Here’s a quick question: How many readers already have a market research division, and how many kick it around each budget season only to cut it due to the numerous unknowns? The results of this study would make for an interesting infographic, short-form article, or possibly fodder for a podcast.
Research can be murky, but publishers enter the arena from a position of strength. They already own key connection points with the audience, whether through digital, direct mail, phone, or live events. Each of these channels can be a forum for engaging in a reportable, statistically significant conversation.
Most publishers can segment their audience through data to provide a strong filtering that avoids traditional research challenges. Rather than forcing up-front segmenting questions in studies, publishers already know the demographic and geographic answers and can get to deeper value questions more quickly.
Knowing the potential customer base and having a pulse on their informational needs gives publishers an advantage, as timing is often half of the battle in securing a research deal, says Robert Granader, founder and CEO of MarketResearch.com.
“Think about who IS going to buy this? Not, who SHOULD buy this,” Granader says. “As you are doing it, are you talking to these folks? Knowing who your customer is ahead of time is really important.”
Often, the push for in-house market research comes from the content team, with their info-seeking nature. That thirst for knowledge also serves publishers well when beginning the three-step process it takes to create a custom research offering. Because it all starts with gathering information.
1. The Analysis
Assessing the industry’s market research business is the first step. Knowing the endemic offerings and how they address the industry’s needs will guide not just whether to move forward but also the direction to move in. Invariably, there are areas where a new player in the market can disrupt by serving a need better, with more focus, or at a lesser expense.
But, be careful not to zero in solely on the endemic players. There are many market research companies playing across multiple industries. Health care, CPG, legal and financial services, for instance, are segments filled with internal and external competition in market research.
Understanding the competitive landscape along with the potential client need provides the building blocks for an accurate assessment of revenue potential. Publishers need to couple that with an assessment of internal sales talent to determine whether the product has adequate support in the organization. Research can have much longer sales cycles, sometimes requiring an uncomfortable pace change.
Frank Cutitta, senior director of HIMSS Media Lab, is blunt in the other key internal assessment: research talent.
“You need a research person,” says Cutitta. “We have found that, in a matter of months, [the position] was able to pay for itself, and [research people] don’t always come cheap.”
Whether that talent is bought, trained, or borrowed is a key decision. Partnering with a known market research firm or university to launch a research product mitigates risk. The expenses and quality level of the deliverables are on the table right away, helping determine price points and other business imperatives.
Hiring or training up an internal resource has significant benefits. Notably, an internal candidate can focus on the audience and data in ways that can grow research without asking any additional questions of the audience. A good internal researcher will also be closer to the response metrics and have a tighter sense of audience research fatigue.
Long-term expense control and project agility are also major strengths to in-housing. But, it comes with risks. If the internal talent is good, they become expensive to keep and difficult to replace. If they are not good, the product – and potentially the brand it represents – suffers.
2. The Approach
The analysis invariably leads to the questions of study methods, types, and depth. With the right talent managing the research project, and the right audience connection capabilities, publishers can play at any level of research – from simple quantitative market segmentation or brand awareness studies up to multi-tiered qualitative product testing or loyalty analysis studies.
“I don’t see any reason that media companies should be cautious or apologetic about doing [market research],” says Cutitta.
Of course, developing a sophisticated research engine is challenging and requires increased manpower, expenses, and a longer sales process. Robust market research may also divert attention from the content side of the business, an area in constant need of resources and information.
The most natural research fit for publishers, in Cutitta’s experience, is what he calls “the short and dirty approach,” where they frequently conduct shorter studies.
“A short ‘pulse’ research on trending topics, asking 10 quick questions – people love that stuff,” he says. “We can’t produce enough of it.”
A simplified approach like this is easily replicable and can glean both proprietary insights for customers as well as shareable results for the content team. Research as content, in Cutitta’s business, often generates the greatest engagement. Insights from research also serve as a Swiss army knife of information, which can be used to create short-form, long-form, infographics, podcasts, videos, and other content.
3. The Launch
The challenge of entering into the research game is that it is full of researchers, who often have high expectations for anything called "research." Whether the offering is directly sold to those researchers at the client level or not doesn’t mean it won’t land on their desk at some point. This means the product needs to be solid.
One way to ensure that research is solid is to run the first two or three projects internally. It allows for a methodical approach so the internal team can assess product viability and capability.
A few test cases also help when a client questions the capabilities of a new brand or product to deliver on its promise. Having a few impressive case studies will make the sales that much easier to close. It also protects the brand if the early executions are poor, or if the results don’t come out as anticipated (communicating unexpected results is tough enough once clients are involved).
Over time, some of these home-grown studies can turn into annual pieces that require only a skeleton team approach to update, strengthening future ROI.
Custom research is not without challenges:
- The competitive landscape can put a cap on revenues.
- Sales teams may not be built to sell a different type of product.
- A researcher is necessary, whether on-staff or through a partnership.
- The product has to deliver value for the customer.
But the benefits and quick revenue potential are difficult to ignore. Even if research doesn’t provide substantial revenue right away, it will support as a secondary source by serving as the leading content engine for your editorial teams.
James Arnold is the chief digital officer for Rooster Strategic Solutions, a consultancy firm serving companies in food and agriculture. James has worked in the B2B media sector for 20+ years, most recently as VP of digital for Farm Journal. You can contact James at email@example.com.