Why research is important in your content strategy

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Research can help us connect with audiences by sharing knowledge and by understanding our target audiences better. Those are two different areas of using research but also complementing research approaches in your content strategy. In this article I discuss them both. I cover:

  • How video research can help you understand your customers and prospects better
  • How original research can help you advance your marketing strategy

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Why original research can be a differentiator in a content strategy

There are two ways to look at research in your content strategy…. Audience insights and unique content creation.

research is important in these two areas for content

Original research can help us understand our audiences better

You’ve probably been in these meetings where people talk about knowing their audiences. But how can we really know our audiences if we never talk to them? In B2B publishing journalists have done reader calls for decades. Call a handful of people to get a handful of responses. That can give us some insights but might not be representative.

But nonetheless, talking to our audiences – especially at scale can help us create better content experiences. Robert Weller discussed on Episode 211 of the Business Storytelling Podcast the importance of better content experiences.

Original research can help us create unique content

Creating unique content certainly has never been harder. Many are out there starting their own podcast and many more yet are blogging. Some ways to share a brand’s unique stories as differentiators include:

And another way is to create original research and then create content around that research to engage with your audiences.

Let’s dive into each one a bit more here…

Research is important to understand our audiences

I’ve heard people say “Oh, I know my audience. I know my customers. Christoph, I’ve done this for a while!” That subtle power struggle can feel good to them, but it likely won’t help them understand their audiences better, create better content and ultimately connect with them deeper.

And a study actually found that there’s a disconnect between companies and customers. In essence, companies say they hear their customers, while customers don’t agree with that. More on that in this clip:

There are different ways to get customer insights today for example:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Video

Jenn Vogel of Voxpopme.com, where I’m a content strategist, joined me on this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast to discuss the topic of how video feedback is one way to get customer insights.

As she mentioned on the episode, basically how it works:

  • Brands determine questions that they want to ask via the platform
  • Respondents can answer via quick video responses shot from their phones.
  • Those responses are then automatically transcribed and analyzed for sentiment and more.

Of course, as a content marketer that information can be very helpful when it comes to understanding our audiences, their wants and needs and perceptions of what our brand is doing.

Research is important to share valuable content

Based on permissions, the content from the video feedback platform can also be used in external marketing and business storytelling. For example, by creating highlight videos of what customers have said. Sharing comments publicly – if permission has been given – also fits into the model other experts have discussed with me on the podcast.

Researcher Michele Linn joined me on this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast to discuss her approach to research in content strategy.

Michele Linn
Michele Linn

Michelle’s company Mantis Research works with brands to create original research for brands. When used publicly, the results can help prospects and consumers make better decisions. Of course, original research comes back to:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • How will it be used?
  • The best way to ask the right questions to accurate results.

For example, I’ve been told I’m good at asking leading questions on my podcast and in interviews for articles. In those instances those work great. That might not be the best way to ask questions in a research scenario, though. Make sure you ask questions correctly to get usable results.

Examples of original research content projects

Ashley Cummings commissioned a study on how much it should cost to hire freelance writers. She wrote about the study, discussed it on my podcast and shared it as well far and wide. It’s an informative study that freelancers as well as people hiring freelancers can get value from.

Ashley, who can be hired as a freelance writer, used original research to share value and to build her network, which can include new customers. It also offers things to mull over to people who hire freelancers. The whole discussion on how to pay freelancers – by hour, word count or deliverable – is covered at length.

Andy Crestodina, author of “Content Chemistry” and CMO at Orbit Media, has published original research for a number of years now with his company’s annual blogging survey. He discusses the topic in this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast.

His original research discusses:

  • How long blog posts are on average
  • How long creation takes
  • Distribution strategies
  • Whether or not articles include expert quotes – I’ve taken this concept by adding podcast interviews – like I’ve done here
  • How many pictures are used
  • And more

All areas that are of interest to content marketers but also agencies that try to work with content marketers. If it takes three hours on average to write an article they can use that specificity to say can save you 12 hours for three articles. For example.

Seeing what strategies the highest performing bloggers use can also help us adjust our strategies. For example, it seems that content is getting longer. Once I know that based on actual research, I can make a decision if my content needs to become longer. It has, by the way. With Google Passage Rankings rolling out longer content with subsections might also help brands.

What’s Google Passage ranking?

The Marketing O’Clock podcast discussed that at length here. In a nutshell, in the past, Google would rank pages. Now it’s starting to rank sections (or passages) of pages for specific search queries. Makes sense to me and it seems that longer content with deeper insights has a chance to rank for more things. At the end of the day, Google wants to give searchers the best answer. I saw a version – maybe a test – of this in practice. I was searching for a topic and Google served me a video that  jumped right to the section that answered my question specifically.

Read next: Is your content performance culture ready for strategic writing?

State of Writing research example

Another example of original research in content strategy is Sarah Mitchell. She conducts an annual “state of writing” study, which she discussed with me here. In her research, she covers:

  • whether or not business writing is deemed successful
  • what does success look like
  • barriers to writing effectiveness
  • editorial oversight
  • SEO
  • and more

It’s another great example of using research to learn more and creating value for your audiences by sharing it.

Finding the time

It’s certainly easy to overlook research or move onto other marketing emergencies that need to be addressed now. Of course, there very few real marketing emergencies but they make good excuses to be less strategic.

If you want to follow a certain process, follow it and make the time for it. I like how Toastmaster Gretchen Vaughn found time and was strategic about starting a Twitter Chat. Set the time aside to come up with your high-level strategy and then adjust the process as you go and move toward your goal. She also dove into what content would be beneficial for our audience to stay on the right track.

Read next: How to participate correctly in a Twitter chat

I’m the first to admit that it’s easier to jump in and do, create and produce. It feels busy – even when it’s less than strategic. But coming up with your strategy first and then using research to understand your audiences better or to offer them valuable content can be a true differentiator.

Of course, keep in mind that you may not like all the feedback! Jenn put it this way: The best feedback can come from the negative comments. They help us grow and advance. From my experience, even when people share negative comments about your brand, there often are positives in there as well.