Struggling for content? The role of market research in content marketing programmes

November 18, 2015

- Stephen Fishleigh

Content marketing has rapidly emerged as the one of the most popular marketing techniques in recent times. And it’s not hard to see why. Through the development and distribution of valuable and interesting content, brands can attract, engage and build lasting and trusting relationships with potential customers. Thanks to the Internet and the emergence of social media platforms, it’s also easier than ever to reach a desired audience with relevant content that speaks to their needs and is within the grasp – and budget – of practically every business. With all the tools within easy reach, the question becomes one of what to say.

“Through research, brands can start a new conversation or add a new dimension to an existing conversation. It enables brands to address issues that are relevant to their clients and to provide new insights that illuminate the findings.”

You should have a good idea of what your brand stands for and more than likely you messages and proof points to support that. That’s a great start and gives you some direction to your content marketing campaign, but you still lack one crucial thing: the actual content. And here’s the tricky part, because for content marketing to be successful, you need to think about what it is that your target audience is interested in.

Unless you’re an Apple or Tesla, it’s unlikely that your target audience is going to be all that interested in you. Even if they are, they’re going to quickly tire of hearing all about you and move on. It’s like being caught with the bore at the party who regales you with stories about their new car, their huge house in the country and their latest holiday to Mauritius.

To be truly effective, your content needs to be produced with your audience in mind. It needs to be at least one, and preferably a combination, of the following: educational; interesting; entertaining and thought provoking. Ultimately you need to deliver some value as recompense for the time they have invested in you.

One, often overlooked, way to make content interesting and relevant is to conduct proprietary research. Through research, brands can start a new conversation or add a new dimension to an existing conversation. It enables brands to address issues that are relevant to their clients and to provide new insights that illuminate the findings.

The finance industry, where subject matter can often be complex and abstract, in particular, has long relied on thought-leadership to demonstrate capabilities and expertise. It’s something that has always been at the core of our clients’ PR programmes and we have long recognised the value of conducting original research to help support our clients’ narrative.

Techniques can include conducting surveys, conducting analysis of your own data or metrics and analysis of publicly available data. It can be an expensive and time-consuming pursuit and is something that firms often shy away from when it is strictly for content marketing purposes. Done well, however, research can be incredibly effective and needn’t break the bank. Moreover, research can help frame new business discussions and help illuminate client issues that otherwise wouldn’t be evident or even, necessarily, articulated yet by clients. By thinking creatively about the issue or topic your audience is interested in, it’s possible to come up with a simple and effective piece of research that can spark a discussion.

For example, earlier this year, we conducted our own research to explore social media usage of large institutional asset managers in the US. We looked at the presence of the top 200 U.S, money managers by AUM on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and YouTube and considered firms to be active on that channel if they had made at least one update in the calendar year. This research provided us with eminently shareable content – including the full findings (which you can find here) and a downloadable infographic (here) – that afforded one of BackBay’s target markets an insight into how their peers were collectively handling one of the big marketing issues of the day.

Anecdotally, among our asset management clients, the research effectively created a benchmark that they could compare themselves against, resulting in internal discussions and, in some cases, changes in how they approached social media. Furthermore, it has provided us with useful intelligence about one of our key markets, and we have since applied our findings in new business targeting and strategic communications. We were able to engage in a dialogue that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place. Not to be overlooked, we realized the added benefit of media interest, as the research was picked up by a number of financial trade publications including Institutional Asset Manager, as well PR industry trades such as the Holmes Report.

Of course there are far more sophisticated research studies and approaches one can undertake. We regularly initiate research programmes for our clients for all budget levels. We’ve worked with leading academic institutions, conducted surveys of our clients’ clients, surveyed niche business and consumer audiences and analysed the official statistics for developed nations to develop new insights.

The key to well executed research for content marketing purposes, is to have a sense of what’s relevant to your audience and to think creatively about the best approach with the resources at your disposal. This isn’t necessarily an easy balance to get right, but once mastered, it’s a technique that may see you not having to struggle for content again.