How to get started with research-driven content marketing

How do you take your content from good to great? Research. In this guide, we spoke with PeerSignal’s Camille Trent and Some Good Content’s John Bonini to explore the value of research-backed content.

We all know by now that content marketing “works”—but only if you create content that stands out. 

Too many companies still approach content as a simple listicle or search engine optimization (SEO) play, assuming that what worked in 2012 will work today. But the world of content has changed; there’s already a sea of lookalike content to compete with—not to mention the impact of generative AI.

So how can you make your content shine? 

Share a strong, informed point of view that’s backed by solid research. That’s not just our take, by the way. We sat down with two content marketing thought leaders who agree: Camille Trent, the director of content & community at PeerSignal, and John Bonini, the founder of content marketing consultancy Some Good Content (and former director of marketing at Databox). 

In this guide, we break down how Camille and John: 

  • Take content from good to great and genuinely connect with today’s overloaded audience

  • Use research-backed content to build communities, generate leads, and create a competitive advantage

  • Research thoroughly to create better content, no matter their budget or resources  

What makes content stand out in 2023? 

Many marketers still execute on strategies that worked well in the past, doubling down on SEO and short “4 easy ways to…” blog posts. 

But Hubspot’s 2023 State of Marketing Report paints a very different picture of the content that delivers results in today’s marketplace. Pure SEO content is ceding ground to interviews, in-depth blog posts, and influencer marketing. With the arrival of generative AI, SEO-driven content is becoming increasingly commoditized. 

Instead, brands need to do something else, like:

Start with your audience

John says successful content falls into three buckets: inspiring, entertaining, and educational. The common thread is that you need to start with your audience. What do they want to accomplish? Who do they want to be? And how can you help them get there? 

Be 40% columnist and 60% reporter

For John, great content creators share their opinions (like a columnist), and then couple those insights with research, data, and additional viewpoints from their industry (like a reporter).  

Show warts and all 

“To see what works, you can just hop on LinkedIn,” John says. “The posts that land are the ones where people are vulnerable, where they sharing what they’re building and how it’s going—they’re sharing more of the warts. It’s more authentic.” 

Respect your audience

You don’t need to spoon-feed your audience “how-to” content. Share your experiences and research, letting them take what they find valuable (and leave the rest). It’s the difference between saying, “This is how you train for a 5K,” and “This is how I trained for a 5K, what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned along the way.” 

Creating this kind of content requires two things: 

  1. Strong, unique opinions based on experience and knowledge 

  2. The research to enrich, challenge, and support that worldview and prove its value to your audience 

If you’re wondering how to gather that kind of research, read on.

The three levels of research-driven content

For Camille, there are three tiers of research that brands use to inform their content, each one better than the last:  

Level 1 | Good: Collecting what’s already published

Level 1 research is a great place to start, and it’s something every company can (and should) do as a bare minimum. 

Curate and compile information that other companies have uncovered and published. Think: 

  • Lists of benchmark stats in your product category or industry 

  • Competitive analysis and keyword research to determine your target audience’s interests and priorities 

  • Repackaging existing research into a more easily consumed and appealing format 

Level 2 | Better: Voice of the customer

Level 2 research involves gathering first-party data by tapping into your community. Some examples of Level 2 research include: 

Social media polls and questions 

Camille and her teammates at PeerSignal employ social media to validate theories that a particular topic will resonate with their target market. At this stage, she explains, you’re simply asking, “Is this an interesting question? Will it fuel our content strategy?” 


Research surveys are powerful tools for gathering rich qualitative and quantitative data to fuel compelling content. 

According to Camille, the problem is, “Nobody wants to take a survey. But everyone wants to do a quiz.” 

To transform your survey into a quiz, Camille suggests focusing relentlessly on the respondent experience and their interests—not your own. If people feel like there’s “something in it for them” if they complete your fun and engaging quiz, they won’t really feel like they’re taking a survey.

So practically, what does this look like? We recommend things like: 

  • Giving them insightful results (Your answers suggest that you should try solution X.

  • Providing a free lead-magnet-style resource, like a benchmarking report or results of a previous survey

  • Offering a financial reward, like a voucher or a discount 

For a deep dive into maximizing survey responses, see our Survey School Guide: How to maximize survey response rates.


Your email subscribers are a terrific source of insights. Instead of using your newsletter to tell people about your brand, send surveys and polls to gather customer stories and quantitative data about your market. 

Use that information to inform your content and improve your future emails. Camille emphasizes that your content is a research generator that creates a powerful flywheel.

Level 3 | Best: Product data

Level 3 research is what Camille calls the “gold standard.” It’s about collecting zero-party user data to inform your product roadmap and your content marketing plans. This is your content USP (unique selling proposition)—the information you have that your target audience simply can’t find anywhere else online. 

Camille suggests you think about this in terms of: 

  1. What insights can my brand offer that people can’t get anywhere else?  

  2. How can we deliver these insights in a recurring process to become known as the best source of this information? 

For instance, PeerSignal offers curated SaaS market data and insights (think GTM strategies and hiring trends). They have access to a great deal of product data, which they send out in a weekly newsletter. Newsletter readers then discuss these findings on social media, creating: 

  • More brand awareness and subscribers

  • Insightful quotes and qualitative insights to enrich their future newsletters 

For more ideas on using research to inform your content, here’s a list of 13 ways to use forms to uplevel your marketing

Tactics for creating research-driven content

So, we’ve looked at the different kinds of research you can do to enrich your content. Now, let’s explore specific tactics to harness the power of research, according to our experts. 

1. Find your “Why” before you start  

“All research needs to start with a strategic narrative,” John says. 

It doesn’t make sense to dive into research without a clear idea of where you’re heading and what questions you’re investigating. This strategic narrative should inform both why you’re doing the research in the first place and how you present your findings to your target audience. 

Two reasons to use research in your content marketing include: 

To support and enrich your brand positioning 

If your research topic aligns closely with your product or service, the resulting data can inform your bottom-of-the-funnel sales enablement content. 

John gave us an example of this kind of content-positioning research from his time at Databox. 

Databox is a business analytics platform. Their clients used lots of different marketing data tools and felt frustrated at the process of extracting that data. They had to generate PDFs, put them into a slideshow, and analyze the information in an inefficient, cursory way. 

Databox knew their platform made this process easier but wanted some data to back up their claim.

So the Databox team conducted a survey to find out how many platforms people use for marketing data. They discovered the average marketer used 12 different tools (an email marketing platform, a web analytics platform, a video marketing platform, and so on). 

The company now had a compelling data point to quote in sales calls and highlight on their website. 

To inform the content you use for lead generation and awareness 

Research makes your top-of-the-funnel brand awareness content far more convincing. 

Your brand has a worldview with singular takes on your market and insights into your customers. Research helps you build your brand by supporting and challenging that perspective.

Here’s what we mean: 

How you ask matters—and well-designed forms help bridge the digital gap. 

To validate our opinion, we analyzed over a thousand typeforms to see what leads to higher completion rates. Turns out, our instinct was right—thoughtful, personalized forms get more responses than long, wordy, and generic ones. 

We used that research to create a webinar, a top-of-the-funnel blog post, and other valuable content to reach our target market. 

If you’d like to see the rest of our research about how to make effective lead-gen forms, see our detailed guide here: Research-driven tips to power up your lead capture typeforms

Not sure where to start with this kind of marketing research? Camille suggests you ask yourself: “What does my product do best?” That’s the field of research you should focus on. 

That’s why we spend our time researching form-design best practices—and not, say, beard care. (We leave that to the experts.) 

2. Pair your research with a clear narrative 

“Reports with just numbers are boring,” Camille says. “You need a story too.” 

In other words, don’t just dump a bunch of quantitative data on your target audience and expect them to engage. Without a guiding framework, John says, “Data can actually create more questions than answers.” 

Instead, try: 

Placing your research in the context of a compelling story 

You know why you did the research. Share that story alongside your findings. For instance, John suggests promoting your research on social media with wording like: 

“We wanted to learn more about how [X] does [Y]. So, we went out and spoke to 100 [ABCs], one-by-one, to answer the following questions…”

Pairing stats with Voice of the Customer (VOC) research 

Camille pairs PeerSignal’s data analytics with screenshots of community engagements from social media to create richer, more compelling newsletter content. 

Couple data with discussion 

Quantitative data is a rich source of stimulating content. But don’t drown your audience in numbers. Instead, John recommends taking a single data point and using it as the basis for a discussion on a podcast, a blog post, and a social media post. Or take two data points and explore how they contradict each other. 

Just don’t waste all that juicy, thought-provoking research on creating an impressive white paper and calling it a day. 

3. Opportunities for research are everywhere

When we think of research, we tend to picture large-scale, time-intensive studies. Cost-wise, these may be out of bounds for many companies. But, as John says, “Research doesn’t have to be a Forrester report. Research compounds. Start small.” 

When starting out with content research, use everyday tasks as research opportunities. For example: 

Sales calls 

At a startup, you spend a lot of time talking to prospects. Once a prospect has booked a call, take a page out of John’s book and send them a form to complete. 

Ask questions to get to know them better and ensure they get the most value from the call. For example, you might ask, “How many people are on your team?” or “What tools do you use daily?” 

Once you’ve done 15 or 20 sales calls, you now have that many data points with valuable insights into your target market. 

Use that data for your product marketing strategy and positioning (X% of the companies I work with tell me Y). Or, embed it into relevant content to engage your target audience (19 out of 20 marketing managers I’ve spoken to this year say…


You can do the same thing if you host a podcast. Ask every guest to complete an intake form before the interview. Use their answers to enrich content with expert quotes. 

Then, as you accumulate responses, track data and draw conclusions about your industry that your audience will find helpful. 

Blog posts 

When researching a blog post, think beyond the search engine results pages (SERPs). Instead, reach out to your email list, LinkedIn contacts, or customers to garner relevant insights. Over time, you can build a more holistic view of how your market thinks and feels. 

Quick point here—make sure you have permission to share any data you gather. Explicitly ask for permission in advance. To help you dot your i’s and cross your t’s, we have a guide to data and compliance with more information

4. Repurpose your research 

Research-backed content is ideal for repurposing. We’re not talking about copy-pasting a blog post as a LinkedIn post, of course—that’s not true content repurposing. Instead, as John puts it, you can “leverage the strength of each medium to reuse your research in unique ways.”

For example:  

  • The strength of podcasting is discussion, so hop on a podcast to review the results of your quantitative research. What were you surprised about? What contradicts your thinking?

  • The strength of blog posts is that you can dive more deeply into the data and bring out share-worthy insights. 

  • With video, you can represent your data visually, using dynamic graphs and charts to tell a compelling story with your research. 

AI is an assist, not a slam dunk

It’s hard to discuss content marketing in 2023 without bringing up generative AI. As John sees it, AI is a tool you can “use as an assist—but you’ve still got to score the bucket.” 

In terms of research, an AI tool like ChatGPT might identify potential topics for research, suggest ideas for possible questions, or even propose multiple-choice options for your surveys. It can help you cut down your workload or just get you started.   

However, as John points out, “AI can’t help you define your worldview.” To conduct research effectively, you still need to bring your expertise, your empathy, and your humanity. 

As so much content becomes fully commoditized, John cautions us: “The only thing left is the stuff that makes you you.” 

Slam dunk content still requires a human heart. 

Research-backed content can help your brand stand out 

Today’s more discerning (and more overloaded) audience is looking for content with heart, backed with solid proof, interesting data, and multiple viewpoints. To create content that'll grab their attention, you need to be both a columnist and a reporter—sharing your brand’s unique point of view alongside data and insights that make it more compelling and comprehensive. 

If you want to learn more about conducting research that'll give your content the edge, check out our 6-Step Guide to Market Research

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