By Andrea Serrette published October 28, 2014

How to Turn Research Into Content Marketing Strategy AND Tactics

computer - books - hand

Did you know that Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates?

Yes, it’s true, according to the recent Washington Post article, which recapped the results of a clever survey by Nate Silver’s respected statistical analysis firm, FiveThirtyEight.

Stepping outside of its usual political and sports predictions to bridge the gap between politics and science fiction yielded the surprising (and funny) survey result — and garnered media attention beyond the usual wonks and sports writers who closely follow Silver’s blog.

FiveThirtyEight’s polling and research taps into one of the underlying principles of content marketing: Find a way to provide relatable, relevant content that brings something new and thought-provoking to the conversation.

Comparing your opinions to those of a larger interest group is intrinsically engaging — especially when the insights from such research are unexpected and/or entertaining. But even more than providing shock value, research helps you uncover your audience’s motivations, opinions, and pain points, and can be transformed into many different deliverables across your marketing channels.

Here’s how to use research as part of your content marketing strategy:

1. Get your ducks in a row. Before you contact potential research partners, there are several things you need to consider:

  • How many questions do you want your survey to have?
  • How many respondents do you expect?
  • Will you need to offer incentives in order to encourage audience participation?
  • What will be the balance of qualitative vs. quantitative questions?
  • Will phone interviews be required or will your survey be web-based?
  • What is your timeline?
  • Do you need a partner who can take care of the entire process for you, or are you willing to roll up your sleeves and do much of the work yourself?

Not surprisingly, the cost and timing to produce research can vary widely depending on what you require.

2. Compile a list of potential research partners. Researchers come in many different flavors. Some researchers have the capability to do market research but aren’t full-service research groups, which means they won’t recommend audiences or draft the survey questions for you. Others offer to create white papers as part of a complete research package, which may include everything from developing questions to identifying targets, to conducting research, and developing additional content.

Research firms and their analysts often have well-established relationships with the same constituents that your company likely wants to reach — so you’ll want to partner with an organization that has a solid relationship with your target audience. Response rates and credibility of the answers will be higher when you work with an organization that has a growing relationship with your respondents. To find the right research partner, ask key stakeholders throughout your organization which firms they trust and who your customers seek insight from. For example, if you’re doing market research in the healthcare industry, you might select the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society to conduct your research, since it has deep roots in the healthcare community.

Also take a look at the companies you admire and the media outlets you read, and get a sense of which analysts they’re quoting. If you want to do research on consumers’ technology-purchasing habits, looking to analysts who are quoted in The New York Times and popular technology blogs is a good starting place.

3. Build your questions. Work with your researcher to develop questions that will best capture your story and set the parameters for the audience you want to poll. During this process, start thinking about how the survey results can be illustrated visually and interactively. This is also a great time to involve stakeholders from your external communications and sales teams to get their perspective on which questions will yield the most helpful insights.

4. Turn the results of your research into news, and use them as the basis for a press release, an article on your corporate website, and an internal article.

Create a press release that:

  • Focuses on the three key messages from the research that matter to your audience and your stakeholders
  • Develops quotes from the researcher and your senior executive that voice how the research was conducted, what stood out most to them, and what the implications are for the industry
  • Highlights key statistics from the research and quotes any interesting anecdotal insights from research subjects
  • Includes a headline to highlight the counterintuitive or unique aspect of the findings (How does your research add to or change what people already know?)

Example: Take a look at how marketing company DNN did this with its press release recapping commissioned industry research about the increasingly precarious marketing technology landscape.

Distribute the release under embargo to your wish list of 10 to 15 media outlets (usually a week or two in advance) and offer them an opportunity to speak with the researcher and your executive. This advance release will go a long way in making a big splash on the day the news is announced. Once you’ve secured these meetings with media outlets, pay attention to the questions they ask and which results they key in on – they’ll give a taste of the questions that your larger audience will have.

5. Write your own article for the public: Take reporting into your own hands and create a 500- to 800-word article for your website or blog that is the dream version of how you’d want the media to cover your story.

Example: A recent PayPal survey, for example, looked at Americans’ coffee habits: how many cups we consume per day, how long we wait in line, and how much we pay. PayPal turned the survey results into an article and accompanying infographic, which was then covered and published by Huffington Post.

Create a piece for in-house use: Next, get your internal stakeholders – especially sales and marketing – amped up with an internal article that gives an insiders’ look at what went into developing the research, why it’s important for your company and customers, and how it can be used as a tool to increase your company’s influence and bottom line. In advance, internally post the research being made public to give time to your sales team to plot their strategy on how to use the research.

Tellabs CMO George Stenitzer, in an interview with CMI, said arming Tellabs’ sales force with the research findings in the form of a slide deck, executive summary, and full report is an important tactic in starting discussions with customers and prospects. Moreover, requiring others who want the full report to make an appointment with the sales team drives Tellabs’ direct-engagement opportunities even further.

6. Keep on repurposing. After spending a good chunk of change on research, you want to get the most out of it – beyond the news items mentioned. Turn your research results into an infographic, a blog series, tweets that restate some of the questions in your survey, a white paper, or a webinar.

Example: Revisiting DNN, it transformed the research into several assets, including:

  • An infographic that distills the most exciting findings into a compelling visual that was shared on social media and published by media outlets as part of their larger coverage of the research findings.
  • A webinar, “Marketing Got Complicated,” functioned as a marketing tool, engaging potential prospects to register their contact information and directly interact with DNN’s experts and the research firm, and ask questions about how marketing can get uncomplicated.

Example: OKCupid, an online dating site, molds its research findings into many forms. It even has a blog dedicated to the dating research – oktrends. Now, while you might not go as far as dedicating a whole platform to your organization’s research, oktrends’ posts themselves are instructive: They get to the point of why the research matters by making the results actionable for their audience (and including lots of great visuals.) Case in point: the best questions to ask on a first date. In fact, the research most recently spawned a book, which in turn spawned interviews and coverage from The Daily Beast, Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times and more, spreading the word about the research even further, and establishing the company and its president as thought leaders.

7. Drive engagement: Make the takeaways of your research even more relevant by asking members of your audience to chime in on the results. What surprises them? What do they agree with? Which questions would they answer differently from the majority? How do they see the findings from the research playing out in their own spheres?

These insights can also be used as sound bites for media outreach and interviews promoting the survey, and in interviews and thought leadership pieces long after the survey is published.

Have you commissioned industry research for your company? What were the challenges? How did it pay off? What recent survey caught your attention and why? Chime in below.

Want more expert insight on addressing content marketing’s biggest challenges? Check out all the fantastic CMW sessions that are available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by Ian L via publicdomainpictures.net

Author: Andrea Serrette

Andrea Serrette is Manager, Content Marketing, at Ricoh, a global technology company that specializes in helping businesses achieve information mobility. She's also the author ofThe Milk Memos. Follow her on Twitter @Andrea Serrette.

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  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    That example of OK Cupid using their findings to develop a product/book is awesome.

    I’ve seen some very smart small business owners do polls of their prospects/customers and use their findings to either create a new product that meets what their list said they wanted or to, when revealing the findings of the survey (very cool thing to do with your list of prospects and customers who took the poll) present them with a discounted offer just for these people for an existing product that addresses the issue the majority of the responses of the poll said they’d like to have help with.

    One very cool thing a company like OK Cupid could do is give a digital version of their book away to people who sign up to use the site as it in their best interest for their users to be successful in dating.

    Another cool thing I know they could do is to joint venture with a dating expert and offer seminars/courses on dating successfully and create the content for the course based on what a poll to their users revealed they wanted help with and present it as, “You asked for it and now you’ve got it . . .”

    Thank you Andrea for reminding me of how powerful polls can be and bringing my attention to actions to take once my business grows much larger. :)

  • http://www.inverselogix.com/ Hemanth Malli

    nice article and its helpful to me.

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    Content marketing is so important in the digital age. This is an excellent, well written article which is very helpful. Here’s another article I found which discusses digital advertising, it might be helpful to someone looking for more information on this subject. bit.ly/1rS33FX

    Well written! Thank you! I’ll be back on this site to read more. Glad I found you guys.

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