Using all types of market research to better understand your customers or your addressable market is a long-established way to deliver better products, services and experiences. But using quantitative market research (surveys, polls and questionnaires) to fuel PR and content marketing campaigns is an underutilized strategy. The data and analysis generated from this kind of research provides a treasure trove of opportunities for integrated marketing teams to build brand awareness, increase share of voice and attract new prospects.
But undertaking your own market research campaign can seem daunting, and many businesses feel priced out of, or overwhelmed by research opportunities.
The good news is you don’t have to be a market research expert or have a huge budget to leverage research for your PR and content marketing campaigns: research campaigns are not one-size-fits-all. With a little preparation, clear objectives and precise questions for potential partners, you can tailor a market study to perfectly fit your business needs and your budget. The Fletcher Group team takes frequent forays into the world of market research for content marketing and PR and have a few tips to help you get your research underway.
1. Set strategic objectives
The first step in any successful research campaign is understanding exactly what it is you are researching, why your enterprise needs this data and how you plan to put the data and analysis to use once you have it. The key here is to be strategic and specific as you set objectives.
Be timely but think long-term: Find a topic and hypothesis with shelf-life and avoid locking your research into hyper-specific events or time windows. The caveat here is that if your industry revolves around certain calendar-specific events (i.e. retail’s relationship to the Christmas shopping season), those are fair targets for market research. Studies around other one-off events of short-lived trends, however, will get stale fast.
- Work backward: Exactly what purpose will the data you generate serve for your business? Will it back up product claims? Drive sales? Create marketing and PR material? Although research can be leveraged in multiple areas of your business, be sure you have a focused and prioritized set of objectives. Once you know your end point – the specific roles this research will play in your larger business plan – you can connect the dots backward to identify the steps you’ll need to take to achieve the desired outcome. In terms of media relations, for example, we’ve found that creating headlines before we craft survey questions is helpful. That way, when we’re reviewing drafted questions, it’s easier to look back at our headlines and make sure we’ve asked questions that will speak to each point or hypothesis.
- Be original: Before you begin to develop your research strategy, have a look at the research being done in your industry. Would your study bring a new perspective to the table? Is there a “white space” that your company can own? Compare what’s out there to the research you’d like to conduct to get a sense of the value such research will bring to your intended market and avoid going head-to-head with other established research studies.
- Be timely but think long-term: Find a topic and hypothesis with shelf-life and avoid locking your research into hyper-specific events or time windows. The caveat here is that if your industry revolves around certain calendar-specific events (i.e. retail’s relationship to the Christmas shopping season), those are fair targets for market research. Studies around other one-off events of short-lived trends, however, will get stale fast.
- Use your data everywhere: Make sure you have a plan to make the most of your data beyond the release date. Look for ways to repackage and repurpose the study, whether that’s a zoom-in-blog on specific aspects of your study or bundling findings into a speaker presentation or dozens of stat-focused social posts. You might also consider a study with a tracking element, allowing you to report out fresh findings every month, quarter or year and follow trends as they develop.
2. Match your partner to your plan
Often, businesses interested in conducting market research will engage a partner to conduct, analyze, package and present the study. There are a wide variety of partners available to you, but they generally fall into one of three categories: third party market research firms, industry analysts and media/trade outlets with research capabilities. It is imperative that you align your goals and strategy with a partner who offers exactly what you need (and won’t charge you for things you don’t).
- Third party market research firms: Working with an independent market research firm lends your study credibility. These firms have the expertise and experience to help align your research with your desired outcomes and help you form a hypothesis and research plan that is factual, unbiased and beneficial to your brand message. Top firms will take the full scope of work off your team’s plate and return polished deliverables. Some also boast brand name recognition which can help your study garner media attention. When going the third party route, make sure your chosen firm is well versed in your industry. Firms that know your business will deliver insightful analysis that strengthens the impact of your data.
- Industry analysts: There are a number of large industry analyst firms who cover a wide variety of industries with specialty practice areas. Smaller firms typically specialize in one specific industry. Research is often a key component of analysts’ service and consultancy offerings, and some will also do research for hire. While these engagements tend to be more costly, they also bring credibility and industry clout that plays well with media, and many firms deliver some level of co-promotion as part of their fees.
- Media outlets: Working with a media outlet has its advantages, too, like aligning your study more closely to your target audience (presumably, the outlet you choose to partner with will know your industry well). These partnerships usually come with public-facing deliverables like whitepapers and infographics which your media partner will help you leverage for brand awareness and lead generation. Media partners also work to promote your research (dedicated article, social media posts) leading to greater brand awareness. However, your research will be co-branded with your media partner, which can hamper the possibility of wider media coverage with competing trade media.
3. Do it on any budget
It is important to understand what you can expect at each price tier when putting together a market research plan. Generally, the more you spend on a partner, the broader your study can be, and the more legwork is taken off your plate. Working in the top tier means you’re contracting a team of data scientists, market analysts and designers. You’re also paying for a third party’s brand name credibility. The high cost of these top tier research contracts presents a real barrier to entry for some businesses. Luckily, there are ways to get into the market research game at many budget levels.
- Choose an industry-specific partner: Research firms that tailor their offerings to work within specific verticals may not carry the same price tag as partnerships with larger firms working across industries. The drawback is that these smaller groups may have less sophisticated expertise, fewer resources and less brand recognition in the market.
- Opt for questions in an omnibus survey: An omnibus survey is a single questionnaire administered by a professional research organization to a large number of respondents. These organizations have ongoing access to a “panel” of respondents that represent key market audiences, such as a representative sample of US adults. Omnibus surveys include a variety of unrelated topics and are paid for by several survey sponsors. This cost-sharing approach to research is a good fit for companies without a lot of money to spend on a one-to-one research partnership, but you’re typically limited to a couple of questions. The survey will still be administered by a third party, but you’ll be in charge of analyzing, utilizing and presenting the results.
- Do it in-house: The ubiquity of free, easy-to-use online survey platforms, including the ability to poll social media users, has made the DIY approach to market research more attractive and accessible in recent years. If your team has the bandwidth to take on a market survey study, these platforms give you the ability to do so and also have many industry best practices built right in. These tools allow you to commission a credible, professional survey with minimal bias. Be prepared to tackle the work of writing, reviewing, testing and re-reviewing your survey before it goes live. This will help to ensure everything makes sense from the survey-takers perspective — and that your efforts yield high-quality data.
- Use the data hidden in your operations: Raw data is everywhere. Many businesses haven’t considered the untapped streams of in-house data hiding in plain sight. Do you already survey customers about topics that could be newsworthy? Do you have access to anonymized sales or transaction data that can speak to relevant trends? Even social media monitoring can provide useful market research data. Collecting and analyzing this data is a low-cost way to find micro trends in your operation and your market. This is also a great way to supplement or complement your original research.
Anyone can use market research to give some extra firepower to their marketing and PR strategy. Clearly defining your objectives and enlisting the right experts to fit your needs and budget will ensure your study is credible and newsworthy. Armed with polished deliverables, trends and storylines, you’ll find endless ways to benefit from the data you create.
Courtney Brunkow, Anna Kragie and Lindsey Abshire contributed to this story.