How third party research supports content marketingIn my job as CMO-in-Residence at Aberdeen Group, I talk to B2B marketers every day about their content marketing strategies and challenges. As we provide research-driven content marketing services, I’ve learned a lot about what works (and what doesn’t).

Third-party research content is great, isn’t it? Finally, someone else is making the case that your customer should care. In fact, a CMO Council study from earlier this year indicated that research reports and analyst insight were two of the top five preferred content types by buyers. In fact, Aberdeen’s May 2014 report Content Marketing and The Road to Revenue: Answering the Questions demonstrates how research content serves the information needs of buyers throughout their journey.

In a world of competing claims, research gives us a touchstone. Even if we don’t agree with all the findings, it can help organize our thinking and challenge our assumptions. For marketers, the challenge with using research content is that it’s generally not designed or used with modern marketing in mind.

From my conversations with hundreds of marketers, here are few recommendations for getting the most from 3rd-party research in your content marketing:

  1. Find the story – This is not only the most important element of using research content, it’s also quite often marketers’ biggest pitfall. Too often, that analyst report appears as a standalone, one-off piece of content, unconnected to the broader story you’re telling in the market. Research content should extend your story, support your premise and help build your buyer’s vision. Third party research can connect your products and services with a broader world, and provide context for your message, but only if you make the effort to use it as a plot point in the story of your buyers.
  2. Thread – In keeping with the recommendation above, consider ways to weave a thread of research throughout the content your buyers take on their journey. Start by establishing common ground on the challenges your buyers are facing, illustrate what problems they should prioritize, and arm your consultative sellers with hard hitting facts and stats they can use to close the deal. Research content plays a major role throughout the process.
  3. Hold on loosely – Marketers, don’t try to over-engineer the research content looking for explicit validation of your solution. This is likely to feel forced and seem like the dreaded pay-for-play. If you can’t find 3rd party research that supports your premise and recommends capabilities your product supports, then the fault, dear Brutus, is not in your stars, it’s in your product (or positioning).
  4. Engineer serendipity – The opposite of over-engineering is smart engineering. Content marketing should, at its core, educate your buyer with ways they can solve their pain points. The full journey they take should show them how to do so with your solution. Mapping research findings to your competitive differentiators will help frame this context in ways that seems, well, serendipitous.
  5. Get POV – Research gives you the opportunity to start a conversation with the market by responding directly to the challenges and recommendations published in the research. This can be done explicitly and publicly via social media or your blog, or more subtly via a campaign email or landing page. Aberdeen Group client Aspect did this well in a recent blog post, combining research with recommendations on achieving Best-in-Class results. (Aspect is an Aberdeen ContentAccess client, giving them subscription-based rights to curate Aberdeen research in their marketing.)

All in all, using 3rd party research in content marketing should feel right. It shouldn’t be a replacement for branded content, which is critical to establishing your own voice and leadership, but can be instrumental in starting the conversation by borrowing on the brand of the firm, and building the credibility of that branded content through appropriate and timely citation of establishing proof points. The art of using 3rd party research content is in drawing the dotted line between the research findings and your solution in a way that doesn’t diminish the value of the research or smack of a product pitch.