When people say “thought leadership,” they may be thinking about many different things.
But there’s one element that comes up again and again: Original research. Whether in business, academia, or the public sector, original research is what makes an expert an expert.
It works for brands, too!
You might think the “average customer” doesn’t spend much time reading original research. However, the value and reach of original research are greater than they seem, especially in B2B.
Three Ways Original Research Stands Out (Especially in B2B)
There are three big reasons original research counts:
B2B Decision Makers Are Constantly on the Prowl for It
Top B2B decision makers love original research. In a crowded market, the right research gives them insight that can blaze a path to a decision.
Successful executives win when they surround themselves with experts. Your content can make you part of that elite circle.
- You’ll attract more lucrative, enthusiastic “best fit” leads to your website.
- You’ll accelerate the sales cycle by differentiating on terrific web content.
- You’ll be more likely to get the “benefit of the doubt” with future claims.
Original Research Gets Tons of Links From All Kinds of Sites
Solid research produces tons of links, especially within the publisher’s industry. If your data is of general interest, you’ll also get links from journalistic (and perhaps academic) sources. People will send traffic to you, cite you, and riff on your ideas to develop their content.
- You could collect hundreds or even thousands of links over time.
- You’ll diversify your backlink portfolio in new ways.
- You’ll have the makings of anchor content you can update annually.
Your Research Raises Influence by Defining You as a Leader
When you publish original research, you’re the one setting the pace. This can be a way to add gravitas to other initiatives.
For example, your webinars, classes, or conference talks are much more compelling if people know you have a history of outstanding research.
- You’ll generate higher brand awareness and higher brand sentiment.
- You can capture interest in future educational initiatives more easily.
- Follow-on events like books and speaking tours can be more effective.
It's no wonder why one of two B2B marketers use original research, according to the State of Original Research for Marketing 2018 report. While the value of original research is clear, some of you may be asking an important question...
How Can B2B Brands Build Original Research Others Will Trust?
The way you structure and present your research matters. If you aren’t careful, even the best research report can be received as mere “branded content” aimed at getting sales.
Remember this: “Research” isn’t a mystery. It doesn’t mean heading off into the Sahara Desert or the Arctic. Most research produced by marketers comes from customer surveys.
HubSpot’s State of Inbound report is built almost entirely from one key data source: Answers submitted by practicing marketers. Seems simple, right? The presentation of that data is so deep and detailed, it has become a go-to for inbound marketers learning about industry trends.
In terms of your own original research, you need to first identify the kind of research you want to do. As the State of Original Research for Marketing 2018 report found, survey-based research is the most common option.
One of the biggest hurdles for marketers who want to conduct original research is the investment of time. A research project typically takes four to six months, which can be daunting.
But don't get too overwhelmed. Here are four steps you you should follow each time you start an original research project:
1. Planning Your Project
Strong planning is the foundation of any research project. To get started, you need to know what answers your research will provide.
Who is your survey group? What traits do they need to share? What insights do you hope to gain? Who will the audience for the research be?
Once you have the answers, sit with them for a while. Be careful of any unwarranted assumptions!
2. Designing the Survey
To yield accurate answers – instead of useless “noise” – surveys need to be designed carefully. Slight changes in wording or question order spark major changes in how they’re understood.
You also need to know how you plan to issue the survey and collect the responses. Most surveys can be issued online. Before you distribute the survey to gather responses, be sure you have an expert carefully craft each question.
3. Reporting the Results
Once you’ve gotten a sufficient quantity of answers, you’ll find yourself sifting through raw data in search of meaning. It’s important to have several team members collaborate to interpret data so a simple oversight on one person’s part doesn’t lead to misplaced conclusions.
The ultimate goal is to produce several pieces of content, like a cohesive ebook, whitepaper, blog series, SlideShare, and infographic, to present the results in engaging ways.
4. Amplifying Outcomes
Once your research is public, do everything you can to get it in front of the right people. That means social media, of course, but don’t stop there.
Consider slicing research into bite-sized blog posts so you attract more visitors interested in what you’ve accomplished. Also, report your findings to online and traditional publishers who might want to publicize them.
Inbound public relations (PR) is vital to expanding your outreach with original research, so enlist the help of PR pros either in house or from an outsourced team.
Heads up: Research gets easier with practice, but it’s always an intensive, time-consuming process. That’s part of why it’s so effective in separating the “goods” from the “greats.”
When you stick it out and take each step with care, your effort will be recognized by those who can move your business forward. Original research really can take you to the next level!