Eric Enge | CEO | Stone Temple | @stonetemple

Do those who use research plan to conduct additional research in the next 12 months?

Another vote of confidence for research: 92% who use research are planning to conduct additional research in the coming 12 months. Fewer than 1% of respondents say they have no plans to use original research and 8% are uncertain.
Original research works! 92% who use research for marketing are planning to conduct additional research in the coming 12 months. #OriginalResearch2018 from @MantisResearch @Buzzsumo Click To Tweet

“The first time you conduct research is the hardest because you have no benchmarks. Year two sets the stage for much more testing. Test more! And that goes for everything: survey questions, survey promo emails, paid social promos, etc.”
– Brody Dorland | Co-founder | DivvyHQ | @brodydorland

Research benefits and opportunities

What specific benefits are marketers seeing from their research—and what opportunities exist?

What benefits do marketers report from publishing original research?

Even though marketers understand the value of research and are finding success, there is an opportunity for them to do even more with the research they have—and get even better results.

The chart below shows the benefits marketers have seen because of original research. The reported benefits on a metric-by-metric basis are modest—perhaps a sign that there’s more to learn about how to amplify research for stronger results.

For instance, only 49% of marketers are using research to get backlinks to their websites.Yet a study from SEO PowerSuite found research is the most efficient type of content to get backlinks. This leads us to wonder: why aren’t more marketers using their research to get backlinks? However, it’s not clear if marketers are not seeing these benefits or if they are not measuring them. This is something we want to learn when we repeat the survey next year.

One key reason to publish original research for marketing: backlinks. YOU become the source of authority in a topic, and people will link to you. #OriginalResearch2018 from @MantisResearch @Buzzsumo Click To Tweet

(As a sidenote, we evaluated which posts at Content Marketing Institute received the most backlinks last year. Four of the top ten posts were based on research.)

And here is a benefit we didn’t track but several respondents mentioned: They were invited to speak at events because of their research.

Key differences across segments:

  • Marketers from large companies are more frequently seeing benefits from mentions. Marketers from small companies are seeing benefits in the form of leads and email subscribers.

“The biggest value is in producing something that is both unique and beneficial to your customers and prospects—it presents your brand as an authoritative voice within your market and gives people a reason to seek you out. Great research also attracts backlinks more than any other kind of content, which in turn boosts your domain authority.”
– Rachel Haberman | Content Marketing Manager | Skyword

What team-focused benefits are realized because of original research?

Research can be a wellspring of ideas to fuel the content engine—and more than two-thirds of marketers report that their research contributes to both more and higher-quality ideas.

Looking for a way to create a story throughout your editorial? Publishing your own original research can be the catalyst for a cohesive plan.#OriginalResearch2018 from @MantisResearch @Buzzsumo Click To Tweet

We also asked respondents to write in the additional benefits, and one of the write-in responses caught our attention: “Greater team cohesion.”

Research, especially a larger-scale survey-based research project, can be a catalyst to bring many of your ideas into focus. In fact, when we kick off research projects, we start by asking the question, “How do you want your audience to think differently as a result of reading your research?” It’s amazing how this spurs conversations and helps shape not only plans for the research but the editorial as well.

“Think of original research as ‘big rock’ content you can slice and dice in endless ways to create unique social posts, infographics, event presentations, sales scripts and more.”
– Margie Agin | Chief Strategist | Centerboard Marketing | @mpagin

What type of content are marketers publishing from their research?

Blog posts are the most common type of content produced from research, and use of varied content types trails off quickly—a sign perhaps that marketers aren’t capitalizing fully on their research investment.

Another category of content that several respondents mentioned is presentations, webinars and SlideShares.

Key differences across segments:

  • Large companies are more likely to produce more content from their research, especially a PDF of reports, static charts and infographics.
  • Large companies are much more likely to publish articles on other websites, but they are the least likely to publish blog posts on their own website.

“We try to follow the 1×8 rule for research. Each research execution should result in at least 8 content executions. More juice for the squeeze!”
– Jay Baer | President | Convince and Convert | @jaybaer

Research challenges

What are marketers’ biggest challenges with survey-based research?

When marketers conduct survey-based research, they struggle in a few areas. This data aligns with the conversations we have with marketers who are undertaking research, and we’ll be covering these ideas in more depth in the coming weeks on our blog. (Sign up now [LINK] if you want to get new articles.)

Key difference across segments:
Small companies are most challenged with getting responses / reaching an adequate sample size. Large companies struggle the most with identifying the best stories to tell with the research and developing additional assets to extend the reach of research.

“When you’re getting started with research, get as much advice from experienced people. While it may seem easy to put together a survey, a lot of thought goes into properly crafting questions to get good results and that’’s where experience can make a huge difference.”
– Hailley Griffis | Public Relations Manager | Buffer | @hailleymari

What are marketers’ biggest challenges with secondary research?

Marketers who use secondary data as the basis for their research struggle with finding the best data to use for their efforts. If you are interested in using secondary research, get ideas for some projects you can execute

“Before I search for a dataset, I validate the topic is interesting. Don’’t try to force uninteresting data to be interesting. Once you have a topic, you have three options for getting data: Using your company’’s data (my personal favorite); getting data from an external source like Amazon Web Services public datasets; or manually gathering data from multiple sources (such as third-party review websites).”
– Niel Malhotra | Founder | Growista | @nielmalhotra

What challenges do non-users think they will encounter with research?

As mentioned, 26% of marketers are not using research, but they are considering it in the next 12 months; an additional 10% are considering research in more than 12 months.

In the next 12 months, 26% of marketers are considering publishing their own original research for the first time. #OriginalResearch2018 from @MantisResearch @Buzzsumo Click To Tweet
This is a big group of people who plan to enter a new territory of research, and we wanted to know what they anticipate their biggest struggle will be. More than half think they will be challenged because they don’t understand the ins and outs of a research project.

Our conversations with those getting started with research validate this, which is why we created this tip-heavy, 29-page guide that walks you through the process.

Key differences across segments:
B2B marketers anticipate they will be challenged with getting responses (57%) more than understanding the ins and outs of this type of project (50%).

“Always keep your audience front and center when developing an original research project for content marketing purposes. Your top goal should be to uncover valuable insights that will help your audience in some way.”
– Lisa Murton Beets | Research Director | Content Marketing Institute | @lisabeets

Why aren’t non-users considering research?

Lastly, we wanted to understand the perspective of the 15% of respondents who are not using research and who aren’t considering using it. By far, the most common reason these marketers aren’t interested in research is because they don’t think it is a good use of their resources.

Our hope is that this research offers a new perspective on why research is a worthwhile investment. Check out these additional stats and stories if you want help justifying original research.

Key difference across segments:
B2B marketers anticipate they will be challenged with getting responses (57%) more than understanding the ins and outs of this type of project (50%).

“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.”
– Andrea Fryrear | President and Lead Trainer | AgileSherpas | @AndreaFryrear

Where do we go from here?

Our research sheds light on how marketers are using original research in 2018. The last chart shows how the entire sample breaks out.

 

We feel optimistic that original research presents a real opportunity for marketers. There is so much marketers can do to extract as much value from their findings as possible.

There are several places where we have new questions, which we’ll explore in the coming year as well as in our second annual study.

But, more importantly, we’ll be using this as a jumping-off place to share more data and offer guidance to marketers in the areas where they are most challenged.

Our mission is to educate marketers on how to publish and amplify original research, so consider signing up for our newsletter. You’ll also get access to our ultimate guide, How to Publish Survey-Based Research for Content Marketing that shares the process and offers a lot of tips based on years’ experience and conversations with marketers who are using and publishing this type of research.

Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Comments

  1. Awesome stuff Michele. I find it fascinating that 26% of marketers are considering publishing original research for the first time. Confirms what I already knew: this type of content works and marketers are really starting to catch on.

    • I agree — that stat really surprised me as well. It seems like marketers realize that research really does work. I so appreciate all the work you are doing to help marketers in this area!

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