You and I are living in an age where content is rising over the banks of the web like flood waters.
And, I hope that you’re as excited about this as I am.
For marketers like us, it’s an industry renaissance — one that has brought opportunities for story-telling, building our own branding networks and channels and relating to the public in ways that old-school BIG thinkers like Claude C. Hopkins and David Ogilvy could have never imagined.
But, like with all things, there is a dark side to art and science content marketing.
At the bottom of the post, I’ll share with you 7 tips that I think you will find helpful when you find yourself building business cases and evaluating the barrage of market research sources that will undoubtedly be lobbed in your direction.
But first, I want to try to show you what I mean.
To do this, I’ve conducted my own, extremely non-scientific version of a quantitative research study in order to determine just how many market research sources our friends at Google index, year over year.
Here are the results from my somewhat less-than-comprehensive study.
- “Market Research Sources 2011″ produced 126,000,000 results
- “Market Research Sources 2012″ produced 180,000,000 results
- “Market Research Sources 2013″ produced 938,000,000 results
Pretty definitive source of information, right?
What?!? You don’t think so? Humpf.
Obviously, you’re right. There’s nothing in the search results data that accurately determines a rise in market research sources in the last three years. You and I both know it’s nothing but bullshit.
But that said, it’s also hard to ignore the significant influx of online content, christened as market research over the past few years and the impact that this sudden shift has had on marketers everywhere.
The Day the Research Died
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
- Don McLain
Even as near as five years ago, market research sources were limited and expensive.
Brands like Forrester, Nelisen, Gartner and Edison ruled the research industry, assembling teams made up of the brightest analytical minds from the best and most accredited universities.
These teams and their diligent work were (and still are) held to the highest standards, validating every fact, eliminating variables and keeping a watchdog-like focus on sample size, weighted averages and rigorous research methodologies.
But then 2008 happened.
With marketing organizations facing heavy budget and personnel cuts, most of the dollars allocated to these large, time-tested and credible research firms quickly evaporated in the fiscal dust bowl that had overtaken the U.S. economy.
In turn, marketing and advertising agencies across the U.S. were suddenly fighting tooth and nail for survival. One by one, the calls from client contacts lit up the phone lines, with all voices signing the same tragic song:
“I’m sorry, we love your work – we really do! But we don’t have a marketing budget for next year. Everything has been cut and we need to stop all work with your agency…”
The Rise of Content Marketing
Search query data has always indicated major shifts in consumer and business trends.
In today’s world, when buzz spreads via word of mouth or even Internet memes, we humans tend to turn to Google search, using the words and phrases we’ve heard as quires that pull back more information. Those searches, when viewed from the macro-level, serve as a barometer of what the public is interested in and thinking about.
In the case of the rise of content marketing Google shows that the shift in paradigm for marketers that sparked curiosity - enough to drive investigation though Google’s search engine - occurred around 2009, shortly after the U.S. economic climate took a turn for the worse.
The chart you see below is borrowed from a post written by my buddy Joe Pullizzi, did back in January of this year over at the Content Marketing Institute.
Prior to marketers curiosity around the idea of content, Inbound Marketing dominated online attention.
This term branded and promoted by the folks at HubSpot, a popular marketing suite for small businesses, as a means of teaching the world about their more customer education focused marketing techniques and software that challenged the push advertising mentality that had been widely accepted since David Ogilvy’s day.
In the last few years though, marketers in larger companies all over the world have moved to embrace the idea of content marketing as a key mindset in their overall strategy.
Content Marketing Disguised as Market Research
Some of the smartest brands in the world have made moves to anchor their content marketing programs in third-party or sponsored research. For BIG brands with big budgets, this makes a ton of sense!
What better way to ensure that you have enough information available to slice, dice and prepare as online blogs, email news letters and eBooks that to dive into conducting the studies and surveys that produce the data.
It’s a great strategy — but only if you can afford it.
For marketers working in smaller brands, access to the dollars, high-end data collection tools and the talent who have been rigorously trained to pull it all together is in most cases, out of the realm of possibilities. And yet, the pressure to produce high volumes of content that generate awareness and drive customer acquisition and retention is real.
I believe that this situation in itself has polluted the web with content that is simply disguised as market research.
Many companies today have adopted the mindset of conducting their own studies, using cheap or freely available tools that were intended to help smaller businesses gather insights from their customer base. These studies are then attractively packaged, designed with credible flare and titled as the “be all, end all” definitive study that every executive should embrace.
And the goal of this so-called research?
Your email address.
As more brands embrace #contentmarketing, validating market research sources will be more critical than ever before. – tweet this
5 Simple Guidelines for Validating Market Research Sources
As marketers, it’s part of our job to collect data and research and use it to gain insights that drive our business decisions, audience targeting and campaign strategies.
Trust me when I tell you that on the web today, the weeds are thick and left uncut. My goal on this blog is to help you figure out how to be a better marketer, no matter the industry your serve.
When you find yourself searching for market research sources, use these 7 simple guidelines to make sure that the studies, surveys and data collections you pull to support your case are actually valid.
1. Always look at the sample size.
Larger and more broad samples usually result in more accurate insights Make sure to look at the size of the sample and how it was collected. Is this study merely a survey of a companies existing customers? How many respondents were surveyed in total? We’re results weighted against national averages accounting for variables in income levels, geographic location, race and ethnicity? Find out before you believe what the study suggests.
Likewise, my coach and mentor Keith Speers always tells me that percentages are meaning less unless they are tied to baseline numbers that put them in perspective. Lots of studies hinge on the “over 75% of respondents” type of headlines that draw attention and clicks.
But beware — three out of four customers surveyed is still 75%.
2. Find out the length and time period of data collection.
I’ve seen tons of studies boast big enticing numbers, only to find that once I conducted my due diligence the data collection period was no more than a week’s time. In some cases, this may be enough to gain an insight, but for most CEO’s a week’s worth of data isn’t going to make them comfortable in giving you the go ahead on your new campaign idea, especially if it’s pushing the boundaries or poses a potential risk for the brand.
My personal rule of thumb is to look for no less than 30 solid days of data collected, but your mileage will vary with your industry and the objective at hand.
3. Identify and verify the credibility of third parties.
Sponsored or partnered content has become a great tactic for brands who are in the process of beefing up their content marketing teams. While brands may not have the capabilities to produce studies on their own, working with smaller research firms or independent consultants can provide a great means to an end of getting the research completed and published.
When you review your market research sources, always look for any sponsors or partners and make sure to check them out as well. the large majority fo these folks will be credibility, but some will hacks simply looking to boost their own profits. Make sure you know all parties involved in conducting the research before you bless it as valid.
4. Determine the company’s objective in publishing the research.
Is the brand producing this research because they themselves are interested in gathering the insights to drive their own business or marketing decisions? If that’s the case, then it’s usually a solid bet that the data is good. But, if the intention of the research is simply to have something available as a download in trade for your personal information, make sure you spend a few more minutes validating what I’ve shared in bullets 1 – 3.
Not all research for content marketing and email list generation is bad, but be cautious. If the primary goal is your email address over gathering solid insights, you might find yourself hedging your bets on sloppy research.
5. See who else is willing to publish the findings.
As a general rule, if the company who published the market research is the only one talking about it, it’;s probably not the most credible market research to begin with. Most large and accredited research firms have long-standing media partnerships that help them to break the news of new studies and findings. If the study appears in a New York Times or Wall Street Journal article, chances are that it has been vetted as authoritative.
Conversely, protect yourself from looking like a hack by always making sure to follow the white rabbit all the way down the rabbit hole. For instance, the popular online tech magazine Mashable does not conduct any research of their own, but rather breaks stories of studies conducted by brands and other firms. With that said, using citing Mashable as your research source will probably not fly with your client or in the board room. All of these news publications are required to follow FTC disclosure guidelines which means that a link to the original research is in the text. Make sure to click there and view the source.
Now Go Forth and Validate
Use these guidelines in your own work. It’s not everything, and I’d love to hear what you would add to the list in the comments.
Which one of the five guidelines I’ve mentioned do you feel is most important as you validate your own market research sources?