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Author Archive » Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston

Conducting an Effective Online Survey

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Kicking off the New Year right might mean conducting a customer survey to gain a better idea of how your company can improve their products and services, identify new markets, and hone its message. If you’re conducting the survey in-house, you will want to make it a speedy, yet professional exercise, one that produces immediate actionable insights. Conducted right, an effective survey can have a wide-ranging reach, so here are three tips on how to create, deploy, and analyze a customer survey:

1. Emphasize in your email cover letter why responding to your survey is a good idea. In her 2-part  series Getting a Good Response to Your Surveys, Constant Contact’s Caroline Shahar notes two key ways of demonstrating the benefits of answering a survey to potential respondents. These tips are echoed in Zoomerang’s 10 Tips to Improve Your Surveys:

     a. offer an incentive and
     b. assure customers that responding will have an impact.

For incentives, the standard is to enter respondents in a drawing to win something, but Shahar notes that sharing a report on survey responses can also be a valuable incentive (I know I’ve responded to surveys where the results were the only incentive). I would add that it also makes sense to use the incentive as a way to drive conversions (I was going to write sales, but this advice applies even when you are not selling something).

For instance, offer respondents 10% off their next purchase, an exclusive online seminar, or an upgrade to a higher level of service, if the cost is not too high. This will not only encourage customers to respond to the survey, but will also realize the additional, ultimately more essential, benefit of more sales and/or conversions. If possible, include a link at the end of the survey to a landing page where respondents can immediately complete the desired conversion. Send an email reminder to survey respondents who arrive at the landing page and don’t complete the conversion.

As for assuring customers that responding will have an impact, clearly state what you intend to use survey responses for, rather than using a generic statement that survey responses help serve customers better. For instance, if you will use the information to improve products, say so specifically. Which brings up tip number 2:

2. Respond to the feedback–and make sure customers know how you’re responding. Using a multi-step process is the best way to demonstrate your commitment to listening to your customers. As noted above, start with your email cover letter requesting participation in the survey.

But don’t just stop at the cover letter–indeed, don’t just stop when the survey is finished. Follow up in a few months or weeks with concrete information about how you have put the survey results into action: release the survey results in a report made available on your site, or mention in your newsletter that a specific product revision came about as a result of feedback from the survey. This kind of concrete assurance that you are listening to customers via your survey, and acting on their feedback, will help boost response rates to future surveys, as well as the quality of responses.

Most importantly, it will help demonstrate that your organization is responsive to customer needs. Of course, this kind of utilization of survey results requires buy-in from many departments, which can be a challenge. But ultimately, the rewards are significant in terms of expanding market reach, increasing customer retention, and growing revenue.

3. Make the survey as easy, and as unambiguous as possible. Avoid respondent fatigue by asking a maximum of 15 questions. If you have more than that number of questions you really want to ask of your customers, consider segmenting your list, and creating two surveys, each with questions most relevant to that segment; Shahar offers excellent tips on sending out surveys to segments of your customers. For instance, she suggests targeting only retail store customers, or only online customers. Zoomerang’s 10 Tips offers a basic roundup of survey best practices for marketers, including several ways to reduce respondent fatigue, such as using closed-ended questions, logical ordering, and pre-testing.

Related to making a survey easy to complete is eliminating ambiguity. Responses can drop off when respondents get frustrated by confusing questions. In addition, if a statistically significant number of respondents misunderstands a question, the survey’s validity can be called into question. To make sure that ambiguity is reduced to a minimum, make sure that not only the questions themselves, but also the available answers that respondents can choose from are clear: eliminate open-ended questions, offer a reasonably large number of options for multiple-choice questions, and err on the side of writing somewhat longer items (for instance, writing “Once a Week” for a frequency question, rather than just “Once.”)

Conducting a survey can provide a host of benefits, not just for the marketing department, but for the entire organization. Implementing a survey well can make a big difference to your marketing efforts, providing a wealth of insights. Take steps to ensure a robust response rate, maximize utilization of results, and make the survey itself an effective vehicle of communication with customers. This will greatly enhance the usefulness of your survey.

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Christina Inge is a marketing consultant, and serves as Marketing and PR Coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA. She has over 10 year’s experience in communicating with both B2B and B2C audiences. 

Wearing Ten Hats? Can’t Decide Which to Put on Next? Read This.

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Going into 2009, we all are looking for good ways to plan next year’s marketing campaigns. Determining your top priorities is a big challenge when you do this planning. Fortunately, prioritizing your marketing campaigns can be done in less time if you follow a brief set of guidelines.  

Judah Phillips, in an insightful post at Web Analytics Demystified, asserts that the primary criteria for prioritizing web analytics work is: “Is revenue at risk?” Analytics in support of revenue-generating tasks has to be at the top of your list, so when deciding what information you need right now, ask yourself first if any revenue will be at risk if the task is not completed.

This method works equally well for other aspects of your marketing work. Karen Gedney, writing at Click-Z, echoes this viewpoint for email programs. She suggests that, when setting priorities for an email marketing campaign, make sure that everything you spend generates revenue, “and your marketing priorities will arrange themselves.”

If you’re at a small to midsize organization and wear multiple hats, setting priorities is more complex. You may have several priorities on your plate, all of which are revenue-generating. If you sit down at your desk in the morning and have to choose whether to make email, PPC campaigns, social media, PR, analytics, or designing a print ad a priority today, what do you do? The scores of you marketers at start-ups, non-profits, and other organizations where wearing five hats is the norm know what I mean. The more varied the range of tasks you need to prioritize, the more criteria you need to use to determine your top priorities.

Here are five tips for setting priorities in a multi-faceted marketing practice:

  • At least half of what you do in a given week needs to be customer-facing. That means focusing on getting your email campaigns out, tweaking your PPC ads, drafting those print ads, and writing those white papers. You are in the business of communicating your company’s or organization’s message to your clients, and all your work needs to focus on that goal. You may have a lot of work to do that is internal to your company or department, but you must keep the primary focus of your department, namely, communication with customers, in mind.
  •  Do whatever absolutely needs to happen every week first. If you always send out an e-newsletter, work on that early in the week. If a print ad needs to go out by Tuesday, make sure it’s done by the week before. Optional activities, like adding materials to your social media campaigns, will need to be done later in the week. Otherwise, you are always playing catch-up.
  • “Will this shake things up?” At least one thing you do this year should.
  • Incorporate metrics into everything do in such a way that it seldom becomes a part of your to-do list on its own. Part of every email campaign is to check your metrics the evening of day the campaign goes out, and then again one week afterwards. Every morning, you need to watch your web traffic. Every day, you need to see how your PPC campaigns are performing. If you make measurement a part of the whole in everything you do, it isn’t an onerous separate task you need to schedule. This makes scheduling and prioritizing that much more straightforward.
  • Do one thing you really like every day, and one thing that is relatively dull. Don’t schedule all dull days, or you will start to get burnout. At the end of a day doing your least favorite thing, write an article, or design an ad. (Or insert your favorite task here).

Organizing all the tasks before you can seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite a doable process. Setting your top marketing priorities can be one of the most useful things you can do towards the end of the year. It’s an ongoing process, as well, especially when you are wearing a lot of hats. Thus, starting out with a good list of priorities will pay off throughout 2009.

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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences.


The Holidays Can be a Great Time for B2B Email Marketing

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

With the holidays fast approaching, those of us in B2B marketing are probably wondering what kinds of email messages to send to our customers. We are not, after all selling a product that is going to make an appropriate gift, so there is little need for holiday promotions—indeed, they would seem a bit odd for a company selling data center services or enterprise software.

Chris Marriott at iMedia Connection suggests that B2B marketers maintain their visibility during the end of the year with engagement-heavy messages. He suggests sending surveys as one idea that will help your company gain awareness as inboxes get crowded with seasonal offers. The question of appropriate B2B email campaigns for the holiday season is also addressed in a blog post by Mark Brownlow at Email Marketing Reports. Quoting Linda Bustos, the post urges B2B marketers not to cut back on their standard messaging schedule at this time of year. Instead, marketers should keep their frequency the same, but change their message to a more lighthearted, less information-filled content model. Bustos suggests sending a Season’s Greetings message, as well as a lighter-on-content version of one’s usual newsletter.

End-of-year satisfaction surveys and seasonal messages are all great ways to round out your email program as 2008 closes. Nonetheless, I’d suggest looking at your audience and overall messaging strategy before cutting back on substantive content. Winter is a traditional time to regroup, think, and plan. If you’re in the technology space, your messaging likely includes a lot of educational content. Throughout the year, you produce white papers, podcasts, application notes, and other documents that your audience turns to in order to be well-informed. If they are technical staff, keeping up-to-date on new developments is important to them, but they often lack the time. When they are crazy-busy, your audience may only glance through all the technical documents you offer. Many of us take advantage of the slower time of year to do a lot of the reading we simply don’t have time for when business is hectic.

The quieter B2B environment during the holidays may provide just the opportunity for your audience to sit down and actually digest some of your more substantial reading. This may be the perfect chance for you to send out that longer white paper—now, when your audience might actually read it while sitting at their desks, instead of putting it away for later. There are fewer interruptions at the office over the holidays, and not everyone is partying 24-7. Test out at least one mailing this holiday season that contains an offer for a white paper or other educational document. In your email message, emphasize the key points in the document, and home in on the benefits of the topic. Underline how much can be learned from the white paper—if your readers are in the mood to expand their knowledge, they’ll respondyour message will stand out.

Although, for your audience, it might be best to keep most of your emails light over the holiday season, bear in mind that you might have an opportunity to reach out with great content that could be lost in the shuffle at a busier time of year.     

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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences.

Integrating Online and Offline Marketing

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

In his September 10 post Are You Too Much Online, Duct Tape Marketing’s John Jantsch cautions against being so enamored of Web 2.0 marketing channels that we forget about traditional channels that can still serve us well. Online channels are so cost-effective, Jantsch argues, that we can often put too much emphasis on them, at the expense of a fully rounded effort that integrates online and offline messages in ways that synergize both channels, for greater ROI.

Or perhaps worse still, I would add, forgetting to fully integrate our online and offline marketing, seeing the two channels as so disparate that we create divergent messages for each channel. As more and more channels become available to us, we need more than ever to work hard at ensuring that all our messages are saying the same thing.

When it comes to integrating online and offline efforts, email marketing programs face some challenges that are unique to the email medium. Email has unique capabilities, and limits, that make it so different from say, our websites or our trade show marketing, that we may see it as an entirely separate entity:

Image suppression: For email, integration can be especially tricky in the age of image suppression. Most of our other marketing efforts, both online and offline, depend on images: our website, advertising, brochures, are highly graphical. Even whitepapers are likely to be at least partially dependent on graphics for their overall message. Thus, most of your online efforts can have the same overall feel as offline messages, such as print ads. Unless you advertise on radio, email is likely to be your only channel where you can’t depend on any image, not even your logo, to convey your message. This makes it fundamentally different from your other channels, which makes integration that much harder.

The importance of the subject line: Emphasis on the subject line means that other aspects of the email sometimes receive relatively less attention. For offline efforts, we can rely on several elements to catch potential consumers’ attention, so we tend to view offline creative more holistically. For instance, print ads can catch consumers’ attention with not just images, but headlines and copy as well. Emails catch subscribers’ attention through that subject line, which means we tend to put so much attention to that line, that we may not view each email message as holistically.

Personalization: Even if you don’t personalize your email messages, your messages are still personal in a way that no other marketing medium is. Let’s face it, few people are likely to forward really good email marketing communications in the same way they might bookmark a website, or share a widget. They might forward a newsletter, but other messages are likely to stop with the recipient. We can take advantage of email’s personalization. We can have dozens of potential messages for different segments. This is a great thing, but it also makes email even more divergent from other channels, which again, makes us think about email differently.

The way we conceptualize email is simply not like the way we conceptualize other channels, both online and offline. This doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate it just as completely with offline efforts. If anything, email makes you get down to basics, thinking about what aspects of your branding can be expressed in just a few short lines of text. And this focus on the essentials is what integration is all about.


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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences. 

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.