Thinking Ahead

Kate Thompson, Partner and Head of B2B Research at McCallum Layton, explains how business brands can leverage market research in order to position themselves as thought leaders

Consumer-facing organisations and their PRs have been making use of market research to promote their clients’ interests for many years. It is rare that you can open a paper without seeing statistics from ‘a recent survey’ conducted on behalf of one company or another. Whatever we may think of the findings, the fact that the client has bothered to do it says something about their commitment to their market and willingness to invest in their profile.

The large accountancy practices picked up on this marketing technique years ago, and started commissioning research studies on topical themes such as up-coming fiscal or regulatory change, to demonstrate the expertise they could offer in the field in question. Other parts of the B2B sector, though, have been slow to recognise the potential value of this approach.

As part of the marketing toolkit, issue-based or thought leadership research can be one of the most powerful ways to show you have your finger on the pulse of your market and that you have the capacity and knowledge to support existing and potential customers.

The technique is simple – find a theme of topical and relevant interest to your market, commission a research study to collect information on how this affects customers, and use the results to demonstrate your understanding of market needs, showing that customers will be better off coming to you than to your competitors. Here are some pointers to taking best advantage of this potentially valuable idea.

1. First, take your theme …
This is actually the most difficult bit, but the end result can be well worth the time taken to define what issue you can capitalise on. The theme needs to be relevant to your target market and something to which you can add value.

Consult widely in-house and talk to existing customers about what issues are taxing them at the moment and what changes are on the horizon that will affect them, then whittle these thoughts down to a topic on which you can add commentary that will strengthen your market positioning. If it’s controversial, that’s even better (provided you can believe in the stance you are likely to take on the results) – the debate can run and run, quoting your name at every turn.

2. Check what you know already
Having settled on an issue, gather whatever intelligence you already have in-house. The research study will not come free, and there is no point spending money finding out what you already knew. Identify the gaps in your knowledge that you can use the research to fill.

3. Set some time aside
It’s important to make sure you allocate enough time to plan the programme properly. This might be a good ten weeks, depending on what you decide to do.

Care also needs to be taken over the design of the research itself, and there will need to be a well thought through, co-ordinated programme of follow-up communications.

4. Two’s company?
You may want to consider partnering up with another party to undertake the research, such as a trade body, key customer/supplier, the relevant trade press etc. This could bring added credibility to the study, although you may risk losing a degree of control.

5. Don’t cut corners
Ensure that the study methodology, sample size, selection, and wording of the questions etc. will all stand up to scrutiny when you publish the results. When you put your head above the parapet, don’t give competitors or the press an excuse to take shots at your leadership position on the grounds that your study is not robust enough.

6. Think ahead
Most research studies have a finite shelf-life, particularly those designed to address a topical issue. As soon as the results are in, you will need to hit the ground running with a co-ordinated programme of marketing activity to capitalise on what you have gained. Consider how the report itself will be produced, and gear up the most appropriate person/people to add expert commentary to the findings. Draw up a plan as to who you will want to provide the report to (include all respondents who took part in the research itself – this will generate goodwill among those who have taken the time to participate). Build publication of the report into a wider campaign, perhaps including customer seminars on the issues raised, speaking slots at conferences and one-to-one meetings with customers and targets to underline your commitment to them.

Consider releasing highlights to directly relevant media if applicable, but rather than just broadcasting a press release, consider offering exclusives to certain journalists, with briefings on the findings and perhaps case studies around respondents who are prepared to go on record. This can be one of the best ways to promote your business in your target market, but only if you get the message out there effectively.

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