B2B content isn’t for the faint of heart. But in my humble opinion, its meatiness is one of the things that makes B2B content so fun. Exhibit A: the benchmark report, a data-backed industry study that can give you flashbacks to the seventh-grade science fair.
In many ways, the basics of that middle school project aren’t a far cry from the approach you’ll take to crafting a benchmark. You’ll start with a hypothesis, conduct an experiment (your survey or other data-gathering), analyze the results, and draw conclusions.
The difference, of course, is that your benchmark is, at its core, a marketing asset. That doesn’t mean that you can distort the data or throw out conclusions that don’t suit your needs, but it does mean that you’ll need to tell a meaningful story with your findings—not just glue-stick them to a foam core board. Your final product should level up to your messaging priorities and support a key point your organization is trying to prove. Done right, benchmarks are great for more than just snagging interest at the top of the funnel—they’re also a way sales reps can put some numbers behind the claims they’re making, which helps close deals faster.
How to Create a Benchmark Report
Putting pen to paper to write a benchmark can feel daunting. But the good news is that once you start writing, the hard (the research) is already behind you. If it isn’t, stop! You should finish your survey and analyze the results long before you start crafting the narrative. You never know what the data will say, so you’ll want to start by spending some time with the numbers before you get to the words.
Once that’s done, you’re ready to start writing. Here’s how to lay out your report and how to structure each section:
Section 1: Introduction
Your introduction is your chance to hook the reader. Give them the context for your research and give them a compelling reason to keep reading.
This section should answer the following questions:
- Why did you pick this topic?
- Why should your readers care?
- Were the results surprising? If so, how?
Give your readers just enough to pique their interest and convince them to turn the page.
Tip: Write this page last. It will be much easier once the rest of your report is finished!
Section 2: Key Findings
This is your chance to give a high-level overview of your most important discoveries. Spell out your major takeaways so readers know what themes your report will address and consider alluding to some hard numbers to give people a preview of what they’ll learn.
Tip: Start writing here. Laying out these key findings will help you organize your thinking as you write the meat of your benchmark.
Section 3: Methodology
Every piece of content that involves original research should include a section that briefly describes how you came to your findings. Include the demographics and participant count in a survey or the major sources of your claims. Also, consider addressing why you chose the research tactics you implemented. How will this strategy inform the topic you’re covering?
Tip: Simple graphs are a great way to visually share this type of information.
Section 4: Body Chapters
Finally, we’ve arrived at the section of the benchmark report where you start getting to the meat of what you have to say. You’ve already presented the major themes in your introduction and key findings, so don’t waste time diving into your first major point.
Use eye-catching graphics to help readers quickly understand what each section covers.
Few people will read your report cover-to-cover. Make your benchmark scannable by punctuating pages with important stats that will encourage people to dig deeper. Plus, graphs are your friends! Always represent your data visually when possible.
Tip: Your readers are probably getting antsy reading all these groundbreaking findings, so sprinkle calls-to-action throughout that lead people to your existing tactical resources. It’s also okay to include links back to your product pages, but do so sparingly. Use your judgment to provide the best customer experience—aim to be useful without drifting into sales territory.
Section 5: Future State
Here’s your chance to move away from the hard numbers and into the prediction business. From your findings, what conclusions have you drawn about the way this topic is trending? What behavior change should your readers consider if they want to adapt or stay ahead of the competition?
Tip: If you’ve done similar studies in the past, use that trend data to further prove your point about where things are headed.
Section 6: Next Steps
You’ve given your readers a comprehensive look at the state of your chosen topic. Now you have to answer the question, “So what?”
What should your readers do with all the information you just threw at them? What does the data suggest about how businesses in your industry will have to adapt to succeed?
It’s time to lay out some concrete action items.
Many of your suggestions may involve your own content or products/services. Point them to more tactical assets you already have published, and don’t be afraid to explain ways in which your company’s offerings solve the problems raised in your research.
Tip: Don’t just limit these suggestions to a single section. Pepper in ideas for steps readers can take throughout the report in call-out boxes to reassure them that your findings are actionable, not just interesting.
Section 7: One-Pager
To wrap up the benchmark, synthesize all the information into something even the busiest executive wants to read. While your target audience will ideally consume most of the information in your report, it’s useful to enable them to share the information with their superiors, who often hold final decision-making and budgetary power when it eventually comes to a purchase decision.
Tip: Consider briefly, including how your product or service uniquely addresses the issues raised by your study.
Final Thoughts on Benchmark Reports
I won’t sugarcoat it: Benchmarks take a lot of brainpower. But if you can create a compelling and well-researched report, you’ve likely got many of the skills the modern content marketer needs. It’s not enough to be able to write well—we also need to be able to gather and synthesize complex information so we can deliver it effectively and move leads along the funnel.