3 Ways to Use Research to Improve Your Marketing Creative

If you subscribe to the belief that a marketer’s ability to evoke a positive response from a consumer happens more readily, efficiently, or consistently when a legitimate consumer need has been identified, it’s self-evident the marketer must first know – and, if need be, ascertain – what that need is. 

This, in a nutshell, is the power of research: Consciously accumulated, accurately interpreted, and adeptly used by content generators – research can have a profoundly positive impact on marketing communications.

Whether the data you’ve amassed is derived from an online survey, mall or trade-show intercepts, analysis of genuine online reviews, focus groups, or any number of other techniques (a firm like Drive Research can help you choose the right methodology for your goals, resources, and reach).

Here are three ways insights gleaned from that information can add "oomph" to your messaging.


1. Let your customers speak for themselves

Instead of spending hours and dollars creating a clever headline, visual, or copy – consider turning your customer research into customer testimonials.

Ideally suited to print ad campaigns, homepage sliders, social media videos, and much more – testimonials essentially ‘channel’ your customer feedback, stories, and reviews to, in effect, sell your product, service, or value proposition for you.

As such, not only does testimonial-based creative achieve added credibility (who better to pitch your story than someone who’s actually benefited from it?) this sort of marketing has time and again proven to be a powerful way to move needles, whether your goal is to increase sales, boost awareness, or change perceptions through educational messaging.

Here are some nice examples: 

Notre Dame, Capital Campaign Video

Here, we let alumni spotlight the school’s advantages vs. using actors.

Love Yer Dog, Friendly Dog Wash Commercial

This real-life success story taps into the whole ‘dog-returns-to-health genre’ on YouTube.

eHarmony Couples Commercial 

A classic from the not-too-distant past, what better way to promote an online dating platform than to spotlight couples who’ve found one another using the system?

2. Benefit ranking

Any CMO, product manager, or executive director worth his or her salt can readily recite the benefits list associated with their offering. But when space is limited – say, within a 30-second commercial, trade ad, or outdoor campaign – knowing which ones are the most compelling or salient can help determine which ‘make the cut’ and which can be conveyed in some other context where real estate is so scarce, such as a website landing page.

If your research involves identifying and prioritizing the many benefits of your product or service, this exercise can not only help with actual improvements to, say, your next-generation offering – they can help you narrow in on and dramatize the most valuable benefits you currently provide.

One case in point: An exhaustive study Cowley and Drive recently conducted for a shared environmental design client determined direct access to senior partners in the firm was both a critical aspect of the firm’s value to current clients and a powerful differentiator to prospects.

Accordingly, Cowley will be producing and introducing a wave of long-form video Q&As with the firm’s senior partners, to give them and their remarkably in-depth subject matter expertise additional exposure – on topics ranging from offshore wind farms, to waterfront restoration, to municipal wastewater projects.

Another client I worked for a few years back smartly set out to determine which of the many features/benefits of its forthcoming, automated check weigher ranked highest with customers in the pharm-chem and food processing markets they were targeting.

It turns out the machine’s IP66 washdown rating, extra-large touchscreen display, and a handful of hands-free maintenance features beat other product attributes by a mile – which, in turn, enabled us to provide a very sharp focus in the trade ads, direct mailers, and trade show demo associated with the launch.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of research-based facts & figures

While some marketing practitioners loath to include numerical data in their creative communications – preferring clever wordplay and visuals, propelled by a slavish devotion to ‘emotional’ appeals – the kinds of statistics, facts, figures, and financial insights made available through research remain a powerful way to help articulate complex ideas and compel action.

When research can unearth and substantiate stats like these, why wouldn’t you bake them into your marcom messaging?

  1. How many of your customers say they wouldn’t switch from your brand, even if offered a significantly lower price? (loyalty story)
  2. How many of your customers are still using a product long past its predicted lifespan? (durability story)
  3. How many of your consumers say you do an outstanding job of customer support? (service story)
  4. How many customers found the solution they needed using your website’s knowledge base – without calling or emailing customer support? (web support story)

Just don’t think data – as expressed in pie-charts, bar graphs, and Gantt charts – has a place in most marketing communications?

The rise, ubiquity, and decision-informing power of today’s infographics, analytics-driven GUIs, and dashboards tell a different story. Or how about we pluck a recent example from current events?

When health care professionals, politicians, and the media needed to quickly engage and inform today’s stressed, easily distracted, and the info-barraged public on the dangers of the coronavirus, what data-driven and graphics-based tool did they resort to? A chart (aka: “Flatten the curve”).

Now, to be sure, there are plenty of caveats that go with building the entirety of your marcom program on research. (Someone like George Kuhn, here at Drive, can help you navigate those.)

Most notably: 

  1. You should be certain your research is developed using time-honored, well-proven principles that prevent bias or otherwise muddle your results; 
  2. And you must be careful to draw the correct conclusion from the research you’ve conducted. (Here, I am always reminded of a convenience store manager I know who concluded a one-day product promotion had failed abysmally – only to discover a construction project down the street had prevented customers from reaching his store the day of the promo.)

But, in the right hands, research can fully inform and strengthen your marketing – making them powerful partners in your organization’s success. 

About the Author

This is a guest post from John Hoeschele, creative director of Cowley Associates, a full-service advertising agency located in Syracuse, NY. 

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