Tom Webster's PhotosI’ve had the opportunity to do an awful lot of surveying recently as part of my work at SHIFT. The surveying I’ve been doing has been initiated by me on behalf of clients and the data is used to inform various marketing campaigns. What I’ve found while doing this work is that because the research isn’t necessarily intended for public consumption, I’m much more curious about the answers. I don’t know what the answers are, and when I get the results back, more often than not I’m surprised by them, and they spur additional questions and additional needed research.

Contrast this with what surveying is used for frequently in content marketing: to prove a pre-ordained conclusion or to bolster a pre-written piece of content. There’s nothing wondrous about that process. You know what the conclusion will be, or you’re irritated that the research didn’t pave a neat path to your already-produced content – and you treat the data, the truth, as an error because it’s not supporting your work.

This is what my friend and mentor Tom Webster refers to as incurious, and there’s a reason why incurious is a cardinal sin, a profanity in the world of research. It actually took me a little while to understand what the implications of incurious meant.

Being incurious removes all of the wonder.
Being incurious removes all of the mystery.
Being incurious removes all chances of discovery.
Being incurious removes a lot of the fun of real research.

Why? Instead of having a series of “Wow!” moments when the data leads you in unexpected directions from real research, being incurious transforms what could be inspiration or innovation into the displeasure of error. You’re emotionally conditioning yourself to feel and believe that research tools and practices can only deliver grim satisfaction and relief or frustration. Can you think of a more devastating practice for your business, for your marketing, for your mind than to transmute inspiration into disappointment? Can you imagine a faster way to never innovate again?

Here’s the other thing I’ve noticed with the surveying I’m doing now versus the content marketing I’ve done in the past, before my current role. When the goal and the desired outcome is new answers, you become very careful with the questions you ask. When the desired outcome is a pre-ordained answer, you don’t especially care what the questions are as long as they create the answer you want. As a result, you intentionally shut out all possibility for discovery. Innovation isn’t even given a chance to show up at the party.

So please, take Tom’s advice and take my advice. Stop using research tools to generate pre-ordained outcomes for content marketing. You’re not only harming your marketing, but you’re destroying your own sense of wonder and discovery when you pick those tools up.


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