After a long day working on a marketing automation or data analytics project, a marketer might think she actually works in the company’s IT department. The line between CIOs and CMOs is blurring. Thus it is no surprise that marketers are increasingly coming into contact with IT analyst firms that technology professionals have worked with for years.
Although nostalgia for Mad Men may be popular, both marketers and their potential customers are expected to make data-enabled decisions instead of relying on their gut. Marketing relies on research to ensure effectiveness and to boost the appeal to customers and peers. In many ways, the relationship between marketing and research is both logical and necessary; marketers spend their lives testing and experimenting the most poignant ways to get their messages across and their products bought.
Technology research is available from a spectrum of firms, both large and small. The three institutional players – Gartner, Forrester, and IDC – offer different benefits than boutique firms. But regardless of where marketers look for research, there are four main reasons they rely upon it.
1. Third-party Validation
Marketers inherently know that having an unbiased endorsement can go a long way towards establishing credibility and creating buzz. Just as the health conscious are more likely to buy the reduced calorie yogurt that four-out-of-five nutritionists recommend, businesses are more likely to trust and purchase the product of a company that has validation from an industry specialist or thought leader. With bigger research firms, that validation comes from their established reputation and industry-wide name recognition. It is no secret that ranking well on a Gartner Magic Quadrant has a demonstrable impact on sales. Smaller firms may offer a more niche-market fit or a big name analyst. Either way, marketers use research from these firms as a credibility-signaling device that sets benchmarks for customers, peers, and competitors. Ultimately, third-party validation provides a luster to a product or company that should help to nurture leads.
In practical terms, a marketing department needs to make sure that industry analysts cover their company’s products. To learn more about how to do this, download Kea’s Industry Analyst Relations: An Extension to PR. When a research firm publishes something glowing about your company, then you will often want to pay for re-print rights and to possibly engage that firm to do a webinar talking about the findings. In addition to being written up in a research firm’s syndicated reports, companies can engage a research firm to do custom research or write a white paper. However, research firms have a reputation for independence that their clients demand so they will not easily accede to becoming a shill for your company. One way to get around this is to underwrite research that validates your market and/or use case as opposed to touting a specific product.
Leads are the ultimate measuring stick of marketers and research is one of the most valuable tools they have in their toolbox to accomplish this mission. Certain types of research result in leads more directly than through third-party validation. By conducting surveys, marketers can identify potential customer needs and then follow-up to show how they can meet those demands. Another lead-generating research method is hosting an event or a webinar. This immediately raises a company’s external brand awareness, builds an audience and helps marketers figure out who is most interested in a product.
One of the best ways to get leads is to generate research that is so compelling that people will surrender their name and email address to get them. A good example is a recent end user survey conducted by Dresner Advisory Services for Trifacta. Not only did the report generate names of folks that are interested in their market, but it also gave detailed information about the buying motivations of current and potential buyers.
3. Customer Insight
Focus groups are popular for a reason – they’re a low cost way to gain insight into customer opinions during product and brand development. This type of insight is just as important for tech CMOs as it is for TV show execs. For CMOs, research can provide this proving ground in which they hear from customers first and can then evolve their products or marketing accordingly. Researchers are adept at qualitative interviews and using surveys to fine-tune messaging. This type of research is invaluable because it’s an upfront cost that helps CMOs, and companies as a whole, avoid more costly mistakes in the long-term. And just as importantly for CMOs, they can help guide their organizations by offering new brand messaging that often outpaces product development in terms of customer appeal. This makes CMOs even more integral to their companies.
A marketing pro will often subscribe to a research firm’s syndicated research based on interviews with actual customers. The most valuable of these studies look at factors that affect buying decisions, are repeated regularly for time series comparisons and have a large enough sample size to break down the sample by industry or company size. Another way to use a research firm is to ask it to interview your own customers. If a vendor provides the names, a reputable researcher can do a report without actually identifying who paid for the research, thus getting the customers to provide information they might not otherwise have been willing to divulge.
4. Building Trust
Ultimately, all effective marketing operates from a single premise – building a foundation of trust with both customers and peers. Being validated by a third-party’s research can help, but trust building is a process that research firms can also help with. Building on its reputation for technical computer books, O’Reilly Media has established conferences like Strata that have become must-attend events for the entire tech ecosystem. By working with event producers, marketers can establish their company or even an individual CMO as an industry thought leader. And not only does the company become a thought leader, but the relationships developed at these events can become the backbone of influencer advocacy campaigns.
Another way to foster good will is to strategically sponsor research about something that isn’t specifically about your market. For example, Red Hat sponsors studies that say open source is good for the economy. Those reports speak to the hacker ethos of many developers and make the sponsor, Red Hat, look like a good alternative for someone who needs an “enterprise solution” but still wants to support the open source movement.
Marketing is not done in a vacuum. Like any other line of business, it is most applicable when it is based on informed decisions. It’s clear that the business of the CMO is intricately involved with technology and research, thus it makes sense that marketers would engage IT research firms.