Whether you’re in marketing, executive leadership, or both, you probably spend plenty of time planning for business growth. Getting the best possible data should always be at the top of your list, whether or not surveys are at the top of your mind. Two key questions, then: “Why are surveys important for businesses?” and “What types of surveys should I use for my business?’
The answer is simple. Surveys go to the heart of reading the minds and emotions of your customer segments, picking up the common thread that ties segment members together. Indeed, appreciating group motivations is crucial to creating market traction and brand engagement. It doesn’t matter if your business is B2B or B2C. Unless the decision makers around the buying decision mesh with your value proposition (VP), all the strategizing around the product, price, supply chain configurations, and promotions will come to nothing.
Unfortunately, the ongoing flow of technologies and digital configurations frequently confuses the extraction of opinions, blurring the landscape of which tools work best for your company’s marketing research. Moreover, marketers these days somehow get sidetracked. By what? Data analysis that’s too complicated or entering the arena with biases because the process was tedious.
Thus, all too often, the importance of using surveys in business gets lost between the cracks – particularly online surveys. In this article, I present the case that the latter forms a vibrant part of one’s resources, driving a sledgehammer through competitors’ defenses with quality information derived from pinpoint survey structuring from end to end. So, let’s go through this step by step.
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Why are surveys important for businesses?
Observing how a customer acts under different circumstances at specific touchpoints in the customer journey (CJ) and drawing conclusions from that alone is an oft-used tactic. However, it lacks insight and can mislead. Why? Because high-tech analytics and technology tend to overlook vital information requirements, such as testing customer satisfaction. In my view, there’s no substitute for getting the lowdown from the “horse’s mouth” – in this case, the customer.
You want to know how the brand participants in the marketplace feel or think, especially if their opinions don’t gel with their behavior. In such instances, pinpointing deep-seated issues requires further investigation. A well-structured survey can do that for you.
However, modern marketing surveys require out-of-the-box thinking, intuitive and interactive design, and purpose. They don’t just slide into neat slots. However, surveys can only be crucial to marketing success if your questions are asked at the right time and in the right way.
So, we should address another vital question: how can you create effective survey questions?
One of the problems many surveys have is that they can’t get enough of asking respondents their opinions. Sounds okay, but here’s the problem:
When market researchers do that, they put respondents on a pedestal. In other words, they regard them as experts on the brand (or subject) under the microscope.
Unfortunately, when surveyed respondents interact with the marketplace, they don’t do so with their “expert cap” on. In short, they behave differently.
A great example of this misstep is my friend (let’s call him Neil), who has a cosmetic business. Neil’s data reflected that many women over 60 repeatedly bought a fragrance from his line (“Brand X”). He was puzzled because his promotions and brand positioning focused on a much younger demographic. So, wanting to know more, he surveyed the mature audience to solicit respondent opinions, which confounded him even more. Why? Because negative brand comments emerged, like:
- “For young mothers, not me.”
- “For the foot-loose and fancy-free – not grandmothers.”
- “For daughters and daughters-in-law – not matriarchs of the family.”
Essentially, Neil fell into the trap of creating a scenario where the customer became an expert. As a result, the customer feedback contradicted the segment’s buying habits, and he was none the wiser.
A professional consultant in the customer experience (CX) arena suggested that Neil test a hypothesis – that older women want to feel younger – but knowing they aren’t going to say as much via direct questioning. Why? For three good reasons:
- It’s not something respondents will openly admit to. In other words, they’re unlikely to agree with a prompt that suggests, “I use Brand X because I want to feel younger!”
- The respondents’ actions are driven by a subconscious “emotional” driver which often relies on not-so-obvious (even irrational) solutions.
- Respondents may even be offended by a questionnaire’s inference that a fragrance – Brand X – is a viable way to take years off one’s age.
So, Neil sent out the same opinion-searching survey but inserted two seemingly disconnected questions: Question #1 asked – “How old are you?” and Question #5 asked for the respondent’s “Date of birth.”
In the data analysis, Neil ignored answers to all other questions. He looked only at these two and uncovered that 90% of the respondents in Question #1 stated an age lower than their birth date (question #5). The consultant had advised him that age-conscious people are likely to understate their age if asked outright but hardly ever misinform a birth date (because it appears more official).
Thus, Neil concluded that at a deeper level, his audience wanted people in their environment to see them as younger, or they inwardly needed to feel more youthful. He deduced that the negative comments amounted to nothing less than going to extra lengths to create the impression it was the last thing they were worrying about. So, in summary:
- Purchasing the fragrance was working beneath the surface as a subtle outlet (enabling one to appear younger without shouting it to the world).
- As a result, Neil maintained his younger segment Brand X promotions (a core market that had nothing to do with aging)
- And he launched another at the older female audience, messaging that Brand X was the secret to reviving vitality and recapturing the attention of younger admirers.
- But of course, his imagery was softly suggestive (intimating instead of in-you-face blunt), stopping well short of outright saying Brand X was a fountain of youth.
- The reaction was massively rewarding, resulting in a new revenue stream. Without a thoughtful survey methodology, he would have never tapped into this opportunity.
Moreover, surveys are not pertinent to corporation size, working effectively irrespective of the visualized scale. According to reliable survey publications, companies such as the giant mobile and tech-centric operators (e.g., Apple, Verizon, Nest) are into soliciting customer feedback the old-fashioned way, as are traditional operators such as LEGO and McDonald’s.
Which are the different survey types?
The most fundamental objective of surveys is to define your market segment by seeking demographic information from potential customers. Knowing their first language, level of education, age, the role of religion in their lives, their reference groups (influencers), etc., can flow in from surveys. Let’s call this Level One.
From there, we move to Level Two, where we get into the behavioral arena – far more complicated. Level Two surveys aim to unearth the truth about what the respondent thinks or feels (or both) about a brand, promotion, client support, and a score of marketplace issues too numerous to cover here. Therefore, companies should know the limitations of Level Two survey types:
- What information is available to them
- What type of questions are likely to work
- Which approaches will fall flat
Customer behavioral feedback surveys: These surveys are crucial, but as we saw in Neil’s Brand X above, they depend on how you ask the questions. The key aspects to remember are:
- Customers are rarely experts
- Well-structured surveys in this arena dig into genuine motivations, often by combining responses to various questions
- Generating vital insights into customer motivations and reactions to marketing campaigns, product offerings, and services align with ultimate success
Thus, I suggest spontaneous responses to posed questions are the best way to open up deep-seated motivators that respondents ordinarily would not admit to.
Anonymous surveys: Sometimes, the obstruction to truth is the respondents’ reluctance to be overtly critical. For example, just imagine a restaurant setting. Diners, when asked by the owner or waiter, “How was the meal?” would rarely respond by saying, “Disappointing” (even if they felt that way).
On the other hand, the same diners at home, not under a direct spotlight, will complain to each other and go as far as posting negative comments on a review site anonymously.
Another excellent example of anonymity working well is employee feedback surveys – a highly volatile arena where anything goes. Staying anonymous, employees can discuss their frustrations, dissatisfaction, and cultural disconnects without fear of reprisal or kickback. Indeed, anonymity is a groundbreaker that sets the stage for a higher standard of truthfulness where customers can similarly air their grievances.
Please note that this survey type differs substantially from the Brand X scenario above, so the questions can be more on the nose.
Brand awareness surveys: These surveys are reaction-centric in most instances, testing customers’ brand or message recall and finding out how they interpreted them.
When one promotes to an audience, the communication package of media selection and content substance interacts with customer predispositions. A single campaign delivered to different audiences – in the same manner – may result in diverse interpretations and reactions.
Companies must design communications to meet audience parameters in a world where “segmentation” rules, knowing that what works for one doesn’t necessarily overlap another.
Lead generation surveys: These surveys focus on customer satisfaction, escalating it when detected to create potential customer referrals in combination with established customer incentives.
For example, you could ask the following:
Would you recommend Brand X to a business associate you believe will benefit from it?
Please click the following link to find out how you can benefit from successful referrals.
How can you best distribute your surveys?
Now that you understand the different types of surveys and how they can help your business, let’s dive into the methodology to optimize your survey distribution.
- Deploy online surveys: when strategically placed on your website, embedded and pop-up surveys have fast and often spontaneous responses, since these are triggered at exactly the right time in the customer journey. The negative is that, in most cases, audiences regard these as lacking customization – suited more for “everybody.”
- Email your surveys: These are often met with warmer responses if the theme is along the lines of, “As a long-term customer, we value your opinion.” It comes across as more personal, especially with a tailored message recognizing the respondent’s feedback as valuable input to the business.
- Use paper surveys: These work for audiences suspicious of identity fraud, especially when they see information divulged online as a potential risk.
- Employ focus groups: Focus groups are essentially surveys turned into group conversations. Through focus groups, you can obtain valuable feedback on your products and services without having consumers fill out any paperwork or traditional survey materials.
- Leverage smartphone surveys: A close cousin to online formats (described above), when you optimize surveys for the smartphone, you make it easier for respondents to engage, no matter what device they are using.
What are survey best practices?
Get the basics right: Survey methodology lies at the core of data accuracy. For instance:
- Cross-check your questions. If you’re asking leading or double-barreled questions, you might want to rephrase as this will get you inaccurate responses.
- Ensure you have a sufficient sample size. If your sample size is too small, it throws doubt on the reliability of your data when generalized to a larger audience.
Take advantage of templates: Several survey templates (free or by subscription) are available as a guiding beacon.
Use them as they are, or modify them to meet your inquiry arena
Simpler surveys where you’re fishing for Level One information are easy to launch with a proven template.
If you think about it, your entire marketing strategy may depend on Level Two data generation.
Level Two survey usefulness is undoubted if you want your questions to drill for the truth. The more one sees surveys as a thought and emotion gateway, the more professional HR expertise or expert coaching is in order.
Benefits of surveys for your business
Put another way – how can you use surveys to make business decisions? Here are some thoughts:
- During the initial product launch:
After product launches, surveys can unearth first impressions, reactions to promotions, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with client support, supply channel accessibility, ease of instructions, and scores of other touchpoints that, if unaddressed, can kill a brand before it gets into its stride.
- To understand and build brand loyalty:
One thing we all know is that customers want to feel important. Surveys with loyal audiences gives them a voice and cements loyalty, especially if they see you implementing their suggestions.
Use surveys to feel the water on brand loyalty. Are customers sitting on the fence still deciding on your brand power, or are they all in? Ask the right survey questions, and you’ll quickly find out.
- Understand the effectiveness of key touchpoints:
Companies can test every critical touchpoint driving the CX by understanding what is working and what isn’t. This is best done by devising a survey strategy to capture feedback at just the right time.
For example, a customer has just put the phone down to a support agent. The CX touchpoint is fresh in their mind, and prompting them for an email reaction can reveal a lot.
This article has focused on CX, but much of it applies to the employee experience (another subject for another day). Once you get your survey ducks in a row, the applicability scope accelerates massively.
The idea is to smooth out customer journeys on roads that sometimes get rocky. Removing the potholes uplifts customer retention. There’s no limit to how much you can know about the people your entire business strategy is based on, your customers. And surveys help you uncover just this.
So, if you haven’t started already, we’ve got your back! You can get started by creating, developing, and distributing your survey for free with our trial plans, or get in touch with us to explore our more advanced solutions!