Communicated effectively, a single data point from your latest study can be used to position you and your department or organization as a thought leader, generating buzz about a topic that your stakeholders care about and that matters to the industry at large.
Have you ever finished a study, then put it on the proverbial shelf (or more realistically, saved it in the virtual shared drive), never to return to it again? Or emailed a report, given that last presentation, answered a last clarifying email, then received radio silence in return...until the next question came up?
Whether they know it or not, others in your organization and beyond are hungry for the insights you have sitting on your shelf. The key is to understand how to package it so your research goes to work for you. Communicated effectively, a single data point from your latest study can be used to position you and your department or organization as a thought leader, generating buzz about a topic that your stakeholders care about and that matters to the industry at large.
Getting your research off the shelf and into the press offers a variety of benefits, including the opportunity to raise the profile of research and insights within your organization and the chance for individual researchers to build a reputation as an expert on a particular topic. As DIY research tools and user data become more accessible to non-researchers, we need to look for other ways to add value beyond the delivery of traditional insights. This is a fundamental shift from how most researchers and research departments operate today. Before taking a contract within a media agency research department earlier this year, I had always felt very separate from the marketing department and had little to no exposure to the communications team. By making shareability and thought leadership a priority, your research becomes not only a valuable tool for key decision-making, but also a springboard to additional opportunities to shine.
In this age of content, many companies have already formalized the practice of communicating insights in a systematic way. Google produces Think With Google1, a series of articles and videos published by Google execs to share findings from primary research alongside learnings from the broader Google universe of user data and consumer behavior. Yahoo regularly conducts research and publishes articles on its advertising insights website.2
Edwin Wong, senior director of B2B insights at Yahoo, sees the value in sharing new learnings outside of the organization. “We always want to dig a little deeper to get to the next level of understanding when we’re researching a new development in the market. We have found that, by sharing what we’ve uncovered along the way, we become part of a larger conversation with our advertisers that sometimes leads to even more valuable partnerships in the long run.”
So how can the rest of us catch up or expand on our existing efforts to get the word out about the important work we’re doing?
There will be challenges to overcome. As researchers, we’re not trained as corporate communications experts or PR professionals. But by following a few simple steps, we can learn how to either DIY our own PR or make it easy for the communications department to get our research into the communication pipeline.
One way to start thinking like a communications pro is to start every new research project with the end result in mind...not just the answers to specific research questions. While these research questions are crucial, of course, the resulting communication about them is equally important. We should hypothesize headlines that will get the attention of busy industry executives or members of the target audience who want to hear what we have to say. What will be relevant to those we are trying to reach? What is the ideal story we’d like to be able to tell?
Some companies run similar studies year after year, or on a quarterly basis, on a topic that matters to their audience with the explicit objective of generating buzz. I recently collaborated with a major telecommunications provider to analyze data from a study they had run in several markets to find out how much the average consumer knows about how the Internet really works.
Another company that helps college seniors, recent graduates and grad students find career opportunities based on their field of study conducts an annual study to track the ease with which this group is able to find a job when they’re ready and which resources, characteristics and perks have the most influence on their likelihood to apply for a position.
In both of these cases, the goal is to ask enough questions so that if what generated the most buzz last year turns out to be less interesting this time around, there is a good chance you’ll be able to uncover something new that people want to hear more about. For example, if people still have low levels of knowledge about how Internet is delivered to their computers, tablets and smartphones, but they suddenly seem to know more about how to prevent hackers and cyber-attacks, that might be the more interesting angle to lead with in your communications this year.
Over time, this library of insights can lead to new insights and can elevate your company to a position of thought leadership.
YuMe, a multi-screen video advertising technology provider based in Redwood City, CA, has taken their communication plan on the road, literally, by conducting a series of research roadshows each year in locations around the U.S. and Europe. These events give them a chance to give key customers and partners a first look at the new insights uncovered in each study. They also provide the sales team with a wealth of information to share with others who are unable to attend the live events.
“We’ve found that our research roadshow events help us take the conversations we have with our customers to a new level,” says Paul Neto, director of research and technical marketing at YuMe. “They appreciate the effort we make to proactively share new insights from the research we’re doing and the fact that we’re proactively and systematically delving into topics that matter to the industry.”
Another challenge to this approach is the proprietary nature of research findings for many primary research projects. By planning ahead, we can incorporate questions that will yield shareable results and generate interest in findings from the larger study.
For example, a recent study for a major digital publisher (see what I mean by proprietary?) uncovered new insights into the way consumers perceive what brands and publishers refer to as “branded content” versus standard video advertisements. We were able to draw some really interesting comparisons between the characteristics consumers associate with standard 30-second ads versus branded content videos (think “Dear Kitten” as an example, although it was not included in the study). The publisher, however, deemed those insights to be best used internally to avoid giving the impression that one type of video is more desirable than the other. We also learned which type of content – funny or educational – was more effective when it came to turning consumers into customers and then into advocates. So instead of putting the entire study away on the shelf, we were able to share this secondary insight externally via a combination of articles, reports and talks at industry events.
The right communication plan for your research department will vary based on many factors – the audience you want to reach, what and why you want to communicate to them, the resources you have to support communications and the frequency with which you want to communicate new insights, just to name a few. Here are some options to consider if you are just getting started:
Cultivate relationships with the right people. Reporters, bloggers and other influencers in your industry will become your new best friends. Reporters are often looking for experts to provide input or quotes for their stories, or for new story ideas. They will welcome a well-written pitch (which is a topic for another day) sent directly via email or Twitter. You can learn about new requests through daily notifications from HARO (Help A Reporter Out). Over time, you can also build a list of bloggers and other influencers who frequently write about relevant topics in your industry and offer to write guest posts or contribute ideas for future posts.
Seek out existing opportunities to get your work published or referenced. There are industry publications (like this one!) that need content on a regular basis and conference producers who regularly seek speakers for their next event. And not to completely ignore internal PR opportunities, you can check with the marketing or communications department to see if there is an executive newsletter where you might be able to include a summary of your work. If nothing seems like quite the right fit, you can even start your own blog or publish your stories on LinkedIn.
Go back to your previous studies to see what nuggets you have stored away that you can leverage for future communications. Now that you’ve identified outlets for your brilliant insights, you need some content! You likely have reports collecting dust on the virtual shelf or have white papers that can be excerpted for a new blog post or article. Perhaps you did a study a while back on a topic that has come full circle and become relevant again. Or maybe you have conducted a series of disparate studies that all include findings on a single topic that you can summarize in a new report with a set of overarching recommendations.
Develop your own framework for future research communications. Once you’ve mined archives for relevant stories and insights, you’ll want to start working on a way to make the process much easier in the future. Take the time to lay out a set of questions you can ask yourself at the start of every new study to ensure you’ll have something amazing to share at the end. Which outlets are most likely to be interested in the findings? Which data points are likely to generate the most interesting insights? How does this relate to something happening in the market right now? Who will be interested in learning about what you have to say?
If you’re new to the communications game, start slowly, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away. Just like when you were starting out in research, it will take time and experience to find your flow and then things will start to click. In time, you’ll have a larger network to rely on, more experience to draw from, a larger library of insights to utilize and you’ll get good at predicting which stories and approaches will be the most successful. And that’s when your light will really shine!