Content is King …but research-based content rules

Posted on June 11, 2015 by Lauren Greatorex


Ok, so all bad clichés aside, content is (and should be) at the centre of any effective communications campaign. As Seth Godin said, “content marketing is the only marketing left."

The industry is increasingly recognising the importance of content, storytelling and commercial awareness. Just last week, we were crowned CIPR Outstanding Consultancy in the mid-sized category for our commitment to “delivering ‘commercial creativity’ for B2B clients, encouraging them to become thought leaders in their markets, grabbing the imagination of client employees and delivering measurable sales impact.” Check out the full case study for more info.

And we’re not alone, many PR and marketing consultancies are embracing this approach. We all know that compelling content rules the roost and can deliver real monetary results. However, this only works if it’s genuinely helpful, insightful and truly thought-leading. Your content should reflect your expertise and resonate with your audience in order to attract potential clients and then form the basis of profitable meetings.

Ultimately, you need to be a genuine advisor and tell your audience something new and unexpected.

Research rules

A really effective way to do this is by coming up with a potential threat/opportunity and evidencing it with robust data. As dogs, we’re not advocates of 9/10 cat surveys used in isolation (although they certainly have their place as part of a wider research mix). For more on that, check out Xenia’s blog on ‘Hats, kilts and the problem with polls’.

As self-identified geeks, economic modelling is much more appealing as it’s based on quantifiable fact, layered with expert opinion. It’s cost effective (using publicly available data and economist expertise) with endless possibilities. Ideally, the output would be a clear figure or set of figures to inform your clients’ decision-making or evidence an interesting hypothesis. For example, using international government trade data to identify the top performing and worst performing countries for exports/imports or quantifying the positive impact of the 2012 Olympics on British business.

The power of content

From a marketing perspective, a campaign based on economic data is the perfect central content pillar. Economic research is highly repeatable (on a quarterly, biannual, or annual basis) and informs a huge array of content assets, providing the ideal starting point for infographics, visualisations, whitepapers, press releases, blogs, bylined articles etc.

Data can also be cut by region and sector to give your internal stakeholders access to compelling and relevant information for business meetings. The marketing team can develop this information or you can create an online tool that can be interrogated by individuals (employees and clients alike) to target specific prospects. As a random but real-life example, if the research model is designed for this purpose, a partner in a law firm could access statistics specifically related to an investor in the agribusiness sector in Nigeria.

If content marketing is the only marketing left, then marketers are going to have to explore every avenue to create compelling, differentiated content that stands out from the crowd. As a tool to demonstrate your expertise, inform long-term, wide-reaching content and offer genuine insight to your audience, economic modelling certainly has a claim to the content throne.

Top tips for using data

1. Create a clear hypothesis

Start with a one line summary or a point you’d like to prove. Alternatively, design the data tables that you’d like as an output. However, make sure you take the advice of your economist and let the data speak for itself. It’s the best way to find unexpected and counterintuitive results.

2. Make sure it’s repeatable

The beauty of using economic data is that it can be refreshed on a quarterly, biannual or annual basis. Ensure that the creative concept and design can be evolved regularly and that the hypothesis is broad enough to give you lots of different data cuts. When selecting timings, consider how much the data will vary over time and how often you’ll be able to mine it for new stories.

3. Find the right economist partner

Finding the right economist, with the right specialism is really important. Check out their credentials, meet with them and send your brief out to tender with several companies. This will ensure you find the best fit but it may also spark ideas. For example, the methodologies and suggested outputs will vary greatly with some using desk research and others using maths-based methodologies.

4. Develop a branded concept

Develop a creative wrap-around for your research, something punchy but to the point. For example, ‘Mined, Made, Moved: The Castrol Global Trade Barometer’. A creative title will ensure it’s memorable when repeated. It will also give you a clear basis for your campaign’s visual identity.

5. Design a robust approval process

Working with economic data can be tricky, the methodology is often complex and needs translating into a common-sense approach for internal and external stakeholders. Ensure you have mapped out your approvers including client-side economists (or research experts who may query the methodology), potential spokespeople, marketing teams and legal sign-off. Create clear toolkits and workshops to promote the idea within your client’s business and explain its practical uses.

6. Visualise the data

Whitepaper reports and press releases are important outputs, and useful for approvals (as all the key data points and messages can be approved in one place). However, propose infographics and video animations wherever possible. These will explain your findings in an impactful, shareable format - taking the data out of a spreadsheet and making it real for your audiences (both internal and external).

Wherever possible, encourage clients to create interactive data visualisations so that users can interrogate the data themselves. This will mean sales and BD teams can identify the specific regional and sector angles they need to have conversations with clients. It can also be a highly effective inbound marketing tool.

Lauren Greatorex is Content Marketing Director at Man Bites Dog and leads complex projects with a focus on content and research design.


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