Content marketing is still an incredibly valuable strategy—but it’s no secret that it’s gotten much more competitive in the past few years. With so many businesses in so many industries competing aggressively for attention, and with only a fraction of all posts ever becoming successful, the threshold for content quality is higher than ever before. Different content marketers will give you different advice on how to handle this, from trying new mediums and new platforms to just stepping up the quality of each of your pieces. But almost everyone can agree on one principle that can universally improve your content success: providing an original value.
“Original,” of course implies that nobody’s ever offered it before, which usually demands some type of original research. The problem is, original research can be time consuming and costly to conduct—especially on a national scale—but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking for a fast, relatively inexpensive way to conduct your own original research, try one or more of the following:
Surveys are easy to create and manage, especially if you use online software like SurveyMonkey or something similar. The choice of topic is up to you; you could conduct an opinion survey about specific recent developments in your industry, a strategic survey asking your customers for their behaviors or buying preferences, or anything else that might be valuable to your intended audience. Submit the survey to your current customers (or readership, or social following), and collect the results. It might take you an hour or two to write out the questions and collect the information (especially if you keep it brief), and voila—nearly instant original research.
Depending on the secrecy and nature of your company, this could be very difficult or very easy. For example, if you’re in a field dense with competitors, it may not be wise to disclose how much you’ve invested in your new marketing strategy. However, it might be helpful for customers and business owners to know how many people bought X product instead of Y product over last year. You’ll have to do some creative thinking to find a number that works that doesn’t compromise your proprietary insights, but once you do, collecting the numbers are a snap—and nobody else will have them.
There are plenty of thought leaders and influencers in your industry itching to get more PR, so take advantage of that. Come up with an intriguing, debatable topic that your audience would like to know more about, then get in contact with some of the most prominent influencers in your area. Quote them, give them credit, and collect your findings into one comprehensive article. You’ll be presenting new information from multiple angles, and you won’t even have to work that hard to do it.
Experimentation is pretty easy, but depending on your field it could be easy or difficult to pull off. For example, an online marketer wouldn’t have to invest much time or effort into a basic A/B test of different call-to-action strategies, but a lawyer might have a hard time comparing two similar cases to find a meaningful conclusion. Use your best judgment here, and measure your results carefully.
Rather than conducting a new experiment, look to something you’ve already done well in the past. Report on the scenario before you got involved (being as detailed as possible), explain what you did, and evaluate the results of your intervention. This counts as original research, since it provides valuable information that nobody has provided before, and it can also double as sales material if you choose to use it that way.
This tactic forces you to look for companies, websites, products, or strategies online that you can compare against each other, or otherwise use to illustrate a concept. For example, if you’re an SEO provider, you could compare a highly ranked site to a low-ranked site, and evaluate the onsite factors that differentiate them. If you’re in a more tangible industry, like manufacturing, consider doing physical visits to other locations to perform a similarly comparative study.
This is the easiest strategy in theory, since it relies on taking advantage of research that’s already done, but it’s also one of the most comprehensive and painstaking. In this scenario, you’ll choose a topic, and instead of conducting research in a new direction, you’ll be collecting the research that’s already been done. Usually, this means reading several books with dissenting opinions, then reviewing the highlights of each, comparing and contrasting the viewpoints for your readers and possibly settling on one conclusion. This is completely free (or nearly so), but be prepared that it will take a lot of time if you do it right.
Original research can be a boon for your content strategy, but remember that it’s only one part of the process. After completing your research, you’ll need to write about it in a logical, comprehensible, entertaining way, and then syndicate it to maximize your reach with your target audience. If you can do all that and your content gets a foothold, there should be nothing in the way of your earning hundreds to thousands of new shares and links.