As consumers in a data-driven world, we are all more informed than ever before. Buying a new camera? Check out Consumer Reports. Thinking about trying a new restaurant? Not before seeing it’s Yelp rating. Whether we know it or not, we’re constantly conducting original research to learn more about companies, products, and services before we invest our time and money. But as marketers – or professional services firms – we don’t always apply that same level of due diligence when making decisions that impact our clients or marketing strategies. Today we’re excited to be chatting with Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM, Senior Partner with Hinge about conducting original research, and how you can leverage your findings to create value for your firm.
At first I was intimidated by the numbers, but it’s a gold mine. You can’t argue with it.
CQ: In a 2014 Content 4 Demand article titled Research Studies: A Powerful, And Often Overlooked, B2B Content Marketing Tool, author Matthew McKenzie states, “Before you add original research to your content marketing mix, think carefully about how to make the most of this investment.” How do you recommend firms make the most of this investment?
SM: The first thing I would suggest is to understand what you want to get out of the research. Sounds very simple, but yet it’s often overlooked. What is your objective?
CQ: Do you recommend outlining all the different ways you’re going to use it while you’re setting your objectives?
SM: No, because you don’t always know what you’re going to find. You may have a hypothesis, but you really don’t know. But, your goal going in is to repurpose the content in as many formats as possible.
CQ: What are some of the drivers behind why a professional services firm would want to conduct their own research?
SM: Many times it has to do with the fact that a firm is not growing anymore. Their growth has leveled off, there’s greater competition in their marketplace, or they just have an unclear positioning. Many of the firms that we work with are middle-market firms – meaning they’ve been around for some time. So, over time they’ve added more services and all the sudden, it’s very unclear to them AND their clients what they actually do.
CQ: How do you recommend that firms select a topic for their research?
SM: That’s part of where instrument design comes in – which is about how you write the questions and put the survey together. For us, we’re often focusing on selection criteria and buying behavior because that’s what our clients want to know. But we’re also looking at learning more about our client’s pain points and looking at the value that their firms are bringing to the table.
CQ: What about doing research intended to learn more about how to position yourself as a thought leader?
SM: In our universe at Hinge, we call that visibility research. We talk to our client’s clients and ask them questions like:
- What are the resources that you go to for information?
- What are the challenges that you are struggling with in your business?
- What are the conferences your’e attending?
You’re directly asking them what they are challenged with to understand what their biggest issues are and figure out how relevant you are. Otherwise you’re just guessing. The worst thing to do is to just write content because you THINK that’s what they’re interested in. You’re just wasting time. You can also figure out what associations your target audience belongs to and find out what their members are struggling with if you don’t have time to do primary research. You have to do that type of research before beginning your own.
CQ: Does the fact that you intend to repurpose a survey annually change how you approach the research?
SM: No – it actually makes it easier. We do it all the time, but our clients don’t tend to do it as often. Even though we know from our own research efforts that firms that do frequent research grow three times faster. Every time you do the survey, you’re getting closer to the respondents.
CQ: How did Hinge decide this was a route you wanted to take to market your firm?
SM: That goes back to the history of how we came together at Hinge. When my partner Lee Frederiksen and I joined Hinge, we did some research to educate ourselves more about the professional services niche and learn what we could do within it. We decided pretty quickly to start using that research to market ourselves. At first I was intimidated by the numbers, but it’s a gold mine. You can’t argue with it. You can not like it. You can choose to ignore it. But it is what it is. Working with technical professionals, it’s perfect because they are all about the data. And research gives you the data.
CQ: Once you’re finished with your research, what are some of the content options available to marketers to get more out of their effort?
SM: Once you have the research, you can:
- Put out a report to live on your website so that you can gain a conversion from downloads.
- Do blog posts on key points within the research.
- Create infographics from key statistics.
- Make a slideshare presentations with a subset of the data. That can also live as a blog post.
- Outreach through social media.
- Speaking presentations to present your findings – live or webinar.
- Traditional PR – how are you pitching your findings to the media?
CQ: How would you recommend that a marketer pitch a research project to their leadership?
SM: You need to educate the leadership team so they think of it as their own idea. Where marketers fail is when they keep pushing for it and they think they are going to convince their leadership. It’s just not going to work. We can not convince the C-suite to do something no matter how painfully obvious it is for us to see. Once they understand the benefits, they become the biggest proponents, but it takes time.