Four Steps to Stronger Surveys: A Guide for Professional Services Content Marketers

Professional services firms are at each other’s throats—metaphorically speaking. Competition has reached a fever pitch, and it has become harder than ever to stand out as an industry thought leader as more firms embrace a secondary role as content publishers. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 76 percent of B2B firms plan to produce even more content in 2016. Yet the same CMI survey shows 60 percent of B2B marketers struggle to produce engaging content. So what can professional services firms do differently to better engage with their target audiences?

Enter “The Survey.” We marketers love data-driven insights—and, at Bliss Integrated Communication, we have conducted hundreds of surveys on behalf of professional services clients. Why? Because we know surveys help to craft stronger, more engaging content and are ideal fodder for media headlines. Further, original market research data can help professional services firms’ content rise above the fray by delivering actionable recommendations and guidance, driven by real-world information, not just opinion.

But marketers (and journalists) also know, not all surveys are created equal. It takes a clear strategy and disciplined approach to conduct studies that produce sound insights necessary to underpin marketing collateral, whitepapers, case studies and media pitches. Here are a few tips professional services marketing teams can use to help craft stronger surveys:

  • Start with a burning question. What is the narrative or thesis for the survey, and what does the survey intended to uncover? You should have a solid idea of what the survey will reveal when initiating the process, but still allow flexibility to address contrary results. Sometimes the story is not what you expect—but that doesn’t make it wrong, or the survey process a failure! If you didn’t get the answer you expected, consider how that might make for an even more intriguing headline.
  • Define the business objective. How is this survey helping to push the organization forward? Remember, the data is only half the picture—it’s the analysis that tells the story and shapes the outcomes. Understanding the “why” for undertaking a study is critical to guiding the “what” that comes out of it and helps guide the strategy around the content vehicles for the survey results.
  • Think in headlines. When crafting your questionnaire, don’t forget that the media is motivated by targeted narratives. Make sure you have a sense for the kinds of data cuts and samples you want to work with once the study is complete. Will there be a comparison between genders, a generational gap or a geographic perspective? Then craft your questions to match.
  • Make the most of your investment. Surveys can be expensive, so plan ahead to best leverage the insights gleaned from your survey. Take into account timely news hooks (holidays, earnings reports, company filings, etc.) and competing surveys to time your results for maximum impact. Make sure you have a plan for incorporating expected insights into multiple content vehicles and marketing tactics, from thought leadership and business develop collateral to social campaigns and media pitches. And build in a subset of questions (if not the whole study) that is repeatable year-over-year to help you build an ongoing database of results that can yield deeper insights.

Have some top techniques of your own for pulling the most out of market research? Let us know what’s worked out best in your experience in the comments below.

Photo Credit: “A few more steps,” by Håkan Dahlström.

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