12 October 2022 |

The long and short of proprietary data reports

By Tracey Wallace

I was working at BigCommerce for about two years as the only content marketer on the team. And, I was pretty junior. I had no real say in what I published. In fact, I specifically remember that our blog was basically a buy out option for strategic business partners, and PayPal in particular published 1-2 blogs on our blog every week. Each blog was about 500 words, and I wasn’t allowed to edit absolutely anything in them.


To no one’s surprise, that strategy didn’t work. It turns out, overtime, even partners don’t want to buy branded content ad spots on your blog if you aren’t driving any meaningful traffic there. Content, as I mentioned last week, must drive revenue. For media companies and B2B orgs alike. 

It didn’t take long, then, for my VP of Comms to come to me and ask what I thought we should be publishing on the blog. It was the first time anyone thought to ask me. That’s when I wrote out my editorial guidelines, and set up the new rules which required at least three examples of brands doing the thing we were telling brands to do, proper citation of data that was no more than two years ago, and clear screenshots along with explanations of how to do something within a tool. 

I’m telling you––no matter what content org you admire, their content folks have their own war stories. 

BigCommerce’s blog started doing better after that––at least from a public perception standpoint. But organic traffic was still pretty flat. We weren’t able to show that content could drive a significant amount of revenue, and as a result, we weren’t viewed as a strategic organization or an important channel. 

It sucked. 

But then, one day, our PR team pulled me into the room. They were running a survey of 10,000 consumers and they wanted to go as big as possible with the results. Now, this PR team all came from an agency background. And honestly, it was so cool getting to work with them and see the inside of how that team worked. 

They started with the headlines and publications they wanted. Things like:

FastCompany: “76% of Americans shop while in the bathroom”

Wall Street Journey: “Survey of 10K Americans shows marketing funnels exist no more” 

Stuff that was pretty shocking––honestly––and didn’t seem very brand relevant. But they did this, they said, because well, 1) media doesn’t cover brand stories. You typically need something consumer-relevant and shocking to get them to pay attention. And 2) If you could figure out a list of ideal headlines, then you could back into the data you should collect to see if you could prove those headlines true. Most of the headlines they wrote were based on hunches anyway––just not something any study had proven just yet. 

After that, we worked to figure out how any of this was relevant to the company. That’s where I came in. 

They told me the stories they wanted to tell and they wanted to know from me what our readers were most interested in on the blog. 

“LOL, nothing,” I thought. We had only recently stopped publishing the awful partner branded content. But, I had read enough in the industry and knew enough about the company (I ran our case studies at the time too) to understand that this was a story about how consumers shopped––which was, they shopped everywhere.

This was a study about omnichannel. And no one had done anything about that yet. 

It was a relatively new term in the ecommerce industry. And while folks had hunches about it, no one had mapped it out, nor proven it was true. So, we set out to do just that. 

Now, this report wasn’t cheap. BigCommerce paid $60,000 to a research firm to do this right. And the data we got back was glorious. It proved that a lot of people did indeed shop in the bathroom (on the toilet to be specific). It proved that parents, in particular, didn’t follow any real clear conversion path––and that they all shopped in the wee hours of the morning. 

There was a ton of data in that report, and the press was eating it up from an exclusive point of view (none of this was public yet). But, the PR team needed a place to send traffic, and a press release didn’t really do all the data justice (and all the traffic we thought we’d get from the press coverage). 

So, we decided to build a blog that offered our own analysis on all the data. And, we worked with our creative team to visualize all of the data. Then, we worked with our partners to get quotes about the data and shared it with all of them about a week early. 

It went live as “The Omnichannel Shopping Report,” and it did phenomenally well. It was covered by major media (They loved the “consumers shop on the toilet” line), partners shared it out and were stoked to be a part of it even in a small way, and we started driving backlinks and content downloads (oh yea, we turned it into a white paper, too) like crazy. It was the most successful thing the team had ever done. 

Aaron Orendorff, who was the EIC at Shopify Plus at the time, even sent me a personal message––the first of many to come! We’re good friends now!––congratulating me on the success. It was THAT big. Our competition couldn’t ignore it, and even more, they respected it. 

It was really, really well done. 

And, it was also the catalyst for the organic traffic we’d begin driving about a year later (1M+ sessions a month). It was that report that gave us a massive bump, and it lifted our blog across the board. Next thing we knew, it was far easier to get backlinks, and organic traffic was on the rise across all of our content. 

Now, it doesn’t always happen this way. I’ve seen companies launch proprietary reports and not see this much immediate or long-term success. Proprietary reports are a process and even though we were basically winging it at BigCommerce so many years ago, the process was pretty spot on. 

Here’s what to think through:

Your survey setup and ideal outcomes 

Start here. What are the headlines you want out of this? How would you structure a survey to see if the data backs those headlines? And of course, how does this relate back to our company, our product, what we offer? 

You always want reports to be a value add and conversation starter to your company’s industry. And remember, these are primarily top of funnel drivers. They don’t need to be incredibly clearly related to your content, but logically so. 

For instance, Klaviyo’s proprietary report that went out yesterday was about how consumers will shop amidst inflation for BFCM. We broke it all down by demographics (13 of them!) and how does that relate to Klaviyo at all? Because if and when you market to demographics, you need to segment your lists––and Klaviyo is the best in the industry at segmentation (not to mention has an ecommerce CDP at its core, which collects the data you need to segment to begin with). 

Now, that you have your ideal outcomes from a press point of view, you need to think through survey setup. I’ve found that press doesn’t much care about surveys if you have under 2,000 respondents. They also seem to care less if you aren’t surveying consumers. 

So, while not always true, you are likely to get more success from a press point of view with more than 2,000 consumer respondents. 

Don’t let any PR agencies talk you out of this. I did once, and regretted it. 

Build the survey and run it

OK, now you need to build the survey and to be honest, I’m not the best at that. There are people whose entire careers are built on survey methodology. Talk to them! Product marketers often have this skill. Some content folks like Erin (mentioned in my intro) have it. Or, you can work with a company like Qualtrics that can help you build it all out. 

Speaking of, Qualtrics is a great org to run surveys like this with (they help you build the questions!), as is Attest and SurveyMonkey. Both Attest and SurveyMonkey can save you a lot of graphic design time (if you don’t have time or budget) because their data visualizations are user friendly (i.e. look nice!) and brandable. 

Surveys don’t typically take long to run––tops two weeks. But they can be expensive. I typically budget about $20K for them, at least. 

P.S. Does your company collect a lot of data? Remember that proprietary data is just data other companies don’t have. You can absolutely use your own company’s data to build reports. Shopify, Adobe and other ecommerce platforms do this every year around BFCM, for instance, to talk about how many sales there were on their platforms, compared to the year before. Press eats it up. And this kind of proprietary data is free! 

Now, plan your GTM (go to market) 

The beautiful thing about proprietary data reports is that you can build an integrated campaign around them, and they are even more powerful when you do. 

First, to get folks excited about a GTM motion, you need to detail what you will create. Here is what is typically included:

So, what are your GTM motions here? 

  • PR: Media outreach, of course 
  • Partner marketing: Your partner ecosystem is so important with these things. Leverage them as part of the survey, and you’ll have additional built-in distro and make a mini-industry moment. Work with your best partners to do a co-branded webinar that drives leads for you all. 
  • Lifecycle: For distribution to prospects and customers, and also for building the funnel behind the gated asset and webinar.
  • Social media: You’ll want custom social assets for sharing this far and wide! 
  • Performance: Will your performance team want to help support this with paid assets? I’ve seen some do it, and some not. You don’t need it, but it’s always helpful! 

So far, yesterday’s report has generated the most content downloads in a single day for Klaviyo ever. Ever. And that’s with less than 24 hours of data. This stuff works, y’all. 

And, to see this strategy advance even more, BigCommerce’s omnichannel report was re-published every year for several years. Today, they have turned the post into a long-form content landing page. It doesn’t rank for “omnichannel” like it once did, but the term isn’t as trendy or popular as it once was, either. We won it when it mattered, and besides, this page is far more optimized for conversion than a blog, showing that those leads were important to the company––so much so they changed the page to optimize for them.