Content marketing is a promotional tactic that has been used for a while and we know that it can have a positive influence on your website’s visibility in search engine results by providing link/ social share worthy resources and appearing in searches related to your business’ products and services.

Other than the threat of competitor activity, this strategy is only ever limited by your creativity which can often run dry as you actively seek for ways to create something valuable and unique for your target audience.

If this happens, one reliable resource worth turning to is your customer base. Not only can their loyalty increase the chance of future sales but it can also be used for research purposes to gain and publish market-level insight that people will want to read about – commonly known as publishing a white paper.

How to Create a White Paper Using Your Customer Database

Gathering Quantitative Customer Data

To utilise your customer base for the purposes of your white paper you first of all need a data set e.g. basic demographic information such as geographic location, age, and sex provides a good foundation to start from, however, to conduct a more insightful study you need individual-level information such as purchases, frequency of purchases, etc.

Tesco is famous for their CRM (Consumer Relationship Marketing) strategy because they are able to identify every purchase a customer makes through their Clubcard loyalty system if a customer opts in to redeem points on their shopping, which accrues to provide them discounts on future purchases. This allows the company to accurately target their marketing activities according to trends or even on an individual level if they wanted to.

To gain deeper information like Tesco does, you could implement your own rewards scheme that is able to store customer data or you could capture sales data from any online transactions in a well constructed database.

At least one previous year’s worth of data is ideal to start quantifying some trends and year-on-year comparisons, however, it is possible to make some assumptions from as little as a month’s worth.

So far the data we’ve discussed can only deliver quantitative results that you can identify trends from i.e. how many people bought a product in a particular location during a period of time, however, it won’t explain why those trends exist which is when you need qualitative data to add reason.

Gathering Qualitative Customer Data

Qualitative data is normally achieved through person-to-person communications for more honest data collection e.g. focus groups and interviews; however it is also possible to gain this type of information from questionnaires.

Whichever method of data collection you prefer, be sure to adhere to its principles, for example in focus groups you should have some pre-planned prompts and topics that you wish to discuss but allow the conversation to roll on without too much direction to collect honest insight.

To get participants, start by segmenting your quantitative data and contact those customers you wish to interview in a targeted email that informs them of the study and offers an incentive, such as a prize draw, in exchange for their co-operation.

Note: you have to inform interviewees that their personal data will be kept anonymous in the study to comply with data protection laws. This means you cannot identify individuals unless they provide written consent for you to do so. Also, informing them of how long it will be kept for and through what methods is also good practice when conducting this type of data collection.

Once you have gathered your qualitative data, you can begin to structure a justified study that not only identifies a trend but explains why it happened, based on findings from your relevant sample of participants.

External, secondary data can also help add justifications to your study e.g. trusted news articles, economy level metrics, or previous trusted studies conducted by professionals within your industry/ academic researchers.

A book we’d recommend to market research noobs is Alan Wilson’s Marketing Research An Integrated Approach, available at Waterstone’s. It outlines the processes and principles involved to ensure you conduct an airtight research project.

Distributing and Promoting Your White Paper

Strategies for Distributing Your Research

When publishing your white paper don’t rush to provide everything for free on your blog. Instead try publishing a summary of the study’s key points in around 500-700 words, complete with brief information on your sample size and how you gathered the data from your customers (a common indicator of how trustworthy a study is).

On this blog article, promote the fact that visitors can download the entire study for free in exchange for subscribing to your company’s blog. This can provide you with a greater, related audience to promote your future articles to that could generate potential links and social shares for those articles. Just make sure you provide a download link once the subscriber confirms their email subscription with your blog.

Another method of white paper distribution is to promote within the summary that the full study is available to people who tweet or post a public request to your company’s social media accounts. This will provide you with social interactions – one of many metrics that Google considers when indexing websites for relevancy. Make sure you private message the download link or collect an email address from the requests you receive to keep your study’s exclusivity.

Communication Channels to Promote Your Research

To help promote your white paper’s existence, write a new yet similar summary and submit it to some relevant press release sites such as PR Newswire in an attempt to reach people who have an interest in your industry. Don’t just duplicate the original post onto PR sites because your original article could get penalised for duplicate content as many PR distributors are known to simply copy and paste your submitted content without editing it.

You could also actively find relevant communities within Google+ or LinkedIn and share the link of your original summary page.

Summary

Following our suggestions and identification of the processes involved with conducting research within your customer base, you should be able to effectively create an insightful and interesting study that is worth linking to and sharing via social channels.

Your study can be about anything you want, whether it is a humorous observation to entertain your customers with or a serious insight you want to share with your industry to establish your brand as an authority within its market. It is primarily based on your customers’ behaviour so having a database resource is essential to succeed in this content marketing strategy.

The important thing to ensure is that the study is robust because if people find a flaw in your research processes, you could suffer from less social shares or links and instead create a target for negative comments or even worse your research could be totally ignored.

We hope you find this article a useful resource if you are seeking to conduct your first research project. Alternatively, if you have any further suggestions for our readers please feel free to leave your tuppenceworth in the comments.

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Randal Whitmore

Online Marketer at Silkstream Ltd
Randal previously worked with Silkstream dealing with Search Engine Marketing, he has since went on to explore different ventures.