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Making research a cornerstone of your content strategy

Original research is more than just a great way to establish your brand as an authoritative industry voice. Here’s how to use research projects to generate quality thought leadership content all year round.

With original research, providing your customers with unique insights and positioning your brand as an industry thought leader is just the beginning. Once this content is in your arsenal, you can use it as a key pillar of your content strategy all year round.

Not only will this help you get the greatest return possible for your investment, but it’s also one of the best ways to build a comprehensive editorial programme with a consistent message and thread.

What’s more, building a strategy around your own unique insights is an efficient way to create effective content that can be localised across multiple regions and markets.

Brands including Edelman, KPMG and Gartner all use original research as a cornerstone of their marketing strategies – and today, we’ll outline how you can do the same.

In the process, you’ll see how this approach will let you highlight changes and trends within your industry, helping you provide customers with even deeper insights in a virtuous cycle of research.

Getting the most out of your research

The key to building an effective content programme around research is to be clear from the outset about how you want to split the results up into segments to appeal to different parts of your audience.

Knowing which specific geographic regions and industry verticals you want to engage with your findings will ensure you end up with enough insights to keep producing new stats and content for months. Look for ways to compare datapoints within each segment, as well as between different segments.

For example, a CMO spend survey like Gartner’s could be used to engage senior marketers who want to see how their own marketing budgets compare to the industry at large. But, it could equally provide valuable insights to agencies and tech companies that sell services which help companies improve their marketing efforts.

At the same time, it’s important to plan how you will distribute your findings up front. As well as developing a localised research report for each of the markets you operate in, you’ll also want to repurpose your findings into alternative formats to serve the whole marketing funnel.

This will give you a variety of touchpoints to engage customers who are looking for information on your topic. What’s more, it will help you create collateral your sales teams can take to meetings and for your marketing teams to use at conferences, exhibitions and other customer interactions.

Of course, it’s vital you keep your customer in mind as you’re doing all of this. Map out who you’re trying to target and where each piece of content will sit in the buyer journey before you start repurposing anything. Plotting this out in advance will ensure you can efficiently guide customers through your marketing funnel.

To help you with this, here’s a breakdown of how to use your findings to create a diverse editorial calendar that includes a broad range of popular content formats:

Blog posts

For most business, the first port of call when it comes to getting the most out of your research will be to create a series of blog posts.

Brainstorm multiple angles you can use, either leading on different findings from your research or exploring specific insights in more detail. Then, publish these posts across several months, mixing them seamlessly in with the rest of your editorial calendar.

This is a great opportunity to give bylines to stakeholders within your organisation to build their industry thought leadership credentials.

Remember that around half of B2B buyers will read 3 – 5 pieces of content as research before they ever contact a supplier. So, it’s vital that you provide them with the insights they need to really understand the challenges their businesses face.

Infographics

Bringing your data to life with imagery is a great top‐of‐funnel way to grab people’s attention and ensure they absorb your key messages.

Our eyes process images 60,000 times faster than words, and we retain visual information more easily than text alone. That’s why people following directions with illustrations do 323 per cent better than those going by text alone.

Creating a series of infographics about your findings will make it easy for people to share them widely on social media. You can even create infographics that appeal to different customer segments to share via specific channels, such as targeted LinkedIn groups.

Influencer content

Commissioning commentary from external experts in your industry can be a great way to extend the reach of your content campaigns.

Influencers create the sort of bold, entertaining content that your audience members love to engage with. As such, partnering with a respected influencer provides a potential solution to one of the biggest challenges B2B organisations face.

For example, SAP partners with industry influencers like Brian Fanzo to create live Facebook videos at its annual conference. This allows the business management and customer relations specialist to reach new audiences and engage people that are unable to attend the event.

A well‐executed influencer initiative like this can feed directly into your existing marketing strategy, while also extending your reach to engage new prospects within your target audience.

Of course, for an initiative like this to work, you need a deep understanding of your own audience and how it compares to that of your chosen influencers. As we argue here, there are six key qualities you should look for when choosing your influencer partners.

Earned media coverage

Your PR team can also use your research data to pitch stories to journalists. Research can provide headline stats to broaden arguments, bring trends to life or provide opportunities for key stakeholders to be interviewed in the media.

This kind of coverage is a great way to expand your brand’s reach, especially given the huge increase in trust in traditional media outlets recorded in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.

Map out the key journalists and outlets you want to be featured in during the planning stages of your research, so you can ensure your research uncovers the sorts of insight they will be interested in writing about.

The Office for National Statistics is a model example of this approach in practice. It has established itself as the ‘go to’ source for statistics about British life and business simply by cultivating a reputation for publishing rigorous and impartial research.

White papers

Downloadable white papers let you discuss big chunks of your research in depth, while also helping you to nurture prospects into qualified leads for your business.

Tactically, this kind of content sits further down the marketing funnel than a typical infographic or blog post. They provide readers with a greater level of insight and depth and can be a useful tool for identifying the challenges specific prospects care about the most.

Place your white papers behind data capture forms on dedicated landing pages to gather insights you can use to inform future content campaigns.

You can also use these papers to give senior staff a platform to discuss the implications of your research for their area of the business. You may even decide to draw the different white papers together into a series.

Create bespoke reports for key verticals and regions

Videos and podcasts

Thanks to falling production costs, audio‐visual formats are also starting to provide opportunities for B2B marketers to reach new audiences.

Almost half of B2B buyers watch more than 30 minutes of video content while researching a product or service. Meanwhile, podcasts provide a convenient way for people to engage with your content on their daily commute, and let you capture their data in the process.

In both cases, original research will help you create unique content your audience simply won’t be able to find elsewhere. Invite industry influencers to discuss the findings with your own in‐house experts, or create bitesize clips summarising those findings for social media.

How Edelman monopolised ‘consumer trust’

Looking beyond your 12‐month content plan, you should also think about repeating your flagship research projects over time.

Most companies do this annually, allowing them to highlight industry changes and trends and draw conclusions about what the findings mean for their customers. It also positions a company as the custodian of that knowledge and an authority on the topic – which is exactly the position that Edelman now enjoys with respect to consumer trust.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer is one of the most prominent pieces of original research marketing in the world, making it the perfect example to draw inspiration from for your own content strategy.

It has been produced annually for 18 years and provides the PR agency with reams of coverage and brand awareness. The research’s scope allows Edelman to repurpose the data in a huge number of ways, providing it with content marketing opportunities for the whole 12‐month research cycle.

The company chose ‘consumer trust’ as its theme because helping clients build trust with the public is one of the core capabilities of a PR firm. But, it’s a smart choice because the topic applies to all its clients, regardless of industry or location.

Adopting a similar approach when choosing your own theme will give your organisation the widest scope possible to create relevant content. From there, it’s just a matter of ensuring your research uncovers insights with the potential to change how your audience members do business.

“[We] start by taking on a ‘landscaping phase’ to examine the social, political and economic backgrounds in each market,” explains Thom Holliday, Edelman’s marketing campaign manager. “The goal here is to come up with a range of hypotheses that we can test with the Trust Barometer study.”

In several markets, local teams run an additional survey closer to the research’s launch. This is a chance for each team to add specific questions into the survey that they believe will give them more useful datapoints.

The agency will then create a single narrative about the world from all the findings and coordinate the launch. It publishes alternative segments of its data throughout the year, based on the various sectors it serves. So, it might launch a ‘financial services’ or a ‘south east Asia’ cut of the data six or so months after main campaign’s launch.

Edelman gets its investment back many times over. In a sense, the agency has monopolised the topic of ‘trust’. It has established itself as the authority on how consumer trust changes over the years, positioning itself as a brand that can help its clients establish trust with their customers.

That’s why it pays to make research a cornerstone of your content marketing strategy.

Original research is a powerful tool for establishing your brand as an authoritative industry voice – and with the techniques we’ve outlined here, you’ll be able to use yours to form the backbone of your content strategy.

Key takeaways

  • Research should form the backbone of your content strategy. Choose a topic that reflects the challenges your business helps clients to address and cast the net wide to appeal to as much of your audience as possible.
  • Repurpose your research to create content for the whole marketing funnel. Plan blogs, white papers, infographics, videos and more to support the launch of your research and subsequent content initiatives.
  • Publish different versions of your results tailored to specific industry verticals or geographic regions. Consider how you’ll do this when planning your research to ensure you gather the right data for the job.

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