Here’s Why Original Research Can Get You Out of Your Content Rut (and build your authority)
Often the hardest part of creating content is coming up with a good idea.
First, there’s the challenge that everything that could be said about your industry or your audiences’ pain points feels like it’s already been said – and not just once, but dozens, if not hundreds of times.
Then, there’s the fact that even though you’ve built buyer personas and mapped out your content strategy and topics to those personas, you have a worrisome feeling that you may not be speaking to what truly matters to your audience most – especially now.
You may spend hours coming up with ideas, but it can still feel like a huge waste of time and be mentally draining and exhausting. You need an idea that isn’t the same as every other brand’s efforts to be “helpful” in these “unprecedented times.” But, you’re struggling to be creative at all during “these difficult times.”
It would be so much easier if your customers just told you exactly what they wanted to hear about from you. Even better, if they provided you with a dozen or more ideas for new content and in the process helped you build greater authority in your space.
This is where original research shines.
Uncover new ideas and concepts worth talking about
One of the most powerful things about research is that it can reveal new insights and trends. Which, of course, can also give you fresh ideas for content.
“Marketers need to get stingier about what qualifies as an insight versus what’s just plain old information. An insight will register as unexpected. It will destabilize a prospect’s understanding of their world, making them rethink how they’re doing things today. Information, on the other hand, simply confirms already established or already inferable truths – what I call “true but useless” information,” says Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and research officer at Corporate Visions.
He’s right. Your audience craves something novel, something they haven’t heard before. And research is one of the easiest ways to discover and deliver this kind of original content.
For instance, in a recent study by Edleman and LinkedIn on thought leadership content, their research uncovered that marketers and salespeople have drastically underestimated the value of thought leadership on revenue. In the survey, only 14% of salespeople believed their organization’s thought leadership allowed them to charge more than their competitors.
But they were wrong – and by a wide margin.
Feedback from B2B decision-makers revealed that 61% of decision-makers were “more willing to pay a premium” to work with an organization that has defined itself as a thought leader through its content.
The disconnect Edleman and LinkedIn found between the perceived value and actual value of thought leadership data is not only surprising, its insightful and highly relevant to their audience.
Perhaps most importantly, in this time of extreme sensitivity to the messages brands are putting out, it’s content that’s not inappropriate or insensitive. It’s simply stating the facts – albeit pretty interesting ones!
Get inspired with more content ideas
Once you have your research findings, there’s so much you can do with them beyond an initial report. You can break those findings down into a variety of more “snackable” pieces of content like infographics, blog posts, tweets, and so on. But even better, you can use the new insights you’ve uncovered as a springboard for other content ideas.
According to Mantis Research’s State of Original Research for Marketing in 2019, 90% of marketers agree that they “can identify the best stories to tell,” with data from their research.
Take the Edleman and LinkedIn survey discussed above. Now that they know that their audience has a misconception around the value of thought leadership content, they can create content topics that address this misconception in various ways while pulling in their research. For example, they may create content on how to bid and win more projects based on thought leadership content. Or, since their research also showed that poor thought leadership could harm companies, they may want to put out an in-depth paper on how to develop quality thought leadership or a light ebook on the dos and don’ts of thought leadership.
The point is, having the insights from the research can lead to insights about what’s important to your customers and give you further ideas for content that will be helpful and thought leading. This is because your ideas are based on new information – not the same stale information everyone else has.
Even now, when people are being inundated with news and corporate messages about the current crisis, don’t dismiss how powerful having something different and interesting to consume can be for your audience, especially when it’s a topic they’ve shown they care about.
Use research to develop high-quality content
In a Demand Gen Content Preferences Survey, 98% of respondents said the top criteria for quality content was to use more data and research to support the content.
Lisa Murton Beets, research director, Content Marketing Institute, is also a big believer in the value of research for developing quality content, but for her, it’s about better understanding your customer.
“Anyone crafting content must put himself or herself in the reader’s shoes at all times. If you don’t know enough to get inside the reader’s head, do as much research as necessary until you are confident you understand their professional challenges, buying habits, wants, needs, and pain points. Ensure that writers and other content producers are capable of (and are) putting the audience first,” Beets says.
Here are my own four parameters that I use to gauge whether content is high-quality when helping my clients create content:
- Original content
- Relevant to the audience
- Timely current issues, topics, or events
- Authority building
The great thing is, however you slice it or dice it, original research, if done right, easily fits the criteria for quality content.
1. Original content
Research, more than any other type of content you create, is original because the data and findings you uncover don’t exist until you survey your audience. The key though, is to make the research as interesting as possible. So develop questions that will help you uncover new trends or help your audience see things in a different light.
Michele Linn of Mantis Research recommends that to ensure that you chose a research topic worth of attention, you answer these three questions:
- Will the topic be interesting to my audience?
- Does the topic align with my brand story?
- Has this topic already been covered in this way?
“If you can do those three things, it can work really well in giving you something original to say. The more original and relevant your research is, the more people will link to your research, giving you the results for the business,” says Linn.
2. Relevant to the audience
Research gives you the opportunity to get information directly from your customers. It’s a lot easier to be relevant when you actually ask customers what they are worried about and what they are doing now to solve those problems. Despite Beets insistence that brands need to “get inside the reader’s head,” most brands simply don’t. Less than half (42%) of B2B marketers say they have conversations with customers as part of their audience research, according to CMI’s most recent B2B Content Marketing Benchmark Report.
Using original research to better understand your audience will give you a significant advantage in understanding what is actually relevant to them, what their buying habits are, or what their wants and needs are versus the majority of marketers who are using website analytics and keyword research to guess at what their audience cares about.
And, if you want to get even more relevant – consider surveying your audiences’ own customers. After all, what’s more relevant to your audience than knowing what their audience cares about?
In the LinkedIn and Edleman study, for example, they asked both their target audience (B2B marketers and salespeople) as well as their target audience’s customers (B2B decision-makers) for feedback.
Research is all about what’s happening now and how the data can inform our current and future actions or thoughts on a subject. When there has been a drastic change in something – whether that’s shopping habits, buying patterns, economic circumstances, or something else that’s important to your audience – they want to know about these emerging trends so they can make better business decisions.
In our “rapidly evolving” situation today, research can offer much needed insights into how consumers are feeling, what’s important to them right now, how they’re shifting their behaviors, and more.
To get them engaged in your survey, ask questions that people are excited to answer. “Make it about them and how they feel,“ says Linn.
However, Linn does caution that you need to be thoughtful about what type of survey you’re trying to do right now. “Timely and of the moment surveys are great for right now,” says Linn. “But if you are conducting research on more evergreen topics, be careful of how you’re asking questions. For instance, depending on your survey focus, now may not be the time to establish a baseline because everything is so wacky and is changing every week.”
Prosper Insights & Analytics has effectively used its annual benchmark study to be both timely and evergreen. In its recent survey of 7,800 consumers, they compared data from March 2020 to averaged data from the previous 6 years as well as added a few new questions related specifically to COVID-19.
The results not only provided insights into how consumers are feeling specifically about COVID-19, but because the research is comparing data over several years, it’s also easier for them to identify new trends and behaviors that have emerged because of the impacts of the pandemic. For instance, their research uncovered that there’s been a particular acceleration of mobile shopping in March 2020 as opposed to just online shopping. For any business doing online business right now (and that’s a lot), this is an important insight.
Finally, while research doesn’t tend to be evergreen and remain timely forever (most research has a two-year shelf life), when you conduct benchmark or annual surveys, you can use your past research to inform your current research – noting where certain trends have increased or decreased over time –helping you to get even further mileage out of your research.
4. Authority building
Last, but not least, for the B2B brands that have invested in original research, the payoff has included seeing high shares of their content boost their domain authority. BuzzSumo has noted that typically the original research reports from B2B brands acquire far more links than other content on their sites.
In fact, the Social Media Examiner’s annual industry report is one of the most highly shared on Social Media Examiner and has received ten times the domain links of other content with similar level of shares according to BuzzSumo.
It’s also no coincidence that almost all of the most authoritative B2B brands conduct original research. Whether it’s IBM, Deloitte, PwC, Pew Research, Content Marketing Institute, BuzzSumo, Forrester, or some other brand, it’s likely that they have invested significantly in original research as a way to build their authority.
But, it’s not just big brands that can use original research to build their authority. Many small and mid-size brands have also used original research as a way to jump the line and quickly build their authority much faster than their competitors.
“I think original research works exceptionally well even for those businesses that are small or new,” says Linn. “We had zero audience and zero web presence when we released our first research report, and we’ve been amazed at how much traffic and business our report on ‘The State of Original Research Marketing’ has driven.”
A narrow window of opportunity
As more brands realize the power of original research to drive higher engagement with their content and increase authority, more will engage. But, right now, according to Mantis Research’s State of Original Research for Marketing in 2019, which was published in August 2019, only 39% of marketers reported publishing original research in the preceding 12 months. But, another 50% say they are considering publishing research.
The longer you wait, the more common original research will become and the less likely it will be to stand out. But right now – as you’re struggling to get out of a content rut and find a unique voice in the midst of a deluge of coronavirus content – original research can help you pinpoint what your audience cares about now so you can create content that’s relevant, original, and timely.