Not All Surveys Are Created Equal

Call it post-recession anxiety or the result of a highly contentious landscape, but there isn’t a major brand that doesn’t undergo major testing, research, and analysis of its brands and products. It’s quite understandable when you not only consider the heavy competition but how fast brands and products are able to move in today’s highly connected world. If you make a poor decision and blink, others step in to gain their advantage. As a result, there is a lot of second guessing going on and brands are continually seeking out deeper market data and insight.

Those who have talked to me, seen me speak, or read my blogs know that I believe the more intimate we are with the consumer audience, the better chances we have to connect with them and modify their behavior to our satisfaction. This requires investing in data and intel as well as good old fashioned listening. Surveys are a great example of one of many listening methods and its popularity has grown over the years due to having such a low barrier to entry including being inexpensive. However, without accurate data, the exercise can be a major waste of time.

Here’s a perfect example. This weekend, I went shopping for clothing at a well-known department store. I helped myself without any sales rep which doesn’t necessarily bother me as I prefer not having the pressure of someone following me around. When I was finally ready, I brought my items to Sally, the cashier who greeted me professionally and began the process of checking me out. Although Sally had been working there for a while, she seemed like a newby. Everything Sally did was in slow motion. She also seemed a little disorganized and scattered with the handling of my items as well as the point of sale system. Belts were sliding off the counter, my shirts were being folded and refolded numerous times, and I was beginning to lose my patience but acted calm.

When Sally was done and presented me with my receipt, I was asked to complete the online circled on the receipt. She asked that I give her all 5’s on the survey and thanked me for coming in. I haven’t completed the survey yet but it got me thinking. First, Sally really was not deserving of all 5’s (if I am to be completely honest). Second and most importantly, how can accurate data be generated from surveys tainted by the campaigning of employees promoting them. It’s no wonder why so many brands only learn about the problems that exist with their companies when they are at the brink of going out of business.

Surveys can very instrumental in one’s primary research arsenal when implemented well and without any employee bias. Here are seven basic survey types to be considered:

This is a great opportunity to solicit direct consumer feedback by positioning a research team outside of a retail store or other establishment. You can capture new and existing customers as they exit the location and obtain rich data before they have had too long to contemplate or be influenced by their peers. Traditional methods relied on clipboards with printed sheets but the mobile tablets are the input tools of choice. An added benefit is that everything is kept digital preventing the need for any post-event data entry.

Don’t let the name mislead you. Men or women are invited to conduct this survey method. A research team takes to the street with a video camera and a list of questions. Interviews can be set up just about anywhere and are not restricted to the brand’s location. In many cases, it may make sense to set up in the target market, desired market, and competitor radius. These surveys not only capture great qualitative data, but the video component helps to humanize the data.

Much like exit surveys combined with the mobility of man-on-the-street interviews, consumer intercepts are not restricted to any specific area. This method is very guerrilla in nature and allows the research team to survey consumers within any accessible area.

Calling consumers to conduct surveys over the phone has been going on for many years. How successful are they? Well, that depends on many factors including audience segment, length of survey, and incentive offered. Thanks to unsolicited telemarketing calls trying to hard sell us on stuff, phone surveys are becoming less and less effective.

As with phone surveys, surveys via the USPS have also been going on for many years and thanks to the abundance of direct mail sent out every day, these surveys get lost in the bunch and often discarded. This is probably not as relevant of an option in today’s world.

One of my favorite methods. The mystery shoppers are the ones provided with the surveys/questionnaires and must conduct visits to the designated locations acting as if they are regular consumers. In most cases, the mystery shopper does not disclose his/her identity to the one being “mystery shopped.” However, some programs have mystery shoppers reveal themselves when done so that they can provide more immediate reporting and feedback.

Yes, I included this one as well because despite my criticism of how employee’s campaigning for 5’s can ruin a survey, online surveys are not altogether a bad idea. In fact, online surveys work best when they are not sold by the employee or advertised on a store receipt. The best strategy is to capture the consumer’s email address and send them a nice follow up email together with the brief survey.

Like most anything that is executed successfully, a well thought out strategy must be planned. Before choosing a survey method, be sure to consider the data you are interested in culling and what purpose it will serve.