Last year, we conducted our first State of Original Research for Marketing with BuzzSumo to understand if and how marketers are publishing original research. At that time, we discovered about half of marketers were using research and were generally feeling confident but had an opportunity to do more.
This year, we wanted to explore year-over-year trends while also expanding our research into how marketers are producing survey-based research, which is the most popular type of research marketers create.
We wondered: Are they collaborating with other marketers? Are they having a tough time finding survey respondents? How are they using survey technology? Do they publish a methodology? How long does the process take?
We have a lot of results to share, but here are the key takeaways:
- Marketers are confident original research has a positive impact.
- The vast majority of marketers believe their research produces credible data (but we see room for improvement).
- Those who are having success with research are focusing on three things: credible data, compelling stories and promotions. (You can soon read in-depth insights on Content Marketing Institute.)
- About half of marketers who are currently not using research are considering it — though one of the biggest struggles is understanding how to execute a project like this.
Read all of the findings or skip to the questions that most interest you.
State of the industry:
- Are marketers publishing original research?
- Are non-users of research considering it?
- Is research meeting expectations?
- What types of research are marketers publishing?
- What types of content are marketers publishing from their research?
- What benefits do marketers receive from publishing original research?
- Are marketers collaborating when they create research?
- How are marketers using survey technology?
- How are marketers getting survey respondents?
- Are marketers testing their surveys?
- Are marketers publishing a methodology?
- Are marketers gating their research?
- How long does survey-based research take?
- Are marketers able to create stories from their research?
- Do marketers think their survey data is credible?
- What types of data are marketers analyzing?
- What challenges are marketers having with data analysis?
Attitudes of those not using research
- What types of research are people considering?
- What benefits do potential users want to see from research?
- Where are potential users feeling confident — and where do they want help?
- Why are some marketers not considering research?
- Who participated in this year’s survey?
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
39% of marketers report publishing original research in the past 12 months — and another 50% say they are considering publishing research. Marketers have a lot of confidence in the value of research, and the majority report that it is meeting most or exceeding their expectations.
Are marketers publishing original research?
We first wanted to understand how common it is for marketers to publish original research. Last year, we found 47% of survey respondents published research, but this year that number only came in at 39%.
Why are we seeing this drop? While we don’t know for certain, it could be because the demographics of our survey shifted a bit year-over-year. Last year, 79% of respondents worked for B2B organization compared to 70% of respondents this year. And, just as we saw last year, the type of business factors into the use of research, with B2B marketers being more likely to use this technique, overall.
As one more point of reference, Andy Crestodina has added a question to his annual blogger study to ask if respondents are using original research, and he found that one in four bloggers do. (But, bloggers who conduct original research are 2.9x more likely to report “strong results.”)
Are non-users of research considering it?
While we wanted to study how marketers are executing research, it was equally important for us to understand if non-users are considering it. We found that 39% of those who are not using research are considering using it in the next 12 months, and an additional 14% are considering it but need more than 12 months.
Only 23% of non-users are not considering research, and 23% are not certain.
Read more about those not using research in the section called Attitudes of those not using research.
Is research meeting expectations?
Those who use research say it is a strong performer. The majority of marketers (61%) report it has either exceeded or met all/the majority of their expectations, which is a bit higher than last year. Even more telling: Only 4% say it hasn’t met expectations.
This year we wanted to better understand what the marketers whose research either exceeded or met all/the majority of their expectations do differently from their less-successful peers. CMI will soon be publishing a post that highlights those differences.
Related to this, we find that 88% of those who have published research plan to conduct additional research in the next 12 months. To us, this is the biggest vote of confidence we’ve seen for the value of original research.
What type of research are marketers publishing?
Just as we saw last year, survey-based research is the most common type of original research marketers are publishing. Read on to get brand-new insights about the ins and outs of how marketers are executing the specifics of their survey-based research projects.Learn about the types of research you can create: From Simple to Ambitious: 6 Types of Original Research Projects
What types of content are marketers generating from their research?
Marketers have a lot of opportunities to create additional content from their research, and this year we see that those who publish research are creating every single type of content more often than they were last year.
And, just as we saw last year, blog posts are the most common type of content marketers create from their research, followed by visual content, infographics, and social sharing assets.
Original research, especially larger, survey-based benchmarking studies, can generate a lot of content. This article on CMI explores how you can create a year’s worth of content from one survey.
Get ideas for additional content you can create: Beyond Your Research Findings: 13 Types of Content You Can Create
What benefits do marketers receive from publishing original research?
New this year, we asked marketers if they believe that publishing research will elevate their brand’s authority in the industry, and a staggering 94% agree/strongly agree. If you are looking to get more specific, what type of marketing benefits are marketers seeing because of their research? While it’s no surprise social shares top the list, likely because they are easy to measure, we have seen an increase of marketers who report results against every single metric below.
Learn about common research goals — and why choosing one matters: The One Question You Need to Ask Before Starting a Research Project
Are marketers collaborating when they create research?
The majority of marketers are collaborating in some way when they develop their research. The most common way they do this is by asking others to share their findings. Andy Crestodina has a really useful post about 29 ways to promote your original research, including many ideas that include collaborating with others.
Next, we studied the mechanics of how marketers are producing survey-based research. Many of these questions are new this year. This next section specifically reports on the 150 people who have published survey-based research in the past 12 months.
Do marketers think their survey-data is credible?
We wanted to assess how marketers are feeling about their research from two vantage points:
- Are they confident their data is credible?
- Are they telling good stories?
As you will see below, the vast majority of marketers believe the research they publish is based on credible data. While we love to see this confidence in marketers, we also wonder: is this overconfidence?
Our take is that marketers have the best intentions and are truly trying to do a good job. However, crafting and publishing research is a new muscle for many to exercise. There is a lot that goes into drafting credible and story-worthy survey questions and then analyzing those results, and not everyone knows the ins and outs.
In short: We urge all marketers to continue to do your best, but be cognizant of the things you can do even better. Read on to learn what some of those key things are.
Are marketers able to create stories from their research?
Not only did we wonder if marketers have confidence in the credibility of their data, but we also were curious about whether they were able to tell interesting stories from it. It’s not uncommon for us to talk to marketers who crafted a survey and later discovered that their findings weren’t all that compelling.
In general, marketers struggle somewhat with coming up with survey questions that will lead to interesting stories, but they are more confident in their ability to tell stories from the data once it is available.
Two-thirds of marketers are also confident about creating effective data visual from their research.
How are marketers using survey technology?
We were curious: Are marketers using features available in their survey tools that promote credible data and streamline the experience for the survey-taker?
First, we asked marketers if they use survey logic, which essentially is the ability to serve different survey questions to people based on how they answer earlier questions. We found that 70% report they use this feature when programming their surveys.
While survey logic may seem like just a “nice to have” feature, it’s important for two reasons:
- It streamlines the experience for the survey taker which, hopefully, increases the number of people who will complete your survey.
- It improves the quality of your data because it increases the likelihood that a survey taker will have the requisite knowledge to answer questions thoughtfully.
Next, we asked respondents if they might disqualify people from taking their survey for any reason. If this term is new to you, it essentially means you start the survey with one or more questions to ensure the respondent either fits your desired audience profile or gets excluded from answering further questions. While this isn’t always essential, it’s often a good way to ensure rigor.
Learn the questions you should ask when looking for a survey tool that enables these features, should you need them: Download the checklist, 30+ Questions to Consider When Choosing a Survey Tool
How are marketers getting survey respondents?
One of the questions we get asked most frequently is, “How do I get people to respond to my survey?” So we wanted to explore whether getting survey responses is a widespread challenge, and how marketers are going about this process.
To our surprise, only 38% report it is difficult to get people to respond to their surveys. The most common way marketers approach this task is by using their own email lists.
Using your own list works well if you have a large audience fits the profile of the person you want to answer your survey.
However, many marketers don’t have this luxury — and even those who do may find value in partnering with one or more organizations who share a common goal and audience to drive increased response rates.
Also to be considered: SurveyMonkey asked adults what sample size they need, at a minimum, for them to trust the validity of their research. Their research found the majority of respondents want to see at least 1,000 or 1,500 respondents.
While 1000 respondents may not be realistic, especially if you are in a niche industry, it’s important that to get as many respondents as you can if you want your research to be perceived as credible.
The other reason you may need a larger survey count is when you want to compare various segments of your data to understand differences. For instance, do you want to understand the differences between men and women? Or are you interested in how attitudes differ between generations? You need enough people in each segment to make these comparisons.
Get ideas on how to get survey responses: How to Get Survey Respondents: 10 Tested Ideas for Marketers
Are marketers testing their surveys?
Testing your survey prior to launch is essential, of course; but we were curious as to how extensive marketers’ testing processes are.
We were happy to learn that the vast majority report they do test their survey; yet we were dismayed to find that some only use their own survey team members for this testing.
Use your internal team to test your surveys, but also share your survey with people who are unfamiliar with it. Their fresh perspective can help you identify questions that might not be clear or relevant. We always learn something new when test our surveys with new people!
Are marketers publishing a methodology?
If you want your research to be seen as credible, you need to let people know the key details of your survey design – such as how many people responded, when they took it, what country they live in, etc. . Yet, we found that only two-thirds of marketers publish their methodology in their research reports.
It may be useful to note that not all methodologies are created equal, so we asked those who have a methodology what it includes. You’ll see the most common elements below.
Are marketers gating their research?
Next we asked if marketers are gating their findings. As you will see below, about a third always gate their findings, and an additional third sometimes gate.
This finding makes sense as 55% report that they are using their research to generate leads.
Even if you decide to gate your research, we suggest having a non-gated landing page that offers key insights for your research. This is especially important if you are asking people to link to your research, since many writers won’t link directly to a form.
How long does survey-based research take?
Another question we are commonly asked is how long research takes. We’ve seen estimates that range from anywhere between 2 to 4 months to 150 hours or more. While the length of time your survey is in the field will have a big impact on the overall length of a project, we generally allot approximately 3 months, with one of those months used to get people to answer the survey. If you want to reduce this time considerably, we recommend using a panel to get respondents.
As you can see from the chart below, the majority of marketers spend at least 2 months on their research projects.
See a sample project timeline: How To Create And Publish Original Research: Answers to Marketers’ Questions
While survey-based research is the most popular type of research, another viable option is to analyze existing data. In this section, we report on the views of the 152 marketers who have done just that.
What type of data are marketers analyzing?
We first asked marketers what type of data they are analyzing, and as you’ll see from the results below, 72% are using their proprietary data.
This type of analysis can work incredibly well because it provides you with an opportunity to gather insights from data only you can access. Another option that can work well is to analyze existing data, such as third-party analytics or government data sources.
What challenges are marketers having with data analysis?
We also wanted to understand what challenges marketers face when analyzing third-party data. As you can see below, they struggle most with finding the best sources to study, followed by finding the best stories to tell from the results.
Attitudes of those not using research
We also wanted to explore the perceptions of marketers who aren’t using research. As mentioned above, 53% of non-users are considering research. Almost all of these people believe that research will elevate their brand’s authority, but they foresee some challenges as well.
What type of research are people considering?
What benefits do potential users want to see from research?
Next, we asked respondents why they are creating research. Thought leadership and lead generation top the list.
Remember that your primary goal will impact all parts of your project, from choosing your topic to prioritizing how you will promote it. This articles details the way your project may differ depending on your goal.
Where are potential users feeling confident – and where do they want help?
We also dug into how potential users’ attitudes about research. We learned that 97% of those who are considering research are doing so because they think it will elevate their brand’s authority, and 71% have the right mindset and plan to create more content from their study.
While 7 in 10 marketers think they know what topic they want to study and 63% believe they know how to find interesting data, only 50% think they know how to execute a research project properly.
Get the 44-page step-by-step guide: How to Publish Survey-based Research for Content Marketing
Marketers who are consideirng research report their two biggest challenges will be knowing how to execute this type of project and getting budget. #OriginalResearch2019 from @MantisResearch @Buzzsumo Click To Tweet
Why are some marketers not considering research?
Lastly, we asked those who are not considering research to share their reasons. As you can see below, the most common response was that they do not think research is the right kind of project for their business.
While we don’t think original research is the right fit for every business, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for those who do want to publish their own research.
If you are struggling to get buy-in and budget, here are 10 ways you can justify a research project.
Who participated in this year’s study?
Our second annual State of Original Research for Marketing surveyed 644 marketers worldwide in May and June 2019. Respondents were asked to participate via email and social media outreach from BuzzSumo and Mantis Research. Demographic information is reported below.
As mentioned, when we compare the year-over-year demographics, we see that this year’s respondents are less likely to be from B2B organizations, but other demographics are similar.Where do we go from here?
We continue to feel very optimistic that research presents a true opportunity for marketers because it’s one of the best ways to share something new and original. However, it’s not for everyone.
Research takes time, and there are a lot of steps you need to take if you want to publish findings that work well. To keep things as simple as possible, you need to focus on three things:
- Generating data that is credible
- Telling compelling stories from your data
- Promoting your findings
Our mission is to help marketers craft and publish research they are proud of. While the process will not be quick and easy, our goal is to share what we have learned and continue to help you prioritize where to spend your time so you can get the best results.
If you are interested in survey-based research and want to get a step-by-step approach, download our toolkit that includes a 44-page guide on how to create survey-based research, as well as two checklists.