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Insights - October 2017

By Ben Daubney |
Insights - October 2017

Do you want headlines, or do you want content that people will share?


Much of the market research we perform at Vanson Bourne is used by technology organisations as part of their marketing and comms efforts. Our clients know that when they create campaigns that include a discussion about the results from research data, they get headlines. And our clients do a great job with this - in the past month alone clients have used our research to get headlines in Computer Weekly, Forbes, ZDNet, and IT Pro to name just a few. It’s gratifying to see our research get attention, and great for clients that they get such exposure.

We always talk to clients about the sorts of stories that come from market research data. Most want comprehensive research that explores a topic from a number of angles, which allows us to look at that data and find many different stories.

Marketers have been told for years that focusing on fear, uncertainty, and doubt will create the best story, something that piques journalist interest and allows them to show how their company’s products and services solve a looming problem.

But a headline story isn’t necessarily the most engaging article someone will read that day. In fact, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz highlights in his recent book Everybody Lies: What The Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are that it’s positive news stories that are far more likely to be shared by readers:

Consider a study by two Wharton School professors, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, on what types of stories get shared. They tested whether positive stories or negative stories are most likely to make the New York Times’ most-emailed list.

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As the authors conclude, “Content is more likely to become viral the more positive it is.”

Note this would seem to contrast with the conventional journalistic wisdom that people are attracted to violent and catastrophic stories. It may be true that news media give people plenty of dark stories. There is something to the newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The Wharton professors’ study, however, suggests that people may actually want more cheery stories. It may suggest a new adage: “If it smiles, it’s emailed,” though that doesn’t really rhyme.

Good news for clients who write positive stories based on our research, certainly. Does this mean that everyone should be looking for stories that get shares, not headlines?

Not necessarily. In our recent research with Hotwire, IT and marketing decision makers told us that impartial content like research in vendor communications is really important, but few are swayed by whether that content is shared. Only 9% say that content shared by friends or peers makes them trust it more, compared to 62% who say that it’s the quality of the content that counts, and 57% who are swayed by the impartiality of opinion.

We’re not suggesting that tech marketers should always look for the scary story when putting together their content. There will be some businesses that want a viral story and for them a positive story will work well, and reports that show both the positives and negatives feel more valid. Above everything else, making sure that any story is robust and impartial should be key.


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