Kelsey White is VP of research at Method Communications.
It’s no secret that journalists are getting savvier about company-sponsored research and data. The days of running a quick survey and getting media coverage effortlessly are over. But this doesn’t mean there’s no longer opportunity – when done well, original research and data are still valuable sources for journalists and can underpin an entire integrated campaign. In fact in Cision’s 2023 State of the Media survey, 68% of journalists said they want to see original research and trend data in pitches, and 1 in 3 won’t consider covering a product unless the pitch includes data showing trends and problems the product solves.
Despite the clear benefits, conducting primary research or analyzing data can be intimidating and time-consuming, and it’s not always clear how to get the most value out of it. We have five tips that can help.
1 ) Establish a plan for your data collection
Before you start a research or data initiative, define your objectives. What is the story you want to tell with the information you gather? How can that data support your messaging and build your brand? Who will care about the results?
Your objectives will guide many elements:
- The design and structure of your research study.
- The questions you ask.
- The participants you recruit.
- The source data you leverage.
- The channels you use to distribute the findings.
Including the right stakeholders across your business from the beginning can help maximize the impact and results of your campaign. Who in your organization stands to benefit from the results and how can their needs be met? Imagine outcomes and headlines before drafting the research questions. Research is still a discovery process and you can’t control the results, but you’ll write better questions if you know exactly the type of output you’re hoping for.
2 ) Conduct an audit to leverage existing data
Make sure your story hasn’t already been told. You don’t want to accidentally repeat a survey that a competitor published last month. A good rule of thumb is to scan for any similar studies done within the past year, though depending on the topic, you might need to look back further. It’s also possible that data from even a month ago might already be outdated, depending on current events (nothing like a global pandemic or major bank failure to make data irrelevant quickly).
If you find that someone has recently done a study on a similar topic, don’t despair! There are several ways you can differentiate:
- Try altering the sample audience. For example, existing studies might focus on the technical or B2B viewpoint, leaving an opportunity to explore the consumer perception.
- Consider the various audiences that might speak to different sides of your core story. Focusing exclusively on your buyer in your research might accidentally pigeonhole you into trade publications or make the study too self-serving.
- Consider changing the time frame. If there are surveys out there asking people what they did last year, you could focus on what they hope and plan to do next year.
3 ) Be sure your market research is relevant to a key industry trend (and not self-serving)
For earned media success in particular, the narrative from your data must tie into an overarching theme or trend being covered in the media.
Some of the big trends we’re seeing this year are, of course, AI and workplace culture. Others include sustainability and the concept of “polycrisis,” which was discussed widely at Davos. Government regulations, be it environmental, social and governance (ESG), financial, or security related, are a big focus this year. Key macroeconomic trends are also an obvious factor that is fueling other trends, such as the continued growth of the creator economy.
The most consistent feedback we hear from journalists related to research and data is that brands make it too self-serving.
4 ) Use your content to tell a compelling story
Data can be so much more than facts and figures — it can help you tell a story. Bringing that story to life with beautiful visuals and a compelling creative narrative will grab attention and drive engagement. An anchor piece of content that houses the primary results from your study will serve as the basis for an integrated campaign and can be an ongoing resource that lives beyond the press release.
Anchor content from a research initiative often takes the form of a report, but consider more eye-catching formats such as a dynamic landing page or an emotive video.
With the focus on storytelling, any medium can be used to communicate market research findings in attention-grabbing ways.
5 ) Amplify your story — and your brand — beyond anchor content
Now that you have anchor content as a starting place, it’s time to get creative. Identify the distribution channels available and play matchmaker between your audiences and your insights:
- A first-person narrative can humanize data on your corporate blog, or you could pair your data with an executive’s unique perspective to create a data-driven byline, which can be pitched for earned media or paid for with a sponsored post.
- Webinars, internal “town halls,” a keynote speech at a conference or even in-person activations can be underpinned by data.
Bringing a holistic approach to amplifying insights and providing a seamless and cohesive experience to your audience can extend the lifespan and value of your research.
If you’re asking whether research and data can support your comms program, the answer is yes. Research and data are crucial ingredients in brand building, which is the ultimate goal of all communications programs. In a survey Method conducted among 2,000 American adults last fall, we found 67% of Americans are more likely to believe what brands say when they have supporting data. With a well planned and executed approach, you can ensure your investment pays off across all of your marketing channels.