Journalists have a saying that company research reports are often a last ditch, ‘Hail Mary’ attempt by companies to grab headlines when all other ideas have run dry in today’s competitive media landscape – but is this always the case?

A well-known online source, Wikipedia (ironic I know as this piece will focus on credible findings!), defines research as “creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge”. The best content marketing strategies are those informed by data, customer insights, and industry knowledge – and when used correctly, can significantly influence the buyer’s journey. A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 96% of Americans depend on their own research to make an “important decision,” with almost half of these searches for information starting on the internet. But what constitutes credible research?

Well here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of research-led content marketing in PR. I’ll draw on a key example of how the IBA team helped one of our enterprise software clients ‘own the theme’ with an Industry 4.0 campaign that used both third and first party research to establish it as a top market leader in its particular industry.

Weed out the noise of bad research

To borrow a phrase from former UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It takes just one Google search to bring up a wealth of ready-made insights – but this level of increased accessibility means we’ve reached a point where almost every organization has a chance to run their own research. Quantity is not always a sign of quality. Thought leadership studies may promise ‘ground-breaking insights’ but many are agenda-driven and conducted without the necessary research expertise. Consultancies, media owners, and brands are all guilty of trying to push their agenda through industry research. As we all know, and that includes journalists, those that set the marketing research questions get the findings they want!

Remember too the phrase ‘zombie statistics’, used to describe a particular type of poorly researched statistic that gets so widely circulated around the digital sphere it begins to be viewed as fact. Think examples such as “people only use 10% of their brains” or “there are more people alive today than have ever lived”. These common statistics have since been debunked but still take users down a rabbit hole of missing citations and defunct links when searching for the original source. But what do they all have in common? Eye-catching language to disguise a truth that is often more complicated than the black and white percentage sign makes out!

Hitchhike on the credibility of third-party research to build your industry leading voice

When it comes to third-party research, it can be tempting for marketers to rely on this source in thought leadership content. Links to reputable research can be excellent springboards to establish your company as an industry leader. But don’t become blinded by the figures, especially if the data supports the corporate messaging – so always remember to do a deep dive on the source material and its sample size.

Research reports and analyst insights from reputable organizations such as IDC, Gartner, and Deloitte are key ways for B2B marketers to create a piece of thought leadership that elevates a brand’s position in the market and builds a foundation of trust and credibility. It’s a key tactic to project market expertise and demonstrate that businesses stay on top of industry trends. The art of using third-party research is in drawing the line between the research findings and a businesses’ product or solution in a way that doesn’t diminish the value of the research or smack of a product pitch – in other words, finding the right “peg” to hang your company messaging on.

For our enterprise software client and one of its core industry segments, we did exactly this. The IBA editorial and Pitch&Place teams identified a growing industry focus point in the aerospace and defense market around Industry 4.0. Although a number of markets had already done 4.0, companies in this specific market were late to adopt, and interest was high. A bylined article was carefully crafted with the client’s subject matter expert and linked to an extremely authoritative Deloitte report on the same topic showing some valuable research statistics on the value to this specific market – the report had only just been published. It was the perfect piggyback. The article was pitched globally to relevant media outlets and generated 14 media placements. But the best thing? Our placements sat right next to the influential Deloitte report – perfect brand association – and our client’s main competitor was at the bottom of the search results page. Prospective readers would have to click through five of our client’s items before they even saw it!

Polling a targeted audience provides the icing on the marketing cake

Third-party research can be a key asset in content marketing strategies, but this doesn’t dismiss the value that original market research can bring to the table as long as B2B marketers are careful with their agenda!

To continue our previous example, original market research can be a way to further build out the content stack. Our client then partnered with a top publication to organize an Industry 4.0 webinar, which was attended by over 300 buying personas in major manufacturing companies in their target market. The campaign was indeed on a roll, and the webinar attendees provided the perfect audience for our client to conduct live polling to understand how mature the market was. These stats were then used to draft a blog, whitepaper, and a press release – all of which established our client as a key player involved in the latest industry trend.

Original market research can be a way to address a gap in the market and build brand recognition – take it from us. During the height of Covid, IBA conducted a unique research project  to discover how B2B organizations were responding to wide disruption and reorganizing their marketing & PR strategies and planning to spearhead expansion into new markets and geographies. As much for our own benefit to see where the market was heading, our two research reports provided us with valuable content to become a leading voice during a time when many decision-makers were still unsure of the road ahead.

Research is only as good as the insights it delivers for your campaign

So, what’s the key takeaway? Customers, prospects, and the media can see through the veil of thinly conducted research. And don’t use research for the sake of it! Use it to add value and to support your campaigns. Whether third-party or original market research, B2B pros will have better success with their content marketing strategies when using research data to deliver timely insights that the market is looking for.

And finally…not quite sure who said this and there are many versions of the quote, but the punchline is a good wake-up call to make sure you use research to support your campaign objectives:

“Most people use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination.”

Hannah Watson is PR Executive at IBA International.

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