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The Art of the Survey

How interviewing your audience becomes an important part of your marketing mix

 1. You know what your audience is thinking:

  1. Absolutely
  2. Uhhh…
  3. Never considered it
  4. Who cares? Our work is brilliant!

Whether you’re a business of one or 1,000, it’s invaluable to have tangible feedback from your audience in order to plan effectively and execute beautifully.

A survey is not just a research tool, or even a marketing research tool. It’s a marketing-marketing tool, building your brand and reputation. Any piece of communication your audience sees that you create falls under marketing, so even your surveys must be on-brand and send the right message about who you are, why you exist, and how it matters to your audience.

How to do this? Here are a few general guidelines for generating and sending surveys:

Keep it brief.

Do you absolutely need to know your audience’s annual income? What neighborhood they live in? If your survey is more than 10 brief, straightforward questions, you risk not getting the quality or quantity of answers you expect.

The way you ask shapes the way they answer.

Journalism 101: the organization of the facts equals the formation of the opinion. For example, rather than asking what a student didn’t like about the class he or she just completed, I encourage my clients to ask, “What else would you have liked to cover?” or “What questions do you still have about the subject matter?” The former creates the impression that the course didn’t fall short, rather, the client’s expectations may have been outsized; the latter is a sales tool so you know what else the client might want. Both maintain goodwill that the original product was exactly what they paid for.

Be crystal clear about what you are asking.

Avoid ambiguity. Get someone to proof-read so you will get the answers that fit what you need to find out. A question like “How did you like the show?” is ambiguous and unproductive; it could mean anything to anyone. How about “What theme affected you most?” or “How did this show compare to other shows you’ve seen recently?” or “What was the single most important thing you learned?”

Know when to go anonymous.

Want truly candid answers? Make your survey truly anonymous, whether online or handwritten. If you want to follow up with people or use their feedback in meetings or marketing, you must disclose this at the start.

Respect the audience.

Don’t you hate it when you visit a website for the first time and a pop-up asks you to complete a survey? Perhaps you haven’t built enough rapport with a given audience to ask them for their time and input. Subscribers are valid (once a year, max); one-time ticket buyers are usually not. At minimum, these different audiences should get different surveys, tailored to their interests and experience.

Timing is everything.

There is such thing as a bad time to solicit input. Never break the mood of your audience’s engagement with your product, service or show – wait until they are in a mental place to give good feedback.  Or worse, too frequently: let them be your audience, not your focus group.  Also avoid surveying during your marketing campaign – too late! Do this at least a month before marketing hits so you can use it, and so there’s a healthy pause for the audience between being asked to give feedback and asked to buy.