Sep 2021

How to get the best out of your research data

Written By Courtney Rowan

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Research findings are a staple in British media, ranging from the Office for National Statistics labour market overview report, to what biscuit UK consumers love most –  surely a chocolate digestive? Research provides a powerful anchor for company messaging, including validating a Point of View, clarifying market positioning and spreading the awareness of important business topics.

Surveys don’t have to be one-trick ponies either. If done correctly, they offer the potential to be seeded throughout the year with various tactics. They can also provide a strong foundation to complete the same research year after year. Indexing like this generates not only current data, but strong trends or points for long-lasting comparison. 

However, fail to give the research campaign the attention it deserves and you’ll have findings which flop, only seeing the light of day in self-serving company blog posts. So here’s Positive’s step-by-step guide to ensure you hit your stride with planned research, and create successful campaigns across PR, marketing and sales. 

Number 1:  Clearly mark your parameters

It’s an obvious point, though obvious means it can often be overlooked. Write down your objective and goal for the survey at the start. Define these in detail, particularly your audience for the findings. Defining your audience sets the tone for your survey and objectives. Crucially it enables you to reflect on your ideal respondents. 

If you’re targeting C-level respondents, consider if you want to capture findings from business leaders and share their thinking. Or do you want to capture their employees in a specific department to shed light on detailed issues their teams are grappling with? Both have the potential to engage the target audience and the media. But they are extremely different paths to take. 

Other considerations are which industries you want to survey, the locations of respondents and the weighting of each. You might want equal weighting across sectors, but you may want more answers from senior developers than entry-level grads. This helps when, during the analysis stage,  you want to take certain cuts of data and show comparisons between respondents, for instance, those based in France versus those in the UK. 

All of this boils down to the direction and objectives of the survey, which of course needs to be clear from the get-go. 

Number 2: Sweat your survey instrument, then sweat it some more 

There’s no such thing as refining your survey too much – the only limitation is time. Set aside ample time to define the survey and build your questions with extreme care, or external advice. Double-check your research idea is unique and differentiated. Otherwise it is likely to fall flat. This rings especially true for saturated research markets like cybersecurity, where every vendor can give you a number on the rise of ransomware. 

Getting it right and making the research authentic requires time. You’ll certainly go through more survey instrument revisions than you had hoped or perhaps planned for. This though saves time in the long term. Remember this is an investment, these questions and their answer sets are vital for generating the final dataset which may power a year’s worth of activity if planned well. 

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Remember to think long term. Form a question and answer set and consider what headline it’s going to generate. This will help stop any dud questions creeping into the survey. If it’s a bad headline, cut the question. The best way to define this is to search for the ‘why?’.  Ask yourself “Why does this finding matter to my target audience or the media?”. 

Look to insert human emotion as much as possible which will capture engagement from your target audience. Not many will be interested or surprised by the software used in finance, but many will be interested to know popular software’s impact. Are we all using a platform that is popular but extremely unhelpful in our day-to-day life? 

Avoid simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. These black and white answers lack the granular data you’ll need to share real insights, plus you’ll get more for your buck. Aim for at least four answers per question as a rule of thumb. 

Also avoid ‘don’t know’ as an answer. Often this is a cop-out choice from respondents and will leave you data-poor. If you need a ‘don’t know’ answer, make it more specific, for example, “I don’t know what security measures my company has in place”. This will be more fruitful (and eventful if a popular answer!) 

Finally, sneak one or two pure marketing questions. They won’t help you in PR results, but could be useful for creating content across sales and marketing, or even just internal use.

Number 3: Dissect your data 

Your survey is in-field, now what? This isn’t a break period, this is your prepping period to make sure you’re ready for it’s arrival. Ensure any images needed are taken, or at least planned, schedule your meetings for data and share clear plans and timelines which you can stick to. 

Crucially check how your data is polling – you want to make sure you’re capturing the right audience but also get an idea of what answers are most likely to form, and readjust messaging headlines accordingly. 

When the data arrives, it’s time to dissect and dissect again. This will absorb your time, but it’s worth investing to really get the data story right and form the strongest possible story. You may have to discard some questions and answers which don’t share any real findings.  Though you will also have some unexpected gems. Sift for these vigorously and cut them in several ways to strengthen your story. 

Findings found, it’s time to build your narrative arc. Don’t present your findings from questions 1 to 10, present them in the story you want to tell and group data by key themes which unite them. This will help strengthen your understanding of the data and how you’ll use it. Key findings and narrative agreed, you’re now ready to create content! From press releases to infographics and ebooks! 

Number 4: Reap and sow your data rewards

If done right, these findings could last you a year or more. You could share the main takeaways from your research with the media and then seed findings from different verticals for instance across the year. An extremely successful tactic. Plus, depending on success, you can re-run the survey, keeping some questions the same while introducing new ones to capture the current moment. 

Your strong narrative arc could be the backbone of your marketing and sales outreach – used to generate MQLs in lead generation campaigns. Infographics provide a visual way of telling your story, which can connect with hard to reach audiences to visualise a problem or issue they didn’t know existed. 

The potential of your research is only limited by your own outlook – go forth and research far and wide! You don’t ask, you don’t get.

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