Think Beyond Surveys for More Effective Research

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In my last post, I discussed some of the major findings from the State of Original Research for Marketing 2019 survey by Mantis Research and BuzzSumo. This research found that a substantial number of companies have made original research an integral part of their marketing efforts.

Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents who had conducted research reported that it had met or exceeded their expectations, and 88% said they plan to conduct additional research in the next 12 months.



I also argued in my post that for most large and mid-size B2B companies, and for many smaller B2B firms, original research has now become essential for effective marketing. The shorthand version of my argument is this:

  • Effective B2B marketing requires the development and use of real thought leadership content.
  • Real thought leadership content must be both novel and authoritative.
  • The only way to consistently develop novel and authoritative content is by conducting original research.

Original Research is More Than Surveys

When most marketers think about original research, surveys are usually the first thing that comes to mind. In the Mantis Research/BuzzSumo study, surveys were the type of research most frequently used by respondents for marketing purposes.

Surveys are popular because they can provide compelling data and because they have become easier and less expensive to use. Several firms now offer free or inexpensive tools for conducting surveys. (Note:  If you need advice on selecting a survey tool, check out this excellent blog post by Clare McDermott with Mantis Research.)

It’s important to recognize, however, that original research encompasses more than quantitative surveys, and that other methods of original research can also be highly effective in the right circumstances. 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 – secondary and primary. Secondary research involves the review and analysis of data or research that has been published by others. This includes data published by governmental entities,  and data and/or research published within academia and by other private organizations (consulting firms, research firms, other business organizations, etc.).

Primary research, on the other hand, is research that 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 or types of primary research. In addition to surveys, three of these methods can be particularly powerful when used in the right circumstances.

Interviews
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 the 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 what topics may be important to potential survey participants, and to help determine how to formulate survey questions.

Analysis of Proprietary Data
This method involves the analysis of data that is proprietary to your company. For example, if your company provides some type of 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 2019 State of B2B Content Consumption and Demand Report for Marketers 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 a set of questions regarding their experience. 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 good example of a type of field test used frequently in marketing.

Corporate Visions is a company that uses experiments and tests fairly extensively. For example, the firm has used this research method to test the effectiveness of various levels of personalization and to evaluate what types of sales/marketing messaging is most effective at persuading business executives to move forward with a purchase.

Expand Your Research Palette



Don’t misunderstand my point here. Surveys will always be an important and valuable method for conducting primary research. But 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 can consistently produce thought leadership content that is novel, authoritative, and compelling. And that, in turn, will make your marketing more effective.

Top image courtesy of versionz via Flickr CC.

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