As a follow-up to our last newsletter in which we explored the concept of thought leadership from the perspective of how and why to use these types of studies, this month we take a look at next steps. More specifically, what to do next, now that the research is complete.
Read on as once again, CSR senior research manager, Marissa Glowac takes the Research with a Twist wheel and explores Part II of this important topic!
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
Leading Through Thought Leadership, Part II
Our last newsletter was Part One of a two-part series in which we explore the concept of thought leadership and, more specifically, how best to develop and use these types of studies for the benefit of your organization.
We began last month by explaining what thought leadership is and why it’s valuable, and we offered three specific suggestions for making your next thought leadership initiative successful (click here to read it if you missed it).
Today, we follow up with a look at, well, follow-up. In other words, assuming you’ve taken our advice regarding how and why to conduct this kind of study, what do you do next, now that the research is complete?
How do you organize your data? How do you present your results? How do you best communicate your findings to the outside world? Read on as we answer these and other questions…
Step #1: Build a Directed Analysis Plan
There are thousands of ways of splitting, organizing and analyzing your data; you can’t investigate every possible avenue. If you’ve developed “theme areas” of interest related to your products, services, offerings and points of view ahead of time, however (something we recommended last month), you have a guide. Now that your research is complete, you can “end with the beginning in mind,” returning to your initial plan and structuring your analysis accordingly.
Typically, we will map out subgroups we want to compare and trends we want to investigate, based on both our plan going in and the results we’ve uncovered along the way. Until we complete the study, we often don’t know which doors will open further, suggesting additional opportunities for discovery.
Let’s say, for example, that one of your themes is to discover if women investors are underserved in today’s marketplace. If your only approach to that question is a direct answer and response (i.e., the study poses the question “Do you believe you are underserved?” to female participants, and 75% say “no”), that might be the end of it.
With a detailed analysis plan, however, you’re identifying ways to dig deeper on this topic. Maybe you investigate women’s level of knowledge; how easy they feel it is to access advice; how often they communicate with professional advisors. Now you can compare this with the responses from men in the study and see if there are gaps – potentially uncovering insights you would have otherwise missed.
Step #2: Develop a range of reports.
At the end of your study you’ll very likely produce a comprehensive report that details your findings. But that’s only one possible outcome from the data. By producing several “sub-reports” – customized by industry, demographics, geography, etc. – you’ll get more mileage (and attention) from a given thought leadership study.
Let’s say your study uncovered the fact that technology companies tend to offer fewer voluntary benefits to employees than businesses in other industries. You could create a special report that highlights these differences, which would be of great interest to clients, prospects, brokers, distributors, media outlets and others in the technology sector.
Different audiences may also suggest the need for different reporting formats. You wouldn’t give the executive suite the same level of detail as you would an article in a trade publication. Nor would you share the same presentation with a general business group as you would with industry insiders. The point is, your ability to have your findings heard by the various constituencies you’d like to reach requires customizing the way in which you communicate with these different groups.
Deciding which groups, industries and segments you want to reach, together with particular findings of interest that your study reveals, will drive your decision regarding which types of standalone sub-reports to create and publicize.
Step #3: Optimize your communication efforts
Keep these two things in mind as you roll out your study results:
Maximize the time period.
We worked on a thought leadership project in which the client had a simple, one-month media plan. The report was distributed and a press release was written. That’s okay, but far from optimal. A better approach is to develop and roll out a plan that covers six months or even a year, giving you maximum visibility for your thought leadership investment.
If yours is a financial service organization that works with Registered Investment Advisors, for example, your study might have uncovered insights related to their prospects and clients. Invite them to a series of webinars in which you share the results and the ways you are using the results to improve the products they are recommending on your behalf.
Or maybe you create a series of sub-reports (as discussed above) and release one a month, each targeting a specific theme, demographic or industry.
By releasing reports and related programs and events over time, you remain in front of the marketplace and keep the buzz going longer regarding your study and your company.
Maximize the channels.
Sub-reports, webinars, white papers, social media and conference presentations are just a few examples of different formats and channels through which you can optimize your efforts.
One of our clients updates its employee e-mail signatures regularly and across the board with “factoids” gleaned from its annual thought leadership study. Another provides benchmarking data to clients and prospects by including report results in its sales materials.
Here’s the twist: Having gone through the time and effort to create and field a thought leadership study, make sure you’re following up to realize maximum value from this important and versatile tool.
With careful planning, customized reporting and effective communication, you can be confident that your findings will reach and influence your intended targets.
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
As we’re sure you’ve noticed, there are a lot of moving parts involved in maximizing a thought leadership initiative. Here are three “on the ground” suggestions for keeping things running smoothly:
Find your data errors early. We wrote last month of the benefits of a “slow launch.” On a related note, take the time to QC your data thoroughly. Thought leadership studies often involve 1,000 – 1,500 participants and it’s not uncommon for errors to occur.
Columns get transposed, skip patterns don’t always work the way they should, labels find their way to the wrong place. By reviewing your work and comparing your results with other, similar studies, you reduce the likelihood of mistakes.
Errors are problematic in any study, but they’re particularly troublesome with thought leadership work, given the very public nature in which the results are shared.
Share your study results early. Hopefully, you’ve been sharing your plans and your media schedule with important stakeholders throughout the research phase of your study. Now that you’re pulling together your findings, you want to make sure that these important groups don’t misunderstand the results or object to the conclusions that you’ve reached.
Take steps to present your results to these people early, prior to publishing any information.
Build a comprehensive media plan. Thought leadership studies are fundamentally about sharing information with the outside world. Make sure, therefore, that your plans for doing so are well-considered.
Which parts of the overall study can be carved out and released as standalones? Which formats will you need to satisfy the needs, interests and level of understanding of key constituencies? Which media outlets will be the most receptive to your findings and what’s the best way to approach them?
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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