Research is a great way to move minds, as - done well - it gives the reader evidence for the case you are making. In our own research, 74 of 100 senior decision makers said it was useful when a company’s thought leadership was underpinned by original survey data.
Backing up your argument with data makes it more credible. But not all data is equal. Senior audiences will see through research with leading questions, or anything that sounds like a sales pitch.
Corporate research is at it's best when it provides something valuable to your potential customers, which also demonstrates your expertise and creates a springboard for meaningful conversations.
So, how do you do that?
1. Start with the goal in mind
What do you hope the end audience will do when they see this research?
We’d suggest strategically valuable outcomes include: (1) prospects read the research and recognise your capabilities and expertise, and (2) they engage in a way that enables you to capture leads you can follow up.
If the goal is to create content for media, social media, etc, that is fine, but what’s the bigger picture? Coverage numbers and clicks are unlikely to be valuable alone.
If you have identified channels to your audience, then creating content that works with these channels is worthwhile. But make sure they are the right channels, and the research is good enough for those channels, and for the audience at the other end.
2. Say something genuinely valuable
Identify what your audience wants to know. What are their challenges? How could they be doing things better? What knowledge gaps can you help them fill? This will enable you to design research that is truly useful to them.
This should offer depth and specifics. Saying ‘80% of businesses are thinking about AI’ is meaningless. Finding out how they are thinking about it: levels of investment, specific approaches and concerns, skills policies, etc., is much more valuable to people in the industry who may become your clients.
3. Hypothesise and validate your proposition
As your research is likely to relate to problems you solve, you probably have a good idea about the answer already. This is your opportunity to back that up with data. Design a hypothesis for your report around the solution to a thorny customer challenge, then ask questions of a relevant audience to validate (or otherwise) that hypothesis.
4. Be honest and transparent about your data
Rather than obfuscating your motives, better to just be transparent. You had a hypothesis about a problem you solve, and you set out to gather the data to prove or disprove it. As you suspected, the data backs you up. And here it is – presented clearly and transparently, with your methodology explained, and your analysis of the results.
People know you have an agenda, but if you are open about it and present data clearly, they can understand where you are coming from and use that information in their decision making.
5. Provide informed analysis
Of course, you should still provide your own expert analysis on top of the transparently presented data, to deliver insight into solving the problem and give readers fresh informed perspectives. Data alone is useful but dull, it's what it means that is interesting.
Add further credibility by inviting third party experts to comment, and/or develop case studies which bring findings to life.
6. Make research work hard across your marcomms
So much research ends up as no more than a press release. All that money and effort for a small flurry of quickly forgotten activity. You have fresh insight – that is gold dust for communicators – you should make it work for you.
A better approach is to use the research to create a report.
The flurry of media activity then has something credible to link to, from which you can capture leads. But the report can then continue to be used for months – consistently pushing a set of valuable, evidenced ideas through multiple channels: media, digital and social, events, analyst programmes, sales, speaking opportunities, and so on.
7.Apply meaningful metrics
Set metrics aligned to your goals. Are clicks or coverage really what you want? Chances are what matters is engagement from people you can identify as potential leads. ‘Ten sales qualified leads’ is far more valuable for most B2B organisations than '1000 anonymous clicks'.
And be honest about what is needed to turn these metrics into success (eg sales). There is no point measuring leads if you do not have the processes in place to follow them up. This is the start of the journey; you need to be ready to continue it.
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