How to prepare the perfect research brief

Thought leadership is probably in the lexicon of every marketer who works for an IT or B2B brand. But what exactly is thought leadership and how can research help deliver this?

Thought leadership is not just about proving you know your stuff and showing off, but about deep customer understanding, an original viewpoint that challenges the status quo and offering something of value that ultimately inspires change. Our TechHeads survey shows that 61% of IT buyers believe tech vendors are essentially selling the same thing and it is difficult to differentiate on a product basis – this is where thought leadership comes in.

Publishing original research is an effective thought leadership approach. Its value from a content marketing perspective comes through loud and clear in TechHeads again – 72% of IT buyers saying that vendors need to use more data and research to support their content. The challenge today is that much of what passes for research today is often cheap and cheerful, self-serving Survey Monkey efforts which do very little to advance any thought leadership intent.
Any research project is only as good as the brief. Here are some tips for ensuring that any research you decide to do hits the thought leadership mark. A brief is a dialogue and a starting point to creating the best possible project within specific parameters. The more time taken at the planning stages, the better the outcome will be. After all, thought leadership is not just about carrying out some research, but about achieving an outcome.

A brief should have as much of the following content as possible

  • Background / context. This often takes the form of chronicling what has led to the decision to undertake research. Here you might want to include an overview of target markets and product offerings, as well as any other issues relevant to the project and details of previous studies
  • Objectives. What do you want to over-riding outcome of thought leadership research to be on your business and what type of research-driven content do you think will lead to this? These are the big questions and probably require the most thought and discussion to ensure a project satisfies all stakeholders and objectives
  • Preferred approach. You may have preferences in terms of research approach given the target audience and outcome you are looking for and there may be specific groups or sub-groups you are interested in researching. You may also have views on whether quantitative (numbers, stats and what people think and do) or qualitative research (depth, understanding and why people think and do what they think and do) is more appropriate. Great – any input at this stage leads to useful dialogue and ongoing refinement to ensure a project delivers the ideal outcome
  • Deliverables. Gone are the days when researchers used to arrive at client offices laden with forests worth of data tables. The focus now is on actionable and story-led deliverables with easily digestible and shareable findings. Whether you’re looking for a PowerPoint narrative encapsulating a research story, a detailed report / White Paper, infographics or eBooks, this is where you can start to think about what will drive the most value from the research and how this can best support your content marketing plans
  • Timing and budget. It’s useful to share as early as possible any upcoming deadlines that may influence the timing of the research as well an idea of budget – even if it is just a ballpark range – as these parameters can have a big impact on what is recommended in terms of research scale and deliverables

Anyone who has produced content for a C-level audience in a niche sector will know it’s not easy. Sharing something new and valuable with an executive audience requires a LOT of planning – preparing a research brief helps focus the mind and ensures any research offers something different in the way of information, insight or ideas setting you apart in the eyes of customers and prospects.

If the idea of writing a research brief fills you with dread, these elements can just as easily be shared verbally. It’s the process and the dialogue that makes the difference and we’re just a phone call away…