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How to Use Survey Research to Supercharge Your Content Marketing Strategy


February 21, 2023


February 23, 2023

Most tech companies create content. But it’s a competitive world out there. If you’re looking for a proven way to stand out from the crowd, we’ve got the answer: add original survey research to your content marketing strategy.

Original research is the process of finding and using data to tell stories. This type of research allows you to tell new, interesting, newsworthy stories in a sea of the same stale opinions and how-to’s.

The State of Original Research in Marketing found that only 39% of marketers published original research in the prior 12 months, though 94% believed it could elevate their brand’s authority in the industry. Of those who haven’t published research, 49% said it was due to either lack of budget or lack of knowledge on how to execute.

That means there’s a huge opportunity to do original research as part of your content marketing strategy and see tangible business outcomes for setting yourself apart from the crowd. Let’s dive in.

Types of Original Research for Content Marketing

There are several types of original research that are particularly applicable to content marketing, including:

  • Surveys are the most common approach; they ask questions of a specific audience and often reach a large number of potential respondents. 
  • Interviews/focus groups involve talking to a smaller group of people, but allow for deeper conversations and follow-up questions.
  • Analyzing third-party data allows you to compile and analyze data from outside sources.
  • Analyzing first-party data is a valuable approach for tech companies that involves analyzing data from your own software products.

In this post, we’ll outline actionable steps on how to conduct original survey research. 

The Benefits of Survey Research

The benefits of survey research for content marketing include, thought leadership, providing answers, earning media, earning backlinks, and generating content.

Few content marketers are doing original survey research. But there are solid benefits you can reap when you explore this area:

  • Position your company as a thought leader. Publishing original research portrays expertise, authority, and trust (that’s E-A-T for the SEOs).
  • Provide answers. Research starts with a question or hypothesis. Surveys can help validate industry opinions, invalidate assumptions, confirm product-market fit, and identify new industry angles.
  • Earn media. Research is newsworthy for most industries and it’s more likely to get attention than any other type of content.
  • Earn backlinks. Beyond media mentions, other people will reference—and link to—your research. That means valuable backlinks to your site.
  • Generate content. A strong research project can fill your editorial (and social) calendars for months. 

At this point, you’re probably sold (or almost sold) on survey research. Now we’ll get into the specifics.

How to Conduct Survey Research for Content Marketing

Following the correct steps when setting up your survey research for content marketing helps you get the best results.

Step 1: Decide on a topic

First you need to pick a topic or focus that you’d like to pursue. Make sure it’s relevant to your business and customers. Here are a few examples:

  • An industry stat that you want, but can’t find
  • Something you assume but isn’t proven yet
  • Something everyone assumes but you want to disprove
  • A trend you want to bring clarity to
  • Product data that no one else has
  • A question your customers, users, or industry need answered

Tip: Don’t overthink it. Killer topics are pretty obvious. Just make sure it’s relevant and keep it narrow.

Once you have a topic or specific question (and your team’s agreement), validate that topic. This step is incredibly important to do during this step before you get in too deep. 

  1. Does research already exist that covers the topic or question? If yes, is it recent? And what are the specific parameters? Is your version different somehow? Just because other research exists doesn’t mean you can’t do yours, but you need a different angle or approach, or a case to invalidate the existing data.
  2. Has the topic already been covered or proven? If everyone already knows the answer, they won’t care.
  3. Is it answerable? If no, stop right now and find another topic. Your questions must be answerable, and you must have access to the people who can answer.
  4. Is the topic aligned with your brand, products, and industry? If yes, will they find it interesting? If the topic doesn’t align, reconsider. It’s unlikely you’ll get sign-off without an obvious connection to your business or goals.

Step 2: Plan the project, timelines, and budget

This is where you start working out the details of how your survey research is going to happen. It may feel daunting, but think of it as campaign planning. You have the tools you need for this step.

Organization is key, especially with a large marketing team. Here’s how to keep things in check:

  • Document the plan. Create a research strategy doc that clearly articulates the who, what, when, where, and why. If you use campaign briefs, start there and add sections as necessary. Be sure to include:
  • Topic
  • Timelines
  • Primary deliverable (PDF report, blog, video)
  • Additional deliverables
  • Audience (who will care?)
  • Budget
  • Survey plan (where the survey will be hosted, how long it’ll be open, and how you’ll reach the right participants)
  • Distribution plan
  • Project management plan (what tools will you use to stay organized?)
  • Build the team. You don’t need a huge team to successfully do research (we’ve seen it done by a marketing team of one many times), but anyone who will play a role should be involved from the start. Identify what will be done in-house vs. where you’ll need hired support.
  • Who is in charge?
  • Who will ultimately approve the project scope, budget, and plan?
  • Who will write, edit, and create the survey, and manage it?
  • Who will analyze the data?
  • Who will write, edit, and approve the primary deliverable?
  • Who will write, edit, and approve the ancillary deliverables?
  • Who will design everything?
  • Who will own the distribution plan?
  • Who else needs to be kept in the loop of the project?
  • Identify goals. Remember why you decided to do research, and how you chose your topic. This will help you decide what your goals should be. It’s likely you’ll have a primary goal plus 1–3 secondary or tertiary objectives, including MQLs, website sessions, backlinks, press hits, brand awareness, etc.

Now that you understand what you’re doing, and why, when, and how your research will take place, it’s time for a pulse check. Do you have the time, resources, budget, and purpose to move forward right now (with or without outside help)? 

Step 3: Create and launch your survey 

Now that you’ve got your plan in place, it’s time to build and launch your survey. Here’s what you’ll need:

Software—Existing tools can help capture information, while maintaining privacy. Look at surveymonkey, Jotform, Typeform, and others to compare pricing, contract terms, security, and features. Jotform has a Report Builder tool that can visualize your charts, which is a great feature if you don’t have a designer on your team.

Questions—Survey writing is an art, and one that you must approach with care. The way you order and phrase your questions will impact your results. Avoid leading questions or questions where the survey-taker thinks there’s a right or wrong answer. Take time to learn survey-writing best practices from trusted sources, like from Pew Research Center.

Another consideration for the survey is the balance of capturing quantitative vs. qualitative data. Your topic, team, and goals will influence what type of questions you choose:

  • Quantitative questions have answers that can be counted or are numerical. (Think: yes/no questions or multichoice.) These questions give you charts and graphs, but only tell one part of the story.
  • Qualitative questions have answers that are descriptive, but not countable. (Think: open-ended text boxes where you ask for an example or opinion.) These questions tell a richer story, but are more difficult to analyze and report on.
  • Mixed surveys have both quantitative and qualitative questions. An example would be a yes/no question, followed by an open-ended question to explain. 

Tip: Keep it simple. You will be tempted to ask every possible question, but the longer the survey, the fewer respondents you’ll have, and the more complicated your analysis will be. And don’t forget to have many different people test the survey before you launch.

Sample size—Sampling is the process of using a subset of a population to represent the whole population. Based on your topic and potential survey participant pool, how many responses do you need to have valid results? Is that number feasible within your timeframe and budget? What’s your back-up plan if responses are low?

There are calculators available to help you determine sample size, but take the time to learn about sampling, biases, and rigor to ensure a successful research project.

If your audience is small, insignificant, or not probable, it doesn’t mean your data isn’t usable. Part of rigor is being forthcoming about the limitations and potential bias or inaccuracies within the report. That helps readers understand that the results may not be replicated and should be read as informational or illustrative, and not necessarily as proof.

Participants/delivery—How will you find participants? How will you distribute the survey? Will you compensate survey-takers? How will you recruit, manage, and ensure a proper sample?

Most tech companies have a strong database; start there. But based on the robustness of that list and sample needs, you may have to expand into other distribution channels. Look to industry associations, trade publications, influencers, paid ads, or other channels to widen your net. 

Privacy/security—Your respondents expect and require privacy. Be transparent and explicit about how their answers and information will be used. 

Put this information front and center on the survey landing page. Concerned participants can then scroll down to see who you are, why you’re asking these questions, and what will come from their answers. Use legalese where necessary (consulting a lawyer is good practice), but aim for plain, easily accessible language.

Step 4: Analyze your data

Once you’ve finished your survey and collected all responses, it’s time to analyze the data. If data analysis isn’t your strong suit (don’t worry, we’re not all great at crunching numbers), you may want to seek support from a data analyst or an outside resource for help analyzing your results. 

Here are the basic steps you’ll take to analyze your survey data:

  • Clean, edit, and organize the final data set. You may need to to remove responses if the survey wasn’t completed, the respondent was unqualified, or someone put in fake answers. Then, you can start prepping the data, by exporting it into a spreadsheet or similar tool. When you’re dealing with large amounts of data things can get messy quickly so get prepared before you start.
  • Start analyzing. The process will depend on your survey, the software you used, and your questions. One tactic is to first go question by question, noting the results, identifying thoughts or themes, and then going deeper into the relationship between questions. The more curious and thorough you are as a researcher, the more insights you’ll gain from the data. Don’t be afraid to tug at any threads that appear.
  • For quantitative questions, the basic analysis is pretty straightforward here. What did the majority of them say? Was this expected? Where things get more interesting is the relating or comparing. Did age and/or income level (from your demographic data) influence who answered in what way?
  • For qualitative questions, you’ll need to code and organize the open-ended results. Often this means identifying themes within the comments, and then visualizing them similarly to quantitative (for example, X% mentioned themes relating to Y”). In this step, it’s important to watch for bias. Beyond reporting the responses numerically based on themes, you can also create word clouds to show actual words or phrases used by your respondents. The qualitative information can be used to support the discussion around the quantitative result.
  • Identify themes. It sounds too good to be true, but themes often emerge naturally while you’re analyzing your data. Keep an eye out for them and document them when they pop up. Depending on your original objective or question, you may just share the results (the actual percentages), but you’ll probably also include themes or key insights that emerged from the results. Remember that some of your questions won’t have interesting results (and not all charts will be used). The insights and themes are what make up most of the primary asset, or value of your original research. Charts are just data; it’s the insight that makes it a story.

Step 5: Create your primary asset

Now you’re ready to get to the good part: telling the story through a primary asset that shares your results. Often it’s presented in written form, with all pertinent charts/data visualizations, themes, takeaways, and commentary. This format—whether it’s a PDF, landing page, or blog post—is great because it’s easy to link to and can perform well from an SEO standpoint. This asset is the cornerstone content from which the ancillary pieces are built. 

If your survey was ultra-short, or you plan to release/share results one at a time, it might do better as a blog series or video. Ultimately, it depends on your topic, industry, goals, and plan you created at the start.

Here are the basic components to consider:

The words. What were the key findings, themes, or takeaways? What interesting things did you discover? Be cautious about making conclusions or assumptions, and instead focus on reporting the findings in a clear-cut way. 

Your job here is to take the results—what you discovered, without bias—put them in the right order, and with the right supporting information, build the narrative. You can then dig deeper into a specific question, takeaway, or give opinions in your ancillary blog posts, social posts, videos, etc. 

Don’t forget about the methodology section. Often at the end of the report, this section outlines what you did, who you surveyed, your “n” (how many people responded), the limitations and biases. This section is vital to show your rigor to readers and be transparent about your sample, privacy, and validity.

Tip: Make it easy for the media to synthesize the data by including a bulleted list of key takeaways at the beginning of your assets.

The data visualizations. As you write, identify what data you want to show visually to support the words. This can be done through charts, graphs, or word clouds. Remember that what you visualize, and in what way (as a bar or pie chart, for example), will impact how your findings are read, understood, and perceived. Watch out for bias and work with a skilled designer to ensure the charts accurately portray the results.

You probably won’t include visuals from every question. Be sure to find a balance between words and visuals, and avoid including boring or irrelevant charts. But do include your demographic data.

The design. All assets should be cohesive, aligned, and polished. And as with all marketing communications products, your assets should be on-brand.

Once it’s released into the wild, data can be chopped up in countless ways. Because of that, every chart should be able to stand alone (i.e. have a title, all numbers and details, a legend if applicable, your logo, and the research name/date). People will screenshot individual charts to share and you not only want it to accurately portray the information, you also want your branding to stay attached to the data.

To gate or not to gate. Whether you gate your primary asset depends on your goals. But it also depends on the survey, results, and final deliverable. 

If lead generation is a key goal, gate it—but it better be worth it. Generally, research is valuable enough to warrant a gate (but keep the form short and sweet).

Ungated research can serve as a trust-builder or be used to encourage newsletter sign-ups. If you did a super-short survey, focused on 1–2 questions, or are opting to share the research in short-form videos or blog series, it will likely be challenging to gate effectively. 

What do these primary assets look like? We like this PDF from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, this annually updated blog from Orbit Media Studios, and this PDF from the Content Marketing Studios.

Step 6: Distribute your survey research

You’ve just accomplished a huge project that involved planning, building and launching a survey, gathering responses, analyzing data, and creating a primary asset that shows it all off. Now you’re ready to share what you’ve learned with the world.

But how will you get eyeballs on it? 

This is where marketers can really shine. Be sure to use the channels that typically perform well for you, like email, social media, and traditional PR. But leave space for experimentation in short-form video, influencer and partner outreach, or paid social. Since research is a new approach, you may be surprised at what works.

Internal comms. Share your research internally first. Make sure executive leadership, front-line staff, and sales know what’s in the report and how to speak to it. And be explicit about how employees can help amplify your findings.

Sales. Your sales team will play a role in sharing this asset and it’s best to engage them early to set expectations. Here are three areas to consider:

  • Downloader follow-ups: Does sales have an obligation to follow up with downloaders? If yes, when do they engage, what do they say, etc.? Spell it out.
  • Nurture: Longer term, what’s your nurture strategy for these new leads (if gated)?
  • Sharing: Direct, 1:1 sharing of the research is a great way for sales to get in front of cold contacts, reactivate warm ones, and engage with stalled deals. You’ll need to train the team on how to use the research and best ways to share. 

Tip: A download signals interest in your research, not necessarily your company or products. Be clear with your sales team how to handle downloaders (if you want them to be involved at all at all). 

External promos. Use all of your typical outbound channels, plus maybe some new ones. Don’t just do what you’ve always done. Think about the topic, who would be interested in the results, the type of asset you created, and go to where the people are. 

Step 7: Watch, learn, and keep promoting

Once your deliverables are live and you’re getting traction there ares a few more things to do:

  1. Watch for feedback. Do people love it, hate it, disagree? Take that feedback and use it to inform your next project, whether it’s brand new or a future version of this same research. You can also use the feedback to inspire additional assets.
  2. Keep the repurpose engine going. Even though you planned for ancillary assets, watching the roll-out will inform other topics, events, social posts, etc. Be willing to adjust the plan, and remember that more often than not, you’ll be able to intensify your outputs, not cut them back. 
  3. Do a retro meeting. How did it go? Where did you miss the mark? Where did you excel? Should you do it again? Dedicate a special meeting with the full project team to discuss. Document these reflections to refer to next time you consider a research project. Be honest in your reflections, and take time to celebrate the accomplishment, but also acknowledge the downfalls.

The Power of Survey Research for Content Marketing

Now that you understand each step of doing original research for content marketing, you probably have a few ideas of topics. Perhaps you’ve even committed to creating research-based content and are ready to get started. Research is not only a valuable project that can advance your company goals, it’s also an incredibly rewarding and skill-building process. If you have even the slightest desire to publish survey research as part of your content marketing strategy this year, this is officially your sign to do it.

Do you need help launching a survey research project? Contact the experts at Right Side Up to help you get your data into the world. Give us a shout at growth@rightsideup.co.

It all started with a journalism degree from Boise State University, but no desire to work in a newsroom. The year was 2006. Magazines were the only real freelance path, but incredibly hard to break into. So Amber did what anyone would do...take an administrative job. Then get an unusable master’s degree in holistic health studies that ignited a love for research. Then take a sabbatical. Do yoga teacher training. And finally, actually be a writer. A decade later, one adtech giant, three tech startups (two in cannabis), and several large career progressions including head of content and head of marketing, she now serves as a fractional content strategist and writer. Amber lives in the UP of Michigan, and spends as much time as possible outdoors.

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