OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Why simpler surveys lead to better thought leadership

Ben Harrison

For years, large-sample surveys were considered the be-all and end-all of good thought leadership. But that has changed: large surveys are no longer considered essential.

At Longitude, we are working on more and more thought leadership programmes that are based on smaller, more ‘agile’ surveys — or even no surveys at all.

The original insight we all want now comes from a range of sources. Marketing teams are now just as likely to lean on interview-led programmes, desk research and their internal experts as a large survey.

But surveys are not dead — they just need to be better.

Three steps to better thought leadership surveys

There are still times when a quantitative survey of business leaders is the most effective route to the story you want to tell. But traditional surveys are often too large, waste precious budget and lack focus.

So our co-founder and COO James Watson recently outlined three steps to better surveys:

1. Shorter, tighter questionnaire
2. Simpler target sample
3. A more focused audience size.

How do these steps translate to the real world? Here, we explain how a simpler, faster survey can help to achieve three common aims of thought leadership.

Three thought leadership objectives — and how simple surveys help

1. Newsworthy thought leadership

Many of our clients are seeking sustained media uptake and brand recognition. To get them, their content needs to stand out and be surprising.

Your data will be better quality if you move from a ‘spray and pray’ method of surveying to a clear, concise set of questions that are designed with clear hypotheses in mind. This will greatly increase your chances of getting stand-out findings.

With better, simpler data, your media teams will find their job easier, and journalists will find it much simpler to digest and reproduce your team’s findings.

“Take the World Happiness Report. It gets extensive coverage globally, but is based on a single question that asks consumers to envisage how happy they are, on a scale of one to 10.

You don’t need to try and compress everything down to a single question, but […] could five or 10 give you the same outcome?”

2. From ‘big bang’ to ‘always on’

A big annual campaign was the bread and butter of a thought leadership professional 10 years ago. Like PwC’s Global CEO Survey and EY’s DNA of the CFO, these ‘big bang’ campaigns were hugely successful and represented a large chunk of a company’s marketing success. But they were costly, and they required the full 12 months to plan, survey, produce and launch.

Now, audience preferences have changed: they want shorter, snackable content. So content teams must shift to an ‘always on’ format, releasing content gradually throughout the year and drip-feeding the audience with timely, actionable insights.

This also makes the campaign faster. Audiences don’t want to read about what happened nine months ago — they need insights on what happened last month, and how they should adapt.

Don’t scrap your ‘big bang’ content, but do supplement your programme with a more focused quarterly survey so you have the data and insights to produce content all year round. For example, if your target audience is primarily made up of four job titles, focus on one per quarter; this means you can focus your questions and get the punchiest insights possible from your extra investment.

3. First-time thought leadership

The power and popularity of thought leadership is growing, and more and more marketers are deciding to produce their own for the first time. But they have one big challenge: convincing senior leaders and stakeholders that B2B content is valuable.

Luckily for them, simpler, faster surveys — of, say, 300 business leaders (a viable sample) — are also much more cost effective. The discussion used to be about spending an entire marketing budget on one programme, but marketers can now test the waters with a smaller survey and campaign. They can prove the return on investment from thought leadership with less risk.

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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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