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Are you spending enough B2B marketing budget on research?

It can be tempting for B2B marketers to regard marketing communication activity as an achievement in itself; sending out a great lead magnet, a superb graphic, or publishing a compelling article. 
But without adequate market research you may not be hitting properly segmented targets with timely, relevant, helpful, convincing messages – in which case, you’re simply wasting budget.
 

Research – the first step to success

The key to not wasting marketing budget is research. 

That means really understanding your market, your competitors, and your customers and prospects, culminating in a clean database that will enable you to finely segment, position, and target the content and communications you share.

In fact, according to high-profile marketing professor Mark Ritson, a good 10% of marketing budget should be spent on research. 

And if you don’t do this, you’re spending your business’s money for far less return than you could potentially achieve – which isn’t doing your or your department’s standing any good.

The real trick is understanding what you need to learn or find out and what questions to ask. That needs a very clear brief from the client. What’s the objective of the research? We will typically always have an element of qualitative research and ask open-ended questions as in reality you don’t know what you don’t know – allowing people to simply speak or feedback is where you get the real golden nuggets that will ultimately inform your strategy or decide your key messaging.
 
Why research matters more now 

Research is under the microscope now like never before. The pandemic saw big shifts in buying behaviour and work processes. Companies that thought they still had time to make the jump to digital, needed to do so almost overnight. The consequence: needing to gain credibility and trust through a screen and sharing that space with B2C.

Buyers expected these channels to convey the critical sense of credibility and trustworthiness - and the vital understanding of pain points and possible solutions - that they previously got from a live, warm human being. 

In the absence of face-to-face contact with your customers, you can’t possibly know with any certainty what these digital conversations should sound like, and how best you start, maintain, extend, and convert them.

Unless, of course, you do your research.
 
What does research even mean?

It’s important to understand that research in a B2B context needn’t mean massive expense. 

It can be as straightforward as some organised calls into customers and prospects (preferably using an independent caller), some competitor and marketplace research using online sources, and some “social listening” – picking up on prospects’ social media conversations to discern their pain points and understand the kind of communication that will be relevant to them.
 
The reality …

Maya Patel, Research Executive at BCM Agency, explains: “By manually stitching together research from many different sources, I can compare, contrast, and corroborate, to build a much more accurate and more insightful research picture.”

“So, for example, I might be looking at news articles to get info on a client’s competitor, but by definition news content is selective – so I’ll drill down into, say, press releases or earnings announcements to find out more.”

“At the same time,” she says, “I can cross-reference different social media sources, including LinkedIn, to exclude targets who, in reality, are unlikely to be decision-makers – those who are very inexperienced or only in the role in a temporary capacity, for instance.

“Research plays a big part in defining a client’s story and brand proposition,” she says, “but ‘best-efforts’ research using data from list brokers isn’t enough – you have to dig deeper!”
 
An international playing field

Research will often be needed to analyse opportunities and threats in foreign markets and new geographical territories, and this is where research skills are really put to the test. Understanding the reliability of data from other countries comes from expertise and experience. 

You cannot just look at research in isolation, but rather think about it’s impact. Research findings and insights may lead to multimillion pound investments and huge operational changes. Your research cannot just be lip-service, it must be on the money – literally.
 
What are the pitfalls?

The problem we see though is that a lot of companies, irrespective of size, don’t truly value research and yet it will invariably decide their communications strategy. It either gets overlooked in the rush to go out to market with a comms strategy or as is still often the case, companies rely on tacit knowledge of the marketplace.

But Maya is clear that research can come with its own pitfalls.

Underestimating the time it can take is one of the biggest problems. “Research can be unpredictable – you can get through it really quickly, but often it takes more time than you think,” she says. “That can be a real issue, as companies need to be able to get on with their core business. It invariably works out more effective and efficient to pay someone else to do the research.”
 
The other trap businesses fall into, Maya says, is taking data and information at face value, and not “backing it up”. 

“Where’s the provenance of the data, and how sure can you be of it?” she asks. “When does it date from, and has it changed since? Are email addresses still current?  Have pain points changed in response to evolving market conditions?”

And on the social media research front, Maya also sounds a note of caution for marketers everywhere. “My research reveals so many companies on social media whose output is all advertising, with nothing to enable their customers and prospects to get a handle on their story and proposition.”

“But then that often signals a real opportunity for a client of ours in a similar sector to own that space – so in that sense, too, the research has paid off”
 
Insight meets intelligence

It can be quite challenging to undertake research on masses of data – from sourcing and validating the data, to defining the research questions, the best media to use, actually getting hold of people and organising calls and interviews – particularly if its global research and across varying time zones -  through to analysis and presenting the information back to the client. 

It’s a lot of work, can take time and can come in at considerable cost to the client. Is it worth it? Yes, most definitely but research in itself holds no real value. It’s insight, not intelligence, that counts – in order to make it count you have to put those learnings into context and action.

But it boils down to segmentation, targeting, positioning – you can’t do it effectively without research. You can try but it’ll be luck over judgement. At BCM we’re all about doing B2B marketing as we call it ‘properly’ and we’re fortunate to work with clients who value this.

In short, research drives better results for your marketing budget, and it needn’t cost the earth. But it does require significant time and skill, and a determination to go the extra mile. Research done properly in B2B can qualify what you may have already known, putting marketing directors and managers in a position of strength. It gives reassurance. It mitigates risk. It removes subjectivity. It gives marketers confidence to have a strategic voice in the board room and we need more of that!
 

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