As a marketer, do you sometimes find yourself more frustrated than illuminated by what passes for research about the practice of marketing?
Colleagues will attest to seeing me pulling my hair (what hair I have left) and hearing me bark colorful phrases at my computer after reading the results of yet another study that left me more infuriated than informed.
Often the source of that consternation stems from one, two or all three of the following:
- Loose language. The terminology on which survey questions were based is so loosely defined, you have no earthly idea how to interpret and apply the results. In fact, you’re pretty sure the respondents had no clear (and, as important, shared) understanding of what they were being asked.
- Quirky questions. The question(s) seems so poorly thought through and formulated, you wonder if the sponsor had any true insight or empathy for the information needs and gaps their audience might be facing.
- Blatant bias. Sometimes you can just tell which response a survey’s sponsor was hoping for by how a question were framed. Then, when the responses come in as you might have expected they would, you start to look askance at the legitimacy of the entire study, and the sponsor behind it.
I had one of those hair-tugging spells early this week, while reading an article by eMarketer about a new piece of research conducted by SEOmoz. Let me say, before levelling this critique, that I’ve found both of these organizations to be extremely valuable sources of information about online marketing trends and emerging best practices. So I’m going to chalk this particular instance up to someone having an off day.
But if you read the article, and take note of the first survey question it reports, I think you might share my frustration:
Judging by how the results are reported, this question apparently asked more than 4,000 marketers how frequently they “use select inbound marketing tools,” including SEO, site analytics, social, content marketing and conversion rate optimization. Optional answers included “daily,” “2-4 times a week,” “once a week,” “monthly,” “quarterly.”
Now right there, as a marketer, aren’t you stopping and shouting at…er, politely inquiring of your computer monitor: “Wait a minute. We don’t think about or approach marketing that way. Social media. Content. SEO. Conversion. These aren’t things we pick up and put down sporadically, like exercise equipment. These are integrated activities. Things we’re thinking about and doing — or at least trying to do — holistically, pretty much 24, 7, 365.”
If so, then don’t you wonder how any of the marketers being surveyed could have formulated an intelligent “choose one” response to that question? And don’t you then tend to doubt what value there is in learning that of more than 4,000 SEOmoz readers surveyed, 8.7% “use” conversion rate optimization twice per month?
Do they schedule doing it on the same days payroll checks come out?
There’s actually some potentially valuable information to be found in the survey results, such as which types of content are used most often by survey respondents. But then, two questions later, another hair puller: Reasons that online marketers use select social media channels. Glance at these results, and you might be suprised to learn that the reason 79.1% of marketers surveyed use Facebook is for…wait for it…”social media.”
Ground Research in Audience Empathy
Look, I’m an absolute advocate for research as a content marketing asset. Done well, it can be hugely valuable in almost any content marketing program, especially for BtoB audiences.
After all, what you’re trying to do with your content is create and serve a community, right? Typically, a community that shares business or personal interests, challenges and unanswered questions.
If any one of those community members had the time and the resources to commission their own research study, to get answers to those questions, they would probably do so. But by taking on the task of conducting research on behalf of the entire community, you can demonstrate that you understand them, value them, and are willing to invest in being a partner and a resource for them. And that you are willing to use your scale and resources to develop content that benefits the community.
But if you’re going to do research, then for the sake of your brand’s reputation, and your audience’s affinity for your brand:
- Make sure your research study is grounded in empathy for the information gaps and needs your audience actually has.
- Define your terms, both for people answering the questions and people reading the results.
- Evaluate questions and answers on whether they are likely to produce information your audience will find valuable, even actionable.
- If there’s any doubt, be sure and work with a professional research firm to craft your questionnaire.
- Maybe even vet the draft questionnaire with a few members of the audience you seek to serve with the research findings. “If we ask this question, and ask people to choose from these answers, would the responses we get back be interesting and relevant to you and your life or business?
Are you using proprietary research as a core asset in your content marketing program? Are you seeing some of the same frustrating marketing research I’m seeing, and is it driving you just a little crazy, too? Comments welcome.
This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.