One of the biggest challenges that B2B marketers face is creating valuable content for their target audiences.
Unfortunately, many companies fall short of this objective. Just think about the brand that emails incessantly with irrelevant offers or the company whose LinkedIn strategy is all self-promotion. Enterprises like these fuel content fatigue — a problem that has led marketing leader Chris Pitt to classify consumer attention as “an ever-scarce commodity.”
Once you lose people’s attention, you also lose engagement with your company’s broader marketing efforts.
In this environment of commodified attention, the key is to create content that can’t be ignored. That’s where integrating original research into your content marketing program comes into play.
What Is Original Research in B2B Content Marketing?
As the name suggests, original research involves the process of gathering and engaging with data to uncover new insights. But there’s an important distinction to make between original research and market research, as both involve data collection and analysis.
Market Research Versus Original Research as a Content Deliverable
Market research is used by companies to learn more about their customers and drive them through the marketing funnel. For example, a company might want to validate findings from a personas exercise or undertake a study to inform a product launch. In these cases, tapping into your customer base or other data sources to analyze proprietary data is often the most economical approach.
Original research, by contrast, generally involves using third-party data to tell a unique and compelling story. One exception is companies that specialize in data collection, in which case third-party data may not be necessary. While market research centers around a company’s products or services, original research focuses on topical issues that interest a company’s target audience.
For instance, a company in the ed tech space may consider launching a study examining how remote-first universities are adjusting to a post-COVID reality. Similarly, a self-service adtech platform might launch a benchmarking study to better understand consumer sentiment toward digital advertising. In both cases, these topics are industry-relevant but also generally interesting — and with original research, capturing general interest is key.
The Value of Original Research to B2B Thought Leadership and Content Marketing
Before launching a research effort, determine if it aligns with your company’s overall marketing strategy and broader business objectives. To make an informed decision, consider these four key value drivers of an original research project for B2B marketers.
Value 1: Original Research Makes You the Primary Source
By exploring a topical research question, your company becomes the primary source of the findings — which drives more backlinks and shares than any other type of content, according to a study by Mantis Research.
Media outlets will also be interested in hearing from you, since they value original insights. And they’ll probably want to speak with a thought leader from your company for added voice-over and perspective. What’s more, increased backlinks from third-party outlets will improve your website’s SEO and could boost your overall domain authority. Finally, original research can boost your brand credibility, thereby strengthening your reputation as an industry expert.
Value 2: Original Research Fuels Your Media Relations Efforts
Producing an authoritative piece of thought leadership can help your company earn media mentions and encourage social shares — two important benefits in today’s oversaturated B2B content market.
Original research helps with PR by giving your agency a lot to work with. These angles, pitched over several weeks, can extend the lifetime of your report. In fact, research reports are the gift that keeps on giving, as data points tend to capture reporters’ interest long after publication — and can help you secure coverage during gaps between company news or product announcements.
Value 3: Original Research Bolsters Your Overall Marketing Strategy
Quantitative data can play a critical role in furthering your company’s overall B2B marketing strategy.
First, it can strengthen your company’s sales message. For example, if your survey yields data points that validate your value prop, you can work these into product pages, which may help drive leads.
Second, original research can fuel demand gen, since the asset will live on your website in either a gated or ungated format. In fact, many readers will share their email addresses in exchange for accessing your insights.
That said, we recommend defaulting to an ungated asset, especially if organic coverage and SEO performance are primary goals. Just make sure your survey design focuses on noteworthy questions over overtly promotional ones (more on that below).
Value 4: Original Research Enriches Your Editorial Calendar
B2B marketing departments often struggle to maintain editorial calendars replete with both targeted keywords and unique, differentiated topics. Frequently, the former is prioritized at the expense of the latter, leading to stale assets that have limited value to prospects.
Original research solves this problem by providing fresh topics for many months. For example, the adtech company with the consumer benchmarking study might publish a blog like “5 Ways Digital Advertising Can Earn Consumer Trust.” Blogs like this offer an accessible entry point into a broader data set.
You can also repurpose your longer-form B2B research reports into shorter assets like infographics and social media cards.
5 Steps to Creating a Successful Research Report for Your Content Marketing Program
Because original research is a significant investment, you’ll want to follow a process that is sure to yield solid results. Here are the five most critical steps we recommend when getting your B2B research project underway, along with the output you’ll work toward at each step:
Step 1: Approach Survey Writing with an Objective Mindset
While writing a survey, you may be tempted to frame questions in a way that plays directly to your company’s products or services.
For instance, an employee engagement software company may want to ask, “Do you feel that a lack of engagement software is hindering your day-to-day employee experience?”
The problem with this product-centric approach is that it undermines the more objective nature of a study. To capture media interest and drive audience engagement, you should instead frame your questions more broadly.
For example, a better way to ask the above question would be, “Which of the following do you feel hinders your day-to-day employee experience?” — with “lack of engagement software” as a dropdown option.
Output: A thoughtful questionnaire (around 15-30 questions) that will uncover interesting insights.
Step 2: Prioritize Deploying an Original Survey Over Using Existing Data
You might also be tempted to tap into proprietary data for original research, but this method can skew results. Proceed with caution, as company data sets often aren’t representative and can be difficult to parse. The exception here is companies that specialize in data collection or have those capabilities in-house. For these enterprises, internally collected data can offer the same value as third-party data.
Most of the time, though, you’ll want to partner with a reputable survey vendor to handle the audience recruitment and data collection portions of the report. Because fraudulent completes are a problem within the industry, you should vet vendors closely and work only with those who have high quality standards.
Besides using security protocols, such as digital fingerprinting and IP filtering to eliminate bots, quality survey vendors will also identify “speeders” and others who aren’t earnestly engaging with your questions. These measures are critical to having a quality raw data set that you can provide to reporters upon request.
While some B2B research partners rank better than others, we recommend taking discovery calls with a few and asking them about their quality assurance standards. To help, explore these highly rated research vendors.
Output: A partnership with a reliable — and affordable — survey vendor.
Step 3: Analyze the Data to Pursue Unique Story Angles
So, you’ve written and fielded your survey, which, depending on who you’re targeting, can take anywhere from three to five weeks. Now comes the interesting part: diving into the data.
While the data analysis process can seem daunting — especially if you’re looking at raw data in Excel — the experience doesn’t need to be onerous. By using a survey platform with an intuitive user interface, such as SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics, you can simplify the analysis process through data visualization tools.
Once you get into analysis, focus on crosstabs (demographic points of comparison) to uncover unexpected insights, rather than data points that simply validate prevailing assumptions. Often, the most interesting and notable storylines emerge from demographic-based comparisons rather than a “topline” evaluation of the data.
For example, an analysis of data for the digital advertising consumer benchmarking study may reveal that Gen Zers are more skeptical of online ads. That’s a headline-worthy finding.
Output: A key findings outline that explores a few unique angles, with room for thought leaders’ additional insights and commentary.
Step 4: Package Your Data Findings Into a Compelling Format
According to Mantis Research’s “State of Original Research” study, original research is most often expressed in a blog post format. However, there’s potential to drive even more impact through a visually driven packaging of your findings.
Indeed, the ambitious scale of a B2B research project deserves an equally ambitious output — one that merges text, images, and interactive elements into an immersive data experience.
From our perspective, interactive microsites are one of the most effective ways to tell the story of your original research. Besides offering an engaging experience to readers, these sites lend themselves well to social shares and media attention.
Designed PDF reports offer another compelling way to share your findings and might make sense over a microsite if lead gen is your main goal. Of course, some platforms for building microsites also allow you to gate the content.
Output: A visually compelling report in the format of your choosing — whether that’s a blog article, PDF, or interactive microsite.
Step 5: Prepare for a Successful Launch
As you’re putting the finishing touches on your report, consider how you will promote it. Your plan should include a press release (highlighting key themes within the report) as well as a media outreach strategy for top-tier and trade publications. Also, look for ways to atomize the report through blog articles and other assets like infographics and tip sheets.
But a B2B research report is substantive enough to introduce other amplification opportunities. Consider, for example, an integrated communications strategy that includes:
- Securing a speaking opportunity at an industry event for a member of your C-suite to share insights from your report.
- Hosting a webinar for other industry leaders to weigh in on your report’s findings and implications.
- Embedding your research takeaways in company pitch decks.
- Identifying spots on your website to highlight key data points.
- Working your insights and key content assets into email nurture streams.
- Amplifying your efforts through a paid campaign.
- Submitting your report for B2B industry awards.
There’s no shortage of outlets for data-driven findings.
Output: An integrated promotion strategy, which may include media outreach tactics, event and speaking opportunities, digital advertising, email marketing, award submissions, and other ways to repurpose the content.
Uncovering the Lasting Value of Data in B2B Marketing
By crafting thoughtful questions upfront and analyzing the data to uncover interesting insights, you can create a data report that will make a big splash. Between capturing media attention, driving leads, and elevating your thought leadership, original research delivers many benefits that can strengthen and differentiate your company’s marketing. The key is to approach these projects with a strategic eye toward an objective inquiry and substantive findings.
If you choose to produce a research report like this in-house, just know that it’s a significant undertaking in terms of time, budget and specialized talent. If you lack internal resources — like a data analyst or graphic designer — you’ll need to outsource some parts of the process.
Alternatively, you might consider working with an agency like INK that has deep expertise in research report development and promotion via a fully integrated marketing communications campaign. With the right partner, you can focus on strategic oversight — driving toward an output that will undoubtedly pay dividends for many months to come.