Good marketing campaigns are built on a foundation of research. The more you understand about your business, your industry, your target demographics, and the resources available to you, the more effective your messaging will become. Unfortunately, “research” is an ambiguous, general term. Telling someone to “research” to make their marketing campaign better will rarely point them in any meaningful direction, unless they already have an idea what they need to do to be effective.
The truth is, there are many different kinds of research, most of which are helpful, and some of which demand more investment and intensity than others. If you’re trying to make your marketing campaign as successful as possible, you’ll need to apply these five types of research, at a minimum:
I’ll start with one of the more obvious routes of research—your demographics. Market research is a well-known type of research, and is practiced, at least to some degree, by most businesses. Your original business plan and business model should be based on market research, but you’ll need to continue pressing for more information as your business develops to refine your expectations and respond to any trend and interest changes as they arise.
There are a few ways to do market research. One of the easiest is partnering with a market research firm, or relying on preexisting outside data (like census information) to inform your conclusions. You could also conduct primary forms of research here, using surveys and other qualitative assessments to learn more about your target audience. The main goal is to simply learn more about who’s buying your products and services—who they are, what’s important to them, and what they mean to your business.
Competitive research is all about knowing who you’re up against. No matter how original your idea is, you won’t be the only offer in town—at least not for long. Competitive research allows you to see what strategies your competitors are using, and how effective those strategies are at attracting your shared target audience. For example, are they producing more or less content than you are? How is it different?
There are two big things to watch for here: what are they offering that you aren’t, and what aren’t they offering that you can? The former will allow you to close a potential gap between the two of you, outperforming them in a new area with a new direction. The latter is a critical opportunity for your business to break away.
As the name suggests, channel-specific research is intended to help you better understand specific marketing channels that you could use in a campaign (or new tactics that improve your results and/or efficiency). Here, you’ll mostly rely on preexisting research conducted by other parties, unless you’re willing to pay for an experimental venture into a new kind of marketing.
Online research is your friend here; rely on marketing agencies and independent case studies of marketing success to inform your decisions. Look for any new outlets that you might not have considered, as well as older outlets that you could be using more effectively. Remain open to any new strategies, and always be willing to conduct more research—in this digital age, new outlets emerge all the time.
Original research takes a lot of different forms, depending on your industry and the needs of your target audience. Its primary goal is to give your audience valuable information as an objective offer in exchange for something else. For example, you could use your original research to write and post an article designed to attract new people to your site, or develop your original research into an eBook that you give away in exchange for a few bits of personal information of individuals.
The key to original research is that it must be original, so you can’t rely on secondary sources for this one. You can conduct surveys, collect quantitative data based on objective facts, or even rely on your own observations. The more valuable your information is to your users, the better.
Finally, you’ll have to research how you’re performing in comparison to your competitors and in a way that highlights potential areas for improvement. In a sense, you’ll be researching yourself, which sounds easy—but drawing new conclusions when you’re so close to your business can be difficult.
Rely on a series of tools and/or agencies to help you understand key points of information on your performance, such as inbound traffic, user engagement, or online conversions. With each improvement or change, you’ll monitor these metrics closely, and ideally, they’ll grow over time. Performance research is hard to penetrate at first, as you’ll be drawing somewhat subjective conclusions about objective data, but you’ll get better at it the more you do it.
The great thing about these types of research is their sheer utility—they can be applied to almost any marketing campaign you can imagine. Online, traditional, and alternative marketing directives all benefit from this additional information, leading to better messaging, and of course, better results. Like with any new skill, you may struggle when you first attempt more in-depth research, but the more you practice it, and the more you learn best practices for success, the more efficient you’ll become, and the more meaningful data you’ll be able to extract. It all starts with a commitment to learning more about your business environment.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.