5 Ways to Supercharge Your B2B Content Strategy with Original Research
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres–left and right. Scientists believe there is a tendency for cognitive processes or neural functions to be specialized to one side of the brain or the other.
How is this relevant to marketers?
When going through various stages of the buyer journey, purchasers of B2B and professional services have a list of criteria they use to evaluate service providers and vendors.
Being confident that you will receive tangible business results is a logical reason to want to work with a company.
On the other hand, working with a company that has a “good cultural fit” addresses the desire to feel a certain emotion when working with them.
Some criteria are intended to satisfy one cerebral hemisphere more than the other.
According to a major study by Google, Gartner and Motista, B2B buyers are more emotionally connected to the brands they purchase than B2C consumers. On average, B2C brands had an emotional connection with between 10% and 40% of buyers. Contrast that with a majority of B2B brands had emotional connections with more than 50% of their customers.
I can attest to this statistic. In 2019, I attended the Qualtrics X4 event in Salt Lake City, Utah. A few months prior, I lead an initiative to switch survey vendors to the Qualtrics platform which offered capabilities superior to our past vendor. The purchase was still fresh in my mind.
At the event. speakers were able to tell compelling stories based on insights derived from survey data. Brands like L.L. Bean, AirBnB, and Under Armour all shared their experience turning raw data into insight, then insight into action. I left the event energized and ready to log into my Qualtrics account and unlock it’s potential value.
These speakers were able to use original research as part of their B2B content strategy, which appealed to the left cerebral hemisphere of my brain, associated with logic and reason. It reinforced key marketing messages, and satisfied the rational criteria I would use to evaluate brands like these.
My biggest takeaway was that when speakers struck an emotional cord and packaged research with good storytelling, it appealed to the right hemisphere of my brain — associated with emotion.
Relationships Between Research and Growth
The Hinge Research Institute (HRI) has been publishing original research for over a decade. With over 25,000 buyers and sellers studied and nearly one hundred research reports published, there is no other place with more extensive research on professional services markets.
Early in HRI’s exploration of the professional services market, we uncovered different relationships between rapid annual revenue growth and a firm’s propensity to do research.
Companies who do frequent research on their target market tend to grow faster. This makes intuitive sense. If you know your audience, you can market to them better.
What’s interesting, though, is we uncovered a different relationship between research and growth. In 2019, we found the fastest growing businesses in professional services were 3x more likely to use original research in their content marketing strategy.
Marketers in these organizations use empirical evidence to reinforce their brand position and boost their appeal to their buyer’s left-hemisphere criteria.
Research like this doesn’t always have to only live in a formal, published report. You may not be as ambitious as someone like Gary Vaynerchuk and break it down into 64 smaller pieces of content… but original research can be broken down and used in small doses.
This is especially effective for sophisticated, digital inbound marketing systems. When organizations invest in marketing technology (martech) stacks, the content needed to fuel the system can sometimes be an afterthought. Different types of content need to be delivered at different stages of your inbound funnel or buyer journey. The funnel diagram below is a sample of how a professional services firm might construct an inbound marketing funnel.
Let’s say a prospect is stuck in the middle of your marketing funnel and they need that one last piece of content to deepen the engagement. This would be a great place to promote a recording of a co-branded webinar with one of your subject-matter experts presenting alongside a credible third party about research on a relevant issue or topic.
By injecting research and data into key messages, it strengthens each individual piece of content, therefore strengthening the entire system.
Doing original research is no walk in the park…
It can take weeks or months to design a research methodology. Finding the right audience and collecting a big enough sample takes time and effort. If you don’t have the right software to process and visualize your results, you might be stuck doing it in excel.
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
The final step is probably the most important. Now you must interpret results and transform the insights into a powerful narrative. This takes a potent mixture of analytical and creative thinking.
But you don’t have to do all of this yourself. Here are a few ways you can supercharge your B2B content strategy with original research.
(1) License existing B2B research
Don’t want to buy a car? Lease one for a year, and trade it in for the new model once it comes out.
You can do the same with original research.
Institutions who publish research sometimes sell distribution licenses to companies looking to incorporate research into their content strategy without infringing on copyright intellectual property.
For example, let’s say your business sells software to a professional services industry and you need to show how your product can help users address a painful business challenge. By providing them with 3rd party statistics that validate your solution, you are positioned as credible.
(2) Outsource part (or all) of the research process
If you want to research a key industry topic or trend, but don’t have the technology or know-how to design and launch a survey or build a research report, just outsource it to research specialists.
Think about it. Time is money and it will actually cost you more to DIY a full-on original research initiative. Instead of taking on this daunting challenge alone, partner with an experienced research organization to guide you through the process.
Here are different aspects of the research process you can outsource to a research-based marketing agency:
- Research Design — What questions would you ask? To what audience? What do you expect to find? How will these findings support your market position?
- Data Collection — What methods will you use to collect data? Do you have the technology for a survey? Will you be able to hit your target sample size?
- Analysis — Nice data… but what does it mean? How will you interpret the results? What findings are truly insightful? Which ones support existing research?
- Narrative Development — What stories does the data support? What’s the best way to tell that story? Who will do the writing?
- Report Design — How will you package the research findings and narrative? How will data be visualized? What themes or colors should you use?
- Publishing & Promotion — Where will the report live on your website? How will you bring visibility to the content? What information will users need to give up to download?
Each aspect of the research process presents different challenges. Outsourcing part (or all) of the research process can be an effective way to produce truly original research for your B2B content strategy.
(3) Sponsor an upcoming study
If a publisher is conducting or planning an upcoming study, you could become a sponsor. This would associate your brand with the research when it’s mentioned, strengthening visibility and credibility.
By sponsoring a research study, you are telling your target market you care about their business by arming them with the insights they need to grow and thrive. Your brand will also be associated with the study in perpetuity, making the sponsorship of an original research study a marketing initiative with a very long shelf life.
For companies targeting professional service industries — like accounting, engineering or consulting — as growth markets, you may consider sponsoring one of Hinge Research Institute’s upcoming studies:
- High Growth Study — For the past five years, this ongoing research study is focused on understanding what high-growth professional services firms do differently than underperforming peers, and the differences between industries.
- Employer Brand Study — this study explores the dynamic between recruiters and job-seekers in professional services industries. It seeks to help firms connect with top talent, and vice-versa. It explores the various channels job-seekers use, what they value in an employer, and much more.
- Visible Expert — How are high visibility experts transforming the professional services landscape, and what kind of impact are they making? In this study, the Hinge Research Institute intends on studying over 1,000 professional services purchasers and over 100 Visible Experts® to find the answers.
- Inside the Buyer’s Brain — this study walks you through the psychology of professional services buyers and sellers. It explores how buyers evaluate and select service providers and their client experience. It also documents key firm brand metrics and trends over time.
(4) Collaborate on a co-branded study
This is the most customized way to collaborate with a research partner. On a co-branded study, you join forces with a credible organization to produce a research report on a specific industry topic, trend, or market. You have the ability to influence key questions and survey design to zero in on the issues and topics most relevant to your specific situation.
Doing a co-branded study provides your marketing organization with a source of content that can be repurposed in many different ways. Because you own this kind of original research, it acts as a well to go back to for multiple marketing campaigns. You could publish supplementary reports featuring new analyses and result breakdowns.
Here are just a few studies the Hinge Research Institute has published in collaboration with other organizations:
- 2019 Marketing Budget Benchmark Study — The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and the Hinge Research Institute have joined forces for the 4th time to conduct the accounting industry’s most comprehensive study of accounting marketing budgets to date.
- Accelerating Growth: How Consulting Firms Can Use Technology to Optimize Business Development — Seismic Software partnered with the Hinge Research Institute to explore the current state of business development automation and identify areas in which technology can be leveraged to accelerate manual tasks like data analysis and content personalization.
(5) Present research findings in a co-branded webinar
If you co-present original research on a webinar with a well-known expert, you will benefit from the halo effect of working with a reputable name in the industry. Webinars are also a great way to engage with your audience and generate leads — important aspects of any B2B content strategy.
Recently, Bill.com and Hinge Research Institute co-branded a handful of webinars in Bill.com’s “Accounting Entrepreneur Webinar Series” where Hinge’s Managing Partner, Lee Frederiksen, shared key takeaways from research on high-growth accounting firms. These webinars leveraged the latest research from our 2019 High Growth Study.
There are many ways to collaborate on a co-branded webinar. You can use an existing presentation and share it with your audience. Or, you can work together with a marketing agency to build a custom, one-of-a-kind presentation.
After presenting in your co-branded webinar, the recording can be used in an “on-demand” format on your website, where users can access the insights 24/7.
You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting to leverage original research in your B2B content strategy. Partner with a credible third party, supercharge your content strategy, and fill up your marketing pipeline.
Professional Services Guide to Research — This easy-to-read guide will teach you everything you need to know to get started with original research. Find out how critical insights into your markets, clients, prospects and even your own staff can help your firm uncover new value and opportunities.
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