Thought leadership comes in various forms of content. It’s one of the most important strategies you can adopt as a marketer.
Your company reaps many benefits from thought leadership, including the following:
- It demonstrates influence in your industry.
- It fuels your content strategy.
- It fosters trust and builds credibility.
- It drives lead generation.
- It yields more sales.
Thought leadership content stands out because you’re showing how much you and your brand understand about your industry and your line of business. And one of the best ways to demonstrate thought leadership is by conducting original research.
What Is Original Research?
In the context of marketing, original research is usually a survey or study your team conducts that you publish on your site and distribute through your marketing channels.
Original research often centers on a specific topic within your industry that you are wanting more information on. These reports often come in the form of industry benchmarks, analyses of public data, trends reports, “state of” reports, and online surveys.
4 Benefits of Conducting Original Research
Considering the big investment of time and energy original research calls for, it’s important to determine if there are tangible advantages to creating original research reports. The fact that 39 percent of marketers say they published original research in the last year and 50 percent say they are considering conducting research suggests that it’s a valuable tactic.
Good news! There are plenty of benefits to using original research in your marketing strategy.
You Address Specific Issues In Your Industry.
Companies don’t just conduct reports for the fun of it. They identify industry-specific problems and aim to dive deeper into understanding them.
You can be that leading voice in your market. By providing valuable data on specific subjects, you’re delivering a ton of value for your audience. This leads to the next benefit.
You Stand Out Among Your Competitors.
When you’re researching industry problems, you can find what research your competitors may have conducted and find gaps that have yet been covered.
This is your chance to stand out as the go-to expert on a specific subject within your industry. That will set you apart from your competitors, which can give you the edge you need to outperform them.
You Have Full Control of Data Interpretations.
Your research is subjected to your own interpretations. In other words, you’re not having to rely on third parties and how they present their data.
You can develop an accurate, organized report based on your findings. These interpretations all serve the ultimate goal of your report – to present your audience with valuable, honest data about a particular subject.
You’re Providing Recent Data.
Your audience wants to find up-to-date research, but if there isn’t much, they’re stuck with old data that is likely not quite as accurate as they want it to be. How good are trends reports if they’re from five years ago?
By putting out original research, you’re delivering accurate, updated research that your audience wants. And you can continue to deliver updated research on a regular basis.
The overarching theme of all of these benefits is the fact that your brand is standing out.
3 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.
The benefits are clear. But you need to make sure you consider all aspects before diving into this huge project.
What to Consider When Creating Original Research
Before you start creating an original research project, you need to consider these elements.
Set a Clear Objective.
As with every marketing initiative, you need a clear goal set. Determine how your original research project will benefit your audience.
Select what buyer personas you’re targeting. What research do they need? How will they use your data? How will it help them address one of their pain points?
Create a smart goal for your original research campaign.
Identify Existing Gaps of Industry Research.
Once you know your specific purpose and the intended results of your original research, you can find what data your industry is in need of.
The truth is there is a ton of research. This is a major focus for a lot of companies, so you need to invest a lot of time in finding what reports already exist in your space.
Start brainstorming ideas centered on a specific subject, then search the web to find what resources already exist. This research will show you what already exists. Obviously, you don’t want to conduct a survey or create a report that is similar to ones that already exist.
Look for gaps in research to find what has not been covered yet. You can be the leading voice on that area of focus.
Develop a Content Strategy Around It.
You want to have a plan for the content you’re going to create based off of the research. You’re likely going to use the raw data to create engaging visuals, like infographics and charts, that you can include in designed reports, blog posts, whitepapers, and similar assets.
Ensure you have a strategy in place so you can hit the ground running once your data is collected. These projects require a lot of moving parts, so having a strategy in place from the get go can really help your team stay efficient.
Create Conversion Paths.
Many companies don’t gate their reports, but if you’re looking to generate leads, it’s best to gate your research. You want targeted conversion paths to entice readers to download the full report.
For example, share the executive summary of your report with your audience. These main takeaways will give them a good idea of the data they can gather from the full report. They will gladly give you contact information in exchange for more in-depth data.
Plan for Outreach.
Once you put together a kick ass report, you’re going to want to share it with relevant audiences. Set up an outreach plan that drives visitors to content based on your research.
Your outreach might include press releases, social media posts, in-person events, webinars, and public relations inquiries. The more strategic you are in reaching the right audiences, the better your results will be.
6 Steps for Creating an Original Research Report
There are several steps you need to follow to create an impactful research report that drives the results you want.
1. Identify the Problem You Want to Address and for Whom.
Research reports are not created just for the sake of existing. They center around a specific problem that exists in your industry.
Start by defining the issue you want to help solve and finding the many potential reasons that the particular problem exists. Then, think about who will actually want to read your report.
Who is your ideal reader of this report? What does this person do? How will this research help them?
This will inform your next step.
2. Determine the Tactic You Want to Use for Conducting Research.
There are many ways to collect data for your research, like conducting interviews with customers and leads in your database or analyzing trends.
But one of the most impactful ways to gather insights is through conducting surveys. You can simply sign up for a survey tool, like Pollfish, to conduct surveys with specific demographics.
For example, if you want to better understand the challenges of sales leadership teams, you can target them and distribute questions about their pain points.
3. Deploy the Research Tactic.
Let's say you're conducting surveys. In this hypothetical situation, you're going to have to write unbiased questions and create a fair survey that recipients will actually want to take.
This is something you can do using your survey building tool, which likely includes a lot of awesome guidance in the form of a knowledge base.
Their educational content can walk you through everything, from identifying question types to writing unbiased answer options.
4. Collect and Analyze the Data.
With survey tools, once you get the set amount of responses back, your survey closes and the platform delivers you all the data.
This makes it easy for you to comb through everything to see your results. The reporting tools let you filter and adjust the insights so you can dive deep into specific pieces of information.
Through analysis, you will uncover notable trends and patterns that you can extrapolate, which leads to the next step.
5. Create Your Research Report.
No matter the format, you should be turning your research into a tangible content asset. This usually comes in the form of a research report.
This report usually includes various design elements, like graphs, callout boxes, and other visuals. Ideally, you want your report to tell the story of how you conducted your research and what those conclusions mean for your target audience.
6. Create Content, Conduct Outreach, and Measure Performance.
As mentioned above, you need a content and outreach plan in place for when your report launches. When it's time to go live, start creating and distributing that awesome content!
Based on the goals you set for your research campaign, you will know exactly what metrics to look at and understand how those KPIs should help you gauge the performance of your campaign.
Original Research Examples to Get You Inspired
I recently connected with Reuven Shechter, outreach coordinator for Clever Real Estate, a referral service that conducts a lot of original research.
Here are two stand out examples of how research can be an impactful strategy.
Online Survey Example
The 2019 Millennial Home Buyer Report looks at the experience millennials have in their response to home buying. The Clever Real Estate team used Pollfish to survey 1,000 Americans who indicated they were planning to purchase a new home within the next year.
"Tools like Pollfish allow us to customize the questions we ask and reach a diverse audience with criteria that we need to meet the statistically significant results of our study," Shechter said.
"Without the ability to leverage a massive user base that a service like Pollfish (or Mechanical Turk, for example) has, it would be close to impossible to find the necessary respondents we need and easily subject them to the correct criteria for our surveys."
This report was built around the 51 percent of respondents who identified themselves as between the ages of 18 and 34. They publish their findings ungated, where they provide key takeaways and "fast facts."
While research reports can be used for lead generation, usually in the form of gated content, Clever Real Estate opts to provide their studies primarily to educate their readers.
"We believe data and information like those we present in our original research reports should be freely available to the public," Shechter said. "Beyond a marketing strategy, one primary purpose of our research is to help people better understand financial topics.
"The ultimate goal of our studies is to attain a better understanding of the American public and help them more easily buy and sell homes."
Regression Analysis Example
Another excellent example from Clever Real Estate, the How Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Impacts Home Values study is what is called a multiple regression analysis study.
They wanted to identify how dispensaries impact home values and how legalization impacts crime rates.
By looking at Zillow data, they compared home value increases from 2017 to 2019 between cities where marijuana is legalized recreationally, cities where marijuana is legalized medicinally, and cities where marijuana is illegal, while controlling for population and initial home value for each city in 2017, along with several other models.
Regression analysis proves to be an effective approach for the Clever Real Estate team.
"In general, we conduct studies because we’re interested in factors that influence and are related to finance and markets (including housing markets)," Shechter said. "We use regression analyses in our studies because they allow us to determine relationships between variables while statistically controlling for other potential influencers (like population or initial home values).
"Regression analyses also calculate the rate at which one variables changes with changes in another variable (e.g., an increase of one dispensary is related to an increase of $X in home prices). In short, we can provide our readers with more nuanced insights by using these types of analyses."
The results for this study? A lot of exposure.
"Generally speaking, we measure the success of our research on how much it spreads across the internet," Shechter said. "This study in particular earned over 210 backlinks from 88 referring domains.
"Original research increases our credibility in the marketplace, raises our domain ranking, and overall improves our organic search results."
These are just a few examples of how you can conduct original research and the impact it has on your efforts.
Get Started Researching Today
Depending on the amount of resources you have and what your goals are, conducting original research might be a great opportunity for you.
Follow these steps and best practices to deliver kick ass insights to your audience. This will help you build credibility and hit your goals in no time.