Compelling content marketing tells a story that accomplishes three objectives.

  • First, it generates clicks in digital marketing campaigns and drives the target audience to your landing page.
  • Second, the report or white paper prompts the reader to think about their own situation and wonder if they should consider a change.
  • And third, it links the need for change to the potential benefits of your solutions.

While these are the goals, research-based content often falls short. Instead, the end product is a hodgepodge collection of profiling metrics: What solutions does the market use? How many people work in the department? What information sources do they rely on?  

How does this happen? 

While the specifics of every situation are unique, a common root cause of this phenomenon is hoping that a story will emerge from the data instead of proactively identifying the data needed to tell a predefined story. 

The frameworks in this article outline how to identify compelling stories to tell, before you start writing your survey. We also offer guidance on using content marketing survey data to demonstrate your product's value. 

Common pitfalls to creating content marketing surveys

Before outlining the frameworks, let’s review the pitfalls that often befall the content development process, which include:

  • Serving too many stakeholders
  • Starting with survey questions instead of a story
  • Fishing expeditions
  • Flat line trends
  • Too much focus on what’s hot

Serving too many stakeholders

Often, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. The content marketing team wants to ensure that the data are useful to internal audiences, so they solicit feedback from multiple stakeholders. 

Unfortunately, these stakeholders can lose sight of the purpose of the final output and want to use the survey for their own needs. For example, the product team wants to add a few questions about which features are most important. The strategy team wants to know what vendors are used and why. Sales wants to know who the decision-makers, influencers, and champions are. The few questions from each stakeholder group add up quickly, leaving little room for potentially more compelling topics.

Starting with survey questions instead of a story

It is easy to put the cart before the horse and start writing survey questions before developing possible storylines. When a content marketing project kicks off, it often comes with a sense of urgency. 

The team feels pressure to get something in a shared document that stakeholders can react to. Under this pressure, creating survey questions feels more like progress than brainstorming storylines and themes. And the questions that come easiest to mind are descriptive demographics and firmographics. 

Fishing expeditions

Some content marketing reports end up as a fishing expedition when the survey includes too many topics – the team is throwing lots of things out there to see what sticks. This produces a disjointed set of data and insights that lack a coherent theme putting the content writers in the position of trying to figure out what story they can tell with the data they have by chasing the elusive "Aha.”

Many content marketing surveys are designed to demonstrate market trends over time. This requires asking the same questions year after year. Unfortunately, the reality in most B2B markets is that little changes in a year or even in two years. As a result, the trendlines in the report end up flat, which isn't that interesting for readers nor motivating for them to take the survey again the following year.

Too much focus on what’s hot

Content marketers feel pressure to talk about the topic du jour, regardless of their solution’s connection to it or their company’s point of view. 

Yesterday it was the impact of the hybrid workforce. Today it's AI. Tomorrow it will be something else.  

Without a unique story about today’s hot topic, the content isn’t differentiated enough to stand out among the dozens/hundreds of other articles on the same topic. And the shelf-life may only be a few months if interest in the topic cools quickly.

Qualitative vs quantitative research
Data analysis is a broad and often complex subject to get to grips with, it can overwhelm even the most capable of product marketers. In an attempt to simplify these misunderstood methods, let’s break them down into two different types of data: qualitative and quantitative.

A better approach to content marketing surveys

If you have the time and internal support, a better approach to content generation is to first define the compelling story you want to tell and then structure the research questions and data to flesh out that story.

This is more likely to generate unique content, provide an opportunity for your company to present a POV, and garner interest and clicks from the target audience. It can also provide guardrails for the survey development process and help reign in stakeholders outside of the content marketing team. 

Framework 1: Identifying stories

The first step is to develop two to four stories your company wants to tell. These stories should connect to the themes your company uses in its other marketing and product marketing efforts.

Once you develop the story ideas, break each one into four broad components to help identify specific questions to ask in the survey. Consider the following example for an IT support services company.

1. Broad story: What is the problem? Why is it relevant?

Younger remote workers don't turn to their corporate IT support function when they have a problem, and this pattern of behavior creates a range of potentially serious problems for IT.

2. Market dynamics: What causes the problem?

Younger employees expect an immediate response and feel the help desk is too slow. As digital natives, they can't tolerate being down for any length of time. Their first instinct is to try fixing the problem using their resources instead of going to the corporate IT department.

3. What are the consequences/implications?

Younger employees find a "solution" that introduces malware or worsens the problem, which takes longer for the help desk to fix, puts company data at risk, etc.

 4. Connection to offering

Processes and solutions help address these challenges directly and indirectly, such as…

Once a rough storyline is in place, develop survey questions to provide supporting data. Using the example above, the survey can explore the difference in perceptions between employees and the helpdesk regarding wait time. 

It can collect data on how often employees try to fix their computers themselves. It can explore the potential negative consequences of employee behavior.

Framework 2: Ranking the stories

In the process of developing storylines, one story may emerge as a clear favorite. In other cases, you may have multiple potential paths but are unsure which will resonate most with your audience.

When it is unclear which story to pursue, use a second framework to rank the possible stories. Start by scoring each story in seven dimensions. Tallying the scores provides a systematic way to compare stories on their likelihood to engage the target audience.

Example scoring matrix

1=Weak, 2=Medium, 3=Strong


Story/Theme 1

Story/Theme 2

Relevance to the target audience



Value to your organization






Leading, but not cutting edge



Alternative stories



Work within limitations



Gestalt gut-feeling






1. Relevance to the target audience: How likely will the audience find this topic interesting? Do they talk about it today? Do they have questions about it? Will they recognize it as relevant to them? 

2. Value to your organization: To what extent does the story support your company's overall marketing? Is it consistent with the stories and themes used by sales and product marketing? 

3. Differentiated: To what extent has this story been told by competitors, analysts, and other information sources? For example, much of what is being said about the impact of AI is so undifferentiated that much of it sounds the same.

4. Leading, but not cutting edge: Is it something organizations are starting to think about and struggle with without being too far ahead of where they are today? Themes that get the most attention are those that the mainstream is on the verge of adopting. Most companies are more concerned with being left behind than with being out in front.

5. Alternative stories: How many different stories and POVs can be generated from the data? If the data doesn't fully support the core hypothesis of the story, are there ways to pivot and apply the data to a different (yet still compelling) narrative? 

6. Work within limitations: How likely can a survey provide the data you need based on the practical realities and constraints related to budget availability, response rates, etc.? For example, does it require data from the C-suite, who is unlikely to participate in your survey?

7. Gestalt: Like most things, themes are more than the sum of their parts. To what degree do you feel this is a good direction for content marketing and thought leadership?

We present these two frameworks as conceptual strategies for identifying and evaluating potential themes for your next content marketing campaign. You may find different evaluation criteria more useful. 

The most important takeaway is to use a systematic approach to identifying what to include in your survey to avoid the common pitfalls encountered when developing survey-generated content.

Using content marketing survey data to demonstrate value

A common storyline involves using survey data to support content that shows the value of adopting a solution, through efficiencies, cost-savings, customer satisfaction or other metrics. 

When someone downloads a white paper, they have entered the top of the funnel. Content marketing teams want to use this opportunity to highlight the difference between firms that use a solution or solution category and those that do not. 

In surveys, they ask respondents to rate their company’s performance on key performance areas such as productivity, efficiency, and collaboration. They expect that companies that use a solution will rate themselves higher in these areas than those that do not. 

But when the data comes back, it often tells a different story. The self-reported performance ratings for businesses that use the category aren’t higher than those that do not. Sometimes, they are lower. This not only doesn’t validate the story the content marketing team wants to tell – it contradicts it. What’s happening?

Put simply, companies that adopt more advanced processes and technology have a different mindset than those that take a “good enough” approach.

For clarity’s sake, we will refer to companies that use advanced solutions as Vanguards and those that use good enough solutions as Conventionalists.

  • Vanguards demonstrate characteristics of a growth mindset that draws them to new solutions. They measure themselves against what they want to accomplish, not where they are today. They are always looking to do better. What worked yesterday isn’t what they need for tomorrow.
  • Conventionalists tend to be less critical of their performance and often describe their solutions and processes as “good enough.” They recognize that there is always room for improvement but feel they perform as well as they can with their available resources.

When asked in a survey about their performance in areas such as productivity, collaboration, or efficiency, Vanguards and Conventionalists often give themselves the same ratings, even though from an objective perspective, the Vanguards likely perform at a higher level on whatever the metric being measured.

Fortunately, you can mitigate this through survey design. 

One option is to ask about concrete performance metrics your solution impacts. For example, if your solution improves fulfillment time, ask, “How many days does it take on average to fulfill a customer order?” Vanguards should report that they fill customer orders faster than Conventionalists.

Another approach is to focus on progress the Vanguards have made instead of comparing them to Conventionalists. With this approach, you ask Vanguards how the solution improved their processes. 

For example, “How much did the adoption of the solution category improve your… (time to market/collaboration/ability to retain customers/ability to manage workflows, etc.” Even if they feel they could be doing better today, they will recognize how things improved when they adopted a solution.

As with selecting the best story, the key is to be deliberate and thoughtful in your survey design.

Isurus Market Research delivers research-based insights for product marketers in B2B SaaS companies to inform GTM strategies. To learn more about how we help create more compelling content marketing stories or address other product marketing questions, visit our website or contact us here.