6 innovative ways to rethink your research

Ben Harrison

Whether you’re an established Thought-Leading Brand or about to embark on a thought leadership campaign for the first time, it’s easy to default to commissioning a large-scale C-suite survey. Sure, this is a safe route to the wide range of high-quality data you need for great insights, but is it different enough? Will those insights rise above the rest?

There are still new, creative ways to make your thought leadership stand out, and at FT Longitude we consider the research process itself to be a key point of innovation.

Here are a few recent examples of how some brands are rethinking the research process:

1. Not all respondents are born equal: focus on quality – not quantity

Don’t assume a large data-set is always the best option. It could be more effective to sample a smaller group of respondents who are of most interest and value to the audience you want to reach.

Eight Roads Ventures clearly had quality in mind with its highly targeted survey of 300 technology founders that aimed to understand the entrepreneurial drive.

Narrowing down the research scope to a small number of hard-to-reach respondents not only gives Eight Roads deeper, more relevant insights, but also increases the campaign’s credibility.

2. Track trends over time: make your survey repeatable

In our experience, the brands that excel at thought leadership are those that take the long view and plan their campaign activation in a way that drives long-term engagement. One way to achieve this is with a regular survey that can track trends.

Not every budget can stretch to an extensive annual research programme, however, so snap polls could be the answer. Based on short questionnaires, they produce insights rapidly and cost-effectively.

We see snap polls as a growing trend in thought leadership. Barclaycard’s ongoing consumer spend survey, which is published quarterly, is a great example of a long-term media campaign that uses snap polls to gain regular, trusted insights into how UK consumers are spending their money.

3. Interview-only insight: the qualitative alternative

Applied to thought leadership, qualitative research can harvest anecdotal information that enriches survey findings and brings the numbers to life.

However, sometimes qualitative-only is the way to go. If your goal is to uncover deep insights into a specific topic from a unique group of individuals, then consider ditching the survey and focusing on a programme of high-quality, in-depth interviews.

Take EY’s recent campaign ‘Why female athletes make winning entrepreneurs’. The report is based exclusively on interviews with 20 female entrepreneurs who previously played sport at a professional level, and is packed with compelling personal insights. Far from being a weakness, the interviewees’ subjectivity allows the research to appeal to the audience at a human level.

4. Cluster analysis: advanced data analysis

Getting smarter about analysing your quantitative findings can help your research to stand out. The quality and creativity of your data analysis can determine the success – or failure – of your thought leadership.

Cluster analysis is an innovative form of data analysis that reveals natural groupings within a survey sample based on behaviours and attitudes. The technique produces role-based insights that align to your audience and can reveal interesting PR angles, which is why we often recommend it when our clients want to secure media coverage.

Last year, Accenture’s consulting division launched its Australian digital healthcare campaign with an extensive report into the attitudes and behaviours of healthcare patients in Australia. It used the original survey findings to segment the data, which revealed personas such as ‘Busy Lizzy’, ‘Struggling Sam’ and ‘Vintage Viv’. Identifying and naming these identities brings the report into the real world – and became a powerful marketing hook for the campaign.

5. Benchmarking: a proven way to drive engagement

Audiences love to know how they compare against their peers, and benchmarking gives brands a great way to engage them in this way.

A benchmarking tool that enables audiences to interact with research data, the Growth Readiness Indicator is one of State Street’s most successful marketing campaigns to date. The global financial services firm repurposed its data to create the benchmarking tool, which gives the firm extra mileage from its survey and research investment.

6. Creative storytelling: using a narrative to activate

Thought leadership is all about telling a story, and your data needs to be geared towards creating and activating these stories.

In recent years, data creativity – videos, interactive infographics or, as we’ve seen, benchmarking tools – has been key to the success of thought leadership programmes. But it needs to start with the data: haphazard data will not provide a strong storyline.

Here, Zurich shows how it’s done. Its scrollable, eye-catching infographic explores how five pressing environmental risks are impacting five industries and what global businesses can do to adapt and mitigate future disruption, using compelling and relatable data points to support each one.

Research is an integral part of thought leadership and plays a crucial role in the most creative campaigns. An inspired research methodology will get you the data you need and form the basis of memorable editorial. Without it, organisations will struggle to find any breathing space in a crowded market.

Unsure what’s the right type of research for your thought leadership? We explain how to use different research methods to produce powerful, evidence-based insights in this previous post.

Listen to our co-founder and COO James Watson, discuss how research needs to continue to innovate in order to keep thought leadership fresh:


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About the author: Ben Harrison

As marketing executive, Ben leads various marketing activities such as the firm’s social media effort, our always-on content programme, and all aspects of the website – from maintenance to re-designs. He also manages the department’s tech stack, delivering an increasingly seamless experience from marketing all the way through to the sales team.

Ben also contributes to the marketing team’s overall strategy and goals, helping to plan, execute and effectively measure all our content and engagement that push the firm towards brand- and commercial-oriented goals.

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