Why You Should Think Beyond Surveys for Original Research


In my last post, I described where B2B marketers should look when attempting to find topics for thought leadership content. There’s no longer any doubt that high-quality thought leadership content has become a critical component of effective marketing at many B2B companies.

Numerous research studies have identified the characteristics that make thought leadership content persuasive. The terms used in those studies vary, but the research consistently shows that compelling thought leadership content will exhibit three core attributes – it will be relevant, authoritative, and novel.

The need to make thought leadership content both novel and authoritative raises the importance of original research. In reality, the only way to develop novel and authoritative thought leadership content is to base that content on original research.

Original research is required to capture the new information and develop the new insights that make thought leadership content novel, and it provides the evidence that makes the content authoritative.

Original Research Means More Than Surveys

When most marketers think about original research, surveys are usually the first thing that comes to mind. Surveys are popular because they can provide valuable data and because they have become easier and less expensive to use. Several firms now offer free or inexpensive tools for conducting surveys.

It’s important to recognize, however, that original research encompasses more than quantitative surveys, and that other types of original research can also be highly effective.

The following diagram shows the major categories of original research and the research methods that fall in each category.

As the diagram shows, there are two major categories of original research – primary research and secondary research. Secondary research involves reviewing and analyzing data or research that has been published by others. This includes data published by governmental entities, and data or research published within academia and by private organizations such as consulting firms and research firms.

Primary research, on the other hand, is research you conduct yourself or hire someone to conduct for you. It involves going directly to a source to gather or compile information. The diagram shows several of the most common methods of primary research, all of which can be effective when used in the right circumstances.

Interviews and Focus Groups                                         Interviews can be used on a stand-alone basis or in conjunction with other primary research methods. The major advantage of interviews is that they enable the use of open-ended questions and therefore can produce more in-depth and nuanced answers.
When used on a stand-alone basis, the interviewees essentially take the place of a survey panel. In my experience, however, one of the best ways to use interviews is as a preliminary step in a research project that will ultimately include a survey. In this case, the interviews are used to identify the topics that may be important to survey participants and to help formulate survey questions.
A focus group is essentially a group interview, and therefore focus groups can be used in most of the same ways as individual interviews.
Analysis of Proprietary Data                                                     This method involves the analysis of data that is proprietary to your company. For example, if your company provides a hosted or SaaS software application, this research method could be used to compile and analyze data regarding how your customers are using the application.
A good example of research featuring this method is the annual state of B2B content consumption and demand study produced by NetLine Corporation.
Experiments or Tests                                                                This research method is widely used in social sciences such as psychology and behavioral economics. When you conduct an experiment, you expose participants to alternative versions of a hypothetical situation, and then ask them questions about their experience or record their behaviors. The objective is usually to measure differences in certain aspects of the alternatives.
A field test is similar to an experiment except that the alternatives are presented in a real-world setting. An “A/B test” is a type of field experiment used frequently in marketing.
Expand Your Research Palette
Don’t misunderstand my point here. Surveys will always be an important and valuable method of conducting primary research. However, diversifying the research methods you use can have several benefits. Each research method has strengths and weaknesses, and each excels at eliciting certain kinds of information. By using a variety of research methods, you will be better able to produce thought leadership content that is novel and authoritative. And that will make your marketing more effective.
Top image courtesy of U.S. Army DEVCOM via Flickr (CC).

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