You’re the content marketing manager at a mid-size B2B technology company, and you’ve got big goals for your content marketing this year. But, as you sit down with your team to decide what content you should produce, even with your buyer personas in front of you, you realize you don’t have a strong pulse on exactly what your buyers care about. So how do you create content they’ll want to read?
Or you’re the head of marketing for a startup that has big growth goals for the year. How do you build brand awareness and credibility fast?
One answer to both questions is: original research.
What is original research?
Any primary source of data can be considered original research. However, for this article, I’m focusing on survey-based research of a specific audience. This can be your B2B tech buyer audience or a different audience whose responses would interest your buyers, such as their customers.
When it comes to using original research to attract more B2B tech buyers, here are four unique advantages that other types of content simply can’t provide.
1. Original research data is information no one else has
As a marketer, you already know that exclusivity is an excellent way to create demand. And that includes your content. When you have information that no one else has, it makes it all the more valuable. And, when this information is of interest to your buyers, then it’s even more likely they’ll want to engage with the content – and may even be willing to give up something in return (like an email address).
The key here is you need to make the information valuable. So, when you’re putting together your research topic and writing your survey, it’s critical that you find a topic and ask questions that will result in interesting findings for your target audience.
Here are a couple of suggestions of types of surveys that tend to get a lot of interest from B2B buyers:
- Industry trend surveys
- Industry benchmark surveys
- Salary surveys
Almost everyone is interested in trends in their industry. Your buyers also often want to know how their company performs compared to their industry. And, of course, who doesn’t want to know if their salary is similar to their peers with the same level of experience? Survey findings that challenge a common belief in the industry or provide insight into your buyers’ own customers can also be highly valuable.
Key takeaway: Design your research around what will most interest your B2B tech buyers – not you.
2. Data and research-based content is what B2B buyers want most
In DemandGen’s 2019 Content Preferences Survey Report, B2B buyers indicated that the #1 way tech vendors could improve their content was to “use more data and research to support content.”
Here’s the full list of the findings for improving vendor content from the report:
- 66% Use more data and research to support the content
- 65% Curb the sales messages
- 60% Add more insight from industry thought leaders/analysts
- 59% Make content easier to access
- 51% Don’t overload content with copy
The great thing about original research is that it can not only support B2B buyers’ first request (add more data and research), but it can also satisfy most of the top five ways vendors can improve their content.
Let’s take a look!
Curb the sales message
By presenting your original research as “just the facts” and being careful “to curb the sales message,” you can hit the second way your B2B buyers would like to see content improve. Presenting the facts does mean that you may even need to present data that doesn’t align with your sales message. Sharing data that feels extremely honest (and maybe even a little hurtful to your business) can actually boost your brand’s credibility. For example, if you’re a project management software company and your survey reveals that eight out of ten IT managers say they’ve ditched their project management software after less than two years and gone back to spreadsheets, you may not love this data, but you shouldn’t shy away from presenting it. And as I’ll show you, there are ways to make lemonade out of your data “lemons.”
While you still need to be very careful you’re not adding a sales message, you can offer some interpretation of the data. Going back to the project management example, perhaps another question in your survey revealed that only a quarter of the team adopted the project management software in those two years. Putting these two data points together can provide some insight into the first piece of data (everyone is reverting to spreadsheets) to draw a correlation that everyone on the team knows how to use a spreadsheet, but not everyone knows how to use the project management software.
This may lead you to conclude that one of the reasons IT managers are abandoning their project management software at such a high rate is that there’s a problem with onboarding and adoption of the software. Here again, stick to the facts. Be careful to acknowledge that more research needs to be done to determine if your hypothesis is accurate.
Add more insight from industry thought leaders/analysts
The third way B2B buyers want you to improve your content also fits in nicely with original research. Bringing in industry thought leaders or analysts to comment on your findings is a great way to deepen the conversation around them.
Going back to our initial project management survey example, having a third-party consultant who works with IT teams to implement project management software discuss their perspective on the causes of poor adoption of project management software can often be insightful and interesting. Perhaps the cause is something you would have never guessed at, such as almost all project management software is missing a key integration with a tool most IT teams use. Now, not only do you have an interesting insight for your audience – you also have an important insight into your buyers’ biggest pain points.
Don’t overload content with copy
Finally, original research is great for visual, snackable content. You can use graphs, tables, charts, and headlines to do most of the heavy lifting. This allows you to keep copy to a couple of short sentences or paragraphs.
Key Takeaway: You can improve your content in the ways that matter most to your audience with original research.
3. Research findings can inform your B2B content strategy
While you want to keep your first research goal in mind – to deliver insights that matter to your B2B tech buyers – you can also gather intelligence that is useful to you. You can gather information on how your buyers use your product, what criteria they use to evaluate solutions like yours, or where they have frustrations with a certain technology or business issue. These latter questions, in particular, can help drive your content strategy.
Sometimes, the results might even surprise you. In an original research report I wrote for Adobe on the maturity of digital teams, one finding was that the need for digital expertise was the most significant barrier stopping digital teams from achieving their goals.
While I can’t speak personally to how Adobe used this insight to drive their content strategy, having this insight does present an obvious opportunity for Adobe to develop a content strategy that uses this insight as a driver for future content and thought leadership around how organizations can gain greater digital expertise – something Adobe knows quite a bit about.
Key Takeaway: Original research can help you uncover topics of interest to your B2B tech buyer audience, ensuring an overall higher engagement from your content.
4. Original research can rapidly build brand awareness
If you’re the marketer trying to achieve rapid growth for a company that’s not yet well-known, original research may just be one of the best ways to do this.
BuzzSumo, an online tool that lets people figure out what content is popular, first noticed back in 2017 that when they published original research their engagement ratings were higher than any other type of content. Curious if this was an anomaly or a trend, in 2018, they partnered with Mantis Research to find out more.
They asked over 700 marketers what benefits they had seen due to original research – and almost all of the responses lead to driving more brand awareness (website traffic, social shares, media mentions, backlinks, improved search rankings, etc.).
Key Takeaway: If you’re looking for a fast strategy to build brand awareness – original research is one of the best strategies out there.
How to get started with original research
In Mantis Research and Buzzsumo’s 2019 State of Original Research Survey, only 39% of marketers said they had conducted original research. Yet, 94% of marketers said they saw the value in original research.
There’s kind of a big disconnect there, right? If almost all marketers see the value of original research, why aren’t more doing it? My guess is that it may feel daunting to conduct original research. As soon as your marketing team starts thinking about this type of project, the following questions come up:
- How do we figure out what research topic is best suited to driving engagement from our audience?
- How do we write a survey that will get interesting and valid results?
- How do we get our target audience to participate in the survey?
- Do we need a data scientist or other data expert to clean and analyze the data to ensure it’s valid?
- How big of a sample size do we need to be valid?
I’m going to cover all of these questions in subsequent posts. In the meantime, if you just can’t wait to get started with original research, you can hire someone with expertise in conducting original research. Whether you use me or another research firm, that person or agency should be able to help you work through all of the questions above, run the survey, clean and analyze the data, and help you find the most valuable insights so your B2B tech buyers won’t be able to resist engaging with your content or your brand.