Marketing research isn't just a way to collect opinions, measure awareness, or test positioning statements any more. Packaged correctly, your research itself can be your message. You can turn your results into media stories that attract favorable publicity and establish you or your business as an authority. Or you can craft compelling premiums—reports, guides, or booklets—with must-have information that generates leads.
Case in point: I worked with an agency that promised its client, a software provider in the mergers and acquisitions field, 500 qualified leads for its sales team. The entire campaign, from print ads and direct mail to emails and telemarketing, was built around a booklet of insights on how to do better deals. The substance of the book came from one-on-one interviews with the client and its customers. The offer worked: We ultimately pulled at least 1,200 qualified leads, more than doubling the client's expectations.
Another case: One my other clients, a franchise marketing agency in New Jersey, initiated research to poll franchise executives regarding agencies and agency relationships. But the interviews proved deeper and richer than anticipated, yielding a wealth of insights on franchise marketing and franchisor-franchisee communications. The resulting report has become the foundation for a press campaign and a major component of the agency's branding and lead-generation efforts, which are pulling in clients as I write.
I talked to Rich Higginson, president of The Princeton Research Group, the firm that executed the research on behalf of the franchise marketing agency. We put our brains together and came up with a few pointers on who should leverage research and how they should go about it.
Who can package research to their advantage?
- Businesses with big "brain capital": Think professional services and consulting firms. Or industries such as financial services, insurance, or healthcare. Here, knowledge is money. Any insights you can provide on how customers think, feel, hope, and fear has an immediate value that your clients will appreciate.
- Nonprofit organizations: In any major fundraising campaign, the real money comes from a handful of big contributors. But before the big players pony up, they want evidence that the need is real, the goal desirable, and the organization effective. A third-party report based on objective data can be the story you need to win over major contributors.
- Political organizers: Gathering support for a referendum, such as a tax override, can be tough work. But you can soften the ground by distributing research that lets voters know what their neighbors are thinking. Likewise, incumbent parties can package data regarding constituent desires—what voters said they want from their government—with facts on how the government has responded to their concerns.
What do you do with the research you've gathered?
- Pepper your press releases: Reporters are often too busy to conduct deep investigations on their own. That's why editors really appreciate press releases loaded with fresh, objective information that can form the core of new stories. Example: "In a survey of leading American textile manufacturers, 85% believe that competition from China will cripple the nation's textile industry in the next five years." Or, "Consumer surveys indicate that CD music sales still run strong in the 50+ crowd."
- Share it in your own bylined articles: Consultants and other service providers looking to establish "thought leadership" are always eager for ideas on which they can build bylined articles. One good research study can become fodder for a half-dozen substantive articles based on the data you've gathered. These may be placed in industry-relevant publications. Or you can bypass traditional media and distribute your articles online through a syndication site such as EzineArticles.com.
- Put together a premium to attract leads: It's one of the perennial problems of business-to-business marketing: How do you get the attention of the big decision-makers and top executives you must persuade to make the sale? Here's your ace-in-the-hole: they're hungry for information. They want to know what the market's up to, what their competitors are doing, what their colleagues think, what their customers desire. Consider packaging your research into whitepapers, reports, or guides that you can use as offers in a lead-gen campaign: "Call today for our free guide, 8 Things You Must Do to Engage Hispanic Consumers." These same reports make excellent downloads from your Web site (in exchange for basic contact information, of course).
What else do you have to know?
- Keep your strategic information to yourself: You don't need to (and should not) give everything away. Any specific information you uncover that gives you an advantage over your direct competitors—and would likewise help your competitors if they should get their hands on it—you should keep to yourself.
- It's not that expensive: Some people balk at the cost of research. But think about it—what's a few thousand dollars to survey a few hundred people? For the amount of money that you'd spend on a modest media buy (and for a short period, at that), you could gain raw material for articles, press releases, premium guides, Web content, direct mail, e-newsletters, and more. In the greater marketing context, the right marketing research is a downright bargain.
- The Web is changing everything: Back in the old days (just a few years ago...) your opportunities to disseminate information were limited to your influence with the media. But the Web has evolved into an extraordinary messaging platform that often leaves the traditional media players behind. Think of what's available now to help you distribute your information: blogs, e-newsletters, virtual networks and communities, press release syndication sites, article syndication sites, e-book downloads, Web-specific publishing sites. These and other online media can help you get the word out. And through the power of hyperlinks and search engine robots, your word can spread must faster in bits and bytes than it would in ink or broadcast signals.
Make research part of your message
Before you begin your next big PR or marketing campaign, think about conducting research first—not simply as a guide for your campaign but as the very substance of your offers, your message, your brand. Because the best way to rise above the clutter is to give your prospects something better than more clutter—honest-to-goodness information and insight they can really use.
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