James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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Original Research in Content Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

In this episode we talk to Ian Luck, VP of Global Marketing at CustomerGauge.


Science has never really been my thing.

Going into entrepreneurship, I was almost certain that I’d picked the one thing farthest from dissecting worms and paper-mâché volcanoes. Turns out, I was wrong.

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But, being the adaptable homo sapiens that I am, I’m actually really pumped about combining the scientific method with content marketing. You see, original research is the result of using the scientific method to collect data from your ICP (ideal customer profile).

You’re probably wondering how to carry out original research that feeds into your content marketing strategy. The framework for doing original research in content marketing is… 

  1. Define your purpose (hypothesis)
  2. Choose a data partner
  3. Decide on the survey questions
  4. Incentivize survey-takers
  5. Use the insights to grow

Before we dive into the framework, let’s go over some pro tips for carrying out original research.

** Psst. This blog post is based on an interview with Ian Luck of CustomerGauge and James Carbary. You can listen to this episode above, or subscribe to B2B Growth on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The power of original research

As a company, there are a lot of reasons to get into the OG research game. A few of those include… 

  • You can position yourself as an industry thought leader with more credibility.
  • You’re able to prescribe advice from the insights you collect.
  • There aren’t many people doing original research in B2B yet.
  • Your company will stand out from others in the space.
  • You’ll be offering real value to your ICP.
  • You can have extremely informed conversations with your ideal buyers.

Lastly, by doing original research, you will have insightful content for every single phase of the sales funnel.

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Content for every funnel stage

Wondering which stage of the funnel will benefit most from having original research?

Answer: Literally, all of them.

“If you provide original research that an industry will consume, it’s valuable. If it’s done properly, it adds value.”

Ian Luck, CustomerGauge

Gap marketing

Doing original research properly will allow it to spill over into every part of the sales funnel: top, middle, bottom, and beyond.

Part of doing original research right is understanding its inherent purpose. That means you know two things:

  1. Your ideal customer’s current state
  2. The desired state your ideal customer wants to be at

Between those two things is the gap. Your company’s part in this situation is acting as the bridge your ideal buyers can take to get to their desired state.

Original research helps you construct that bridge.

gap-marketing-diagram

Match the funnel stage w/ the insight

Once you get a handle on the purpose of original research, you’ll see all the opportunities in which it can be used.

The key here is to match the funnel stage with a relevant insight.

Say this is one of the insights your team collects: 62% of respondents say they listen to podcasts every week.

This piece of information could act as a bridge between low ROI for content marketing and a high ROI for content marketing. The stage of the sales funnel to use this insight? Most likely top to the middle of the funnel.

The original research framework

Okay, let’s get into how we actually carry out original research.

1. Define your purpose (aka, your hypothesis)

Narrowing in on your hypothesis takes some research in and of itself. Your hypothesis needs to be informed by customer feedback.

Find out what your customers’ pain points are and decide on how your business (with the help of original research) can act as a bridge to their desired state.

[RELATED: How to do original research through your podcast.]

What are you going to provide clarity on? Are you in the position to offer advice on common pain points? Make sure you’re able to offer a potential solution to your hypothesis before you get too deep.

Example: A common pain point for my customers is that their content marketing isn’t resulting in high ROI. My hypothesis is that customers could have higher marketing ROI by starting a podcast. 

2. Choose a data partner (or don’t)

After you lock down your purpose, it’s time to decide whether or not you want to work with a data partner. If you decide to partner up, make sure they increase your credibility.

“If you’re a startup that needs to increase its visibility, align your brand with other brands that have elevated profiles.”

Ian Luck, CustomerGauge

Essentially, you want to team up with an educational institution or another research organization that will enhance your market authority. If you’re doing original research, you want people to trust your findings. Your data partner should be known for its legitimacy.

For example, Ian’s team at CustomerGauge partnered with MIT for their latest report. Partnering with MIT increased CustomerGauge’s legitimacy.

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Pro tip: **Never pay for a data partnership.** The insights your partner gleans from the data collected should be payment enough, in addition to all the marketing collateral that will have their name on it. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

3. Decide on the survey questions

The questions you decide to put on your survey should be aligned with your hypothesis. They should help you build that bridge between current state and desired state.

If you decide to bring on a data partner, you might need to negotiate the number of questions you have on the survey. They will likely have a different hypothesis and, therefore, different questions.

Your purposes and questions shouldn’t be so varied that it doesn’t make sense to include both on the survey, however.

4. Incentivize survey-takers

If you haven’t already, consider who you’re going to send the survey to and how you’re going to incentivize them to take it.

Getting respondents

CustomerGauge used the following channels for distributing their survey:

  • Email list
  • LinkedIn network
  • Organic traffic from SEO
  • Sales outreach

Ian suggests recruiting at least 1,000 respondents for statistical relevance. Through the listed channels, Ian’s team was able to bring in around 2,500 respondents.

But how did he get so many responses without using paid advertising?

Because CustomerGauge was already known for delivering value to its customers, respondents trusted that participating in the survey would be beneficial to them. It’s all about customer rapport, people!

Incentivizing participants

What do you need to offer participants in order for them to spend the time filling out your survey?

Depending on the number of questions you include, incentives could look like… 

  • Early access to the finished report
  • Customized assessments of the participant’s answers
  • Exclusive benchmarking data
  • Recommendations based on the participant’s answers

The more time respondents spend on answering your questions, the bigger the incentive value needs to be.

5. Use the insights to grow

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The purpose of original research isn’t to just produce a fancy new report. The end goal is to make more sales and grow your business faster.

“You don’t want to just measure feedback. You don’t want to just hear what the customers have to say. You want to take it and apply it to your business, improve it, and grow at a faster rate.”

Ian Luck, CustomerGauge

In order to pull useful data from your respondents, your team should have at least one person who’s comfortable with data and knows spreadsheets like the back of their hand. This is necessary for extracting the most relevant information.

Then, whether it’s the same person or not, you need a strategy player involved in applying the data. Original research is about learning from the feedback and using it to improve, after all.

Original research for the win

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do original research, but it is a bit of an undertaking.

A couple things I hope you walk away with today:

  1. Inform your hypothesis with customer feedback.
  2. Consider leveling up with a data partner.
  3. Use the data you collect to improve and GROW your business.

Until next time!


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