The Why, What, Who, Where and When of Effective Survey Planning.

The world is changing faster than we can take notice.  The hot trend today is old news tomorrow.  Staying ahead of these trends can be a daunting task, but with proper and effective market research, we can often keep our brands, services, and research in front of the pack.  Because customer opinions reflect the market trends that are important to them, a business can rapidly decline if they ignore or fail to ask the right questions.

The technological and social landscape of society today, makes it easer than ever to provide good market research.  The general public is begging to give you their opinion on pretty much everything, and they often give you way more information than you could ever dream of (Ever read some of the Facebook statuses?).  This information is power.  This information is the difference between Myspace and Facebook or Blockbuster and Netflix.  Which would you rather be?  Brands that pay attention and adhere to their customer trends, desires and demands are the brands that stay alive.

But how do I get the information I need?  All you have to do is ask!  If you know where to look and how to present your questions, the data will flow in and all you need to do is put it together and analyze it.

Surveys are everywhere.  I can’t make a phone call, purchase something online, or make any kind of purchase, without being offered a survey about my experience.  When I used to buy an energy drink (recovering energy drink addict) at the corner gas station, I would get offered the chance to win $500 if I took a quick survey about my experience.  Companies are doing them, because they are cheap, easy to implement, you can ask very specific questions, and they are effective.

How do I create an effective survey?

My very first bit of advice is true for almost anything.  Ever hear of KISS?  No, not the rock band with the face paint.  Kiss stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.  I don’t condone using the word stupid, but the mantra holds true.  You need to create a survey that reads like you are talking to a 4th grader.  Whether you are writing the survey for 4th graders or for a group of Doctorate Engineering candidates at MIT, you need to ensure that they have a clear idea of the question before they can answer it properly.  I have often had conversations with people that are no doubt more brilliant than I am, and I became frustrated because they didn’t seem to understand an explanation that was so easy and clear to me.  Keep that in mind:  Just because you may have a smart target audience does not mean they can read your mind about the intent of your survey questions.   Another Aspect of the KISS principle is to pay attention to time.  If a survey is too long, your audience will drop out, answer questions in a hurry and without much thought, or worse yet, they will get angry and your attempt at helping your brand will have actually damaged it.

Why and What?

Why are you performing market research?  What is your survey about?  What do you hope to learn from your survey participants?  What do you hope your research will gain for you? Without clearly defined objectives, your survey will fail before you even begin. Whether you are seeking opinions on how to provide a truly exceptional experience, getting feedback on your product line, or measuring the effectiveness of your range of marketing campaigns, a clearly defined set of measurable objectives will keep you focused on asking the right questions as efficiently as possible.

Once you have clearly identified your survey objectives, it is helpful to use those objectives to come up with the appropriate questions.  For example, if an airline has an ultimate objective to be the highest rated service airline in its class, it will need to come up with some areas that a general consumer would use to judge their flying experience.  They may ask me about check ins, quality of food, seat comfort, wait times, friendliness of staff, etc.  These questions are only measurable if their target audience has used their service before.


Who will you survey?  Who is your target or focus group for this survey offering?  Depending on your current situation, this question can be more difficult for some than for others.  If you are an established business, you may already know who your core business audience is and you merely need to ask them or figure out how to contact them.  If you are just starting out, you need to define who your target audience is and do a little more digging.   For example, if you are starting a line of t-shirts aimed at teenage boys, this data will be extremely important on how you execute your surveys.

Surveys can also assist in revealing our customer base.  Some creative ideas may not yet know who their exact target audience is until they launch.  A great idea for a clothing brand may appeal to young and old alike.  An idea that we thought would most appeal to men, may appeal equally to women.  We can use market research surveys to further breakdown who our target audience is and how best to reach them.

The more we know about our target audience, the better we can design ways to get their attention.  If we know our target group is millennials, then we probably shouldn’t advertise our research survey in the newspaper, because millennials as a group don’t read the newspaper.   Knowing who you need to survey will determine your survey styles, methods, and locations.  Properly defining your target audience is an important key to reaching your survey objective.


The where of effective survey research is very important to reach your institutional objectives and it is quite simple.  The Where refers to where you will launch or advertise your particular survey.  If your target audience is actively online, you may need to reach them via email, Facebook, or other social media and may decide that the phone is very ineffective for a certain demographic.  If your target audience is old and email is unlikely, then you may only be able to reach them on the phone or by snail mail.

Here is a quick case study:  The automobile industry is very dependent on surveying their customers after they purchase a vehicle.  Because the car business is very competitive and there are numerous models to compete in any particular segment, they demand total customer satisfaction.  I know what you are thinking; Car dealerships care about their customer service?  Yes, yes they do.  In fact, the manufacturers care so much about customer service, that they will only pay a salesman a reward if the survey comes back perfect or nearly perfect.

Infiniti is the luxury branch of Nissan and sells cars, crossovers, and suvs.  Infiniti demands a “truly exceptional experience,” with the district averages for a passing survey hovering around 99%.  An 80% score is “excellent” while a 100% score is truly exceptional, so it is a very difficult survey to pass.  Infiniti created these specifications and they can do as they wish, however, they only sent these surveys by email and they demanded a high percentage of these surveys to be sent to the customer in order for the dealership to be in compliance.  Do you see the problem?  There are a good number of customers who don’t use email or who are unwilling to provide email.  The opinions of these customers are just as important as the others, but they fell to the wayside, because of a failure in planning that could have easily been avoided with a backup plan for customers who don’t use email.  This failure costs the dealership and salespeople money and deprived the company of the possibility of some valuable consumer insight.


The when of surveying refers to the best time to approach your target audience with a survey.  The short answer is when you have their attention.  For surveying a current customer, the best time to survey them, is when the experience is fresh in their mind.  If I make a purchase and you survey that same week, I am more likely to remember and answer that survey once I receive it.  If you send me a survey a month after we did business, then I am much less likely to pay attention to it.  Consumers have a very short attention span so you need to strike while the iron is hot. When surveying a known demographic through advertising, you should try and advertise when you will get the most reach.  Knowing when to execute the survey can be the difference between success and failure with your market research objective.

Creating an effective survey can be a very powerful tool to reach your operational goals.  By keeping it simple, and taking a thoughtful approach to the W’s of survey planning, you can create an awesome survey that keeps you out in front of the changing business climate.  We hope you enjoyed this article.  Keep an eye out for more content that dives deeper into tricks for effective survey creation and market research methods.


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