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Welcome to ‘Market Research’

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.

To leave a comment, please double-click on title.

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. 

It’s a Buyer’s Market

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Today, the news raised the threat of deflation. While this is especially troubling to the cyclical and seasonal businesses, they have many options to counter the downturn including seeking bailouts. Smaller firms must look to other means to protect themselves. A natural reaction is to protect the home turf and marketing can be a powerful tool to accomplish that. While customers have been assaulted with a barrage of negative news and an outlook that it will continue at least through 2009, all businesses need is to look for ways to separate from the malaise.

Defense Wins Games

Protecting the business revenue is a primary goal in an economic downturn. However, not all revenue is equal – some revenue comes with so much expense, it’s almost not worth earning. Knowing the factors that make up great revenue helps to decide which activity to invest in – and market for new customers.

Marketing isn’t limited to reaching out to new customers. It should also consider the choices that the current customer base made at their point-of-purchase. Marketing can give current clients a sense that they’ve done something right, hopefully to the point that they’ll keep doing it again and drive more business.

Gathering information on customer sentiment and satisfaction is usually best accomplished through a market research firm. Many belong to the Marketing Research Association.

Results of market research can be leveraged into action items for current customers to improve satisfaction, but also to expand the relationships into new areas. Sometimes, new areas of growth can arise from marketing into existing customers for new products and services and is usually an easier prospect.

Growing Through a Downturn

The results of the market research can help determine the list of factors that the best customers have in common. These are the “sweet spot” factors for current customers and should form the baseline for any new customers.

In a tough market, new customers need to feel that they are making a smart choice when each decision may be scrutinized later. Successful firms take control of the messages to the market to ease the decision of the buyer. One way of doing this is to separate the business from the negativity in consumer sentiment by increasing demonstrations of financial strength and growth.

A few good examples are:

  1. Announcing new wins to the customers in some manner. Showing success regardless of the economy turmoil in providing services that are important now is important to both new customers, but also for existing customers. It shows the business has stayed relevant and forward-thinking. The important thing is that the customer receives the knowledge of the new member to the family, the delivery mechanism must work for both types of customers and may take the form of email, printed newsletters, lunch with sales, a roadside bulletin board, or all of the above.
  2. Actively introducing new products or services increases the “buzz” and may slide into a viral marketing situation. Some media outlets are looking for positive news to counter the negative news. One method is to offer limited-time trials or samples to buzz-makers. A public relations firm can help manage the message, especially in advance of holiday shopping, even if the product isn’t seasonal as this recent launch of the new Blackberry.
  3. Publishing a case study of a customer highlighting the factors referenced above adds credibility and practicality to the messaging, such as this study by Akamai measuring the ROI.
  4. Starting a loyalty program can also galvanize best customers against competitor products, especially the types of competition that isn’t obvious, i.e. energy drinks vs. coffee. Starbucks recently introduced the Gold Card.

These programs should accomplish two things: they can remind customers why they made the original choice and create buzz for new customers of the products and services The over-arching objective is to capture the best customers while looking for “like-best” new customers.

What new ideas do you have to manage your message to the market?

To leave a comment, please double-click on title.

Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

Market Research Hall of Famer Gives Insights on Marketing Consulting

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Kevin ClancyKevin J. Clancy, Ph. D., CEO of Copernicus Marketing Consulting, was recently awarded the prestigious Market Research Council’s Market Research Hall of Fame award. Clancy has co-authored seven business books, including his latest, Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head. Clancy gave a presentation to the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association earlier this year. I recently asked him to give his perspectives on obtaining high-quality marketing work.

QUESTION: According to your book, Your Gut is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head, there is currently an interest in marketing “from your gut,” and you strongly endorse marketing with marketing science. In the many years that you have been working in marketing consulting, has it been your observation that this trend has been gradually evolving and now people are really interested in the “marketing from your gut” idea? Or do you believe this is fad?

CLANCY: I see a definite trend, and I see a trend in two dimensions happening simultaneously. One, I see a trend toward more and more gut marketing, and I see a trend toward greater and greater marketing ineffectiveness. And they’re related, they’re causally related.

QUESTION: When a company needs to hire a marketing consulting firm, what questions should be asked to ascertain whether or not the firm is going to be producing high-quality work?

CLANCY: The first question that I would ask if I were looking for a marketing consulting firm, I would ask somebody to show me their case histories, to tell me about their case histories of marketing success. We have a lot of case histories of what I call transformational marketing. By transformational marketing I mean strategies which change brand trajectories, career paths, they sometime change entire companies and even sometimes industries—that’s a transformational strategy. So I would ask, give me an example of great case histories. Don’t just give me a presentation. I want to read something, I want to see it in writing. Because I believe if you put something in writing, it’s more likely for it to be true than if you simply talk about it. Second, I would ask whether the principals of the company are going to be involved in the engagement. For example, if you go to McKinsey for a marketing consulting project, they have a large marketing consulting practice, but the people who actually do the work are junior associates. They are people who know very little about marketing. They are kids who are fresh out of MBA programs and don’t have much experience. And they are the ones who are billing all the hours in marketing consulting. The third thing I would ask is to share with me the proprietary tools you use in your practice to develop these transformational programs. Do you have unique approaches, or are you just like everybody else?

QUESTION: If they do have unique approaches, how do you know that these approaches are effective?

CLANCY: In part because of the other two things. But in part, I am assuming in my organization I have people who can differentiate between really good stuff and not so good stuff. So I would ask people in my firm, maybe it’s the manager, maybe the director of research, or the head of IT. It all depends. But I would ask some serious people in my firm to make a serious appraisal of these proprietary tools. I would then go on to the fourth point. That is, I would ask the firm for examples of academic papers or published presentations relating to their tools that would help persuade me that they are serious people. Now a lot of companies start today by asking questions about costs. “What do you charge and how long will it take to get this done?” I think those are dumb questions. The question you want to answer is do I have a company that is proficient to accomplish the objective for which I am hiring it for.

QUESTION: When you hire other companies to work for you, what do you look for? Let’s say that you hire somebody to collect data for you. How do you know if the companies that you are hiring will do the work accurately, proficiently and thoroughly?

CLANCY: First, we don’t look for companies very often because we have a relationship with a number of firms. That goes back to the origins of Copernicus 14 years ago. I’m dealing with the same firms all the time. But if a firm came along and had an exciting new data collection methodology, we would spend our money to test them. We would give the firm a problem to work on, we would give them a sample questionnaire, a sample sampling plan, and we would treat it as if it were a real-world assignment. But it wouldn’t be. It would be an assignment just for us. We would take a test drive—at our own expense.

QUESTION: With regard to managing your own firm, how do you make sure that the people in your own firm continually produce a high-quality product? When you bring people in, what do you look for?

CLANCY: We have a set of criteria, that’s down on paper for every position that we hire at our company. So we know what we’re looking for. For example, at a junior level, we’re looking for either a Ph.D., an M.S. or an M.B.A. in marketing or some related discipline like psychology or sociology. And the person should be very smart, should have graduated at the top of their class and should have strong recommendations from faculty. They should be able to articulate an interest in marketing consulting and/or marketing research and an interest in Copernicus. You’d be really surprised how many people come through these doors, and when asked what makes you interested in marketing consulting, “Well, I don’t know, you know, somebody told me it was a really interesting field.” “Why are you interested in Copernicus? “ “Well, that’s why I’m here, I don’t know anything about Copernicus.” So we’re looking for people who know what they’re doing and where they’re going and know a lot about us before the interview moves very far. And then again, at the junior level, we’ll give people an assignment to work on, in their own time and at their own expense. I would say that 30% of the people are not interested in doing a written assignment. So boom, they’re gone. But those who are interested in a written assignment, they’ll do it. They’ll submit it, and we’ll have a couple of people take a look at it. In the last analysis, there will be maybe five or six people in the company who interview each of these candidates. Based on their background, their ability to articulate a personal vision, their performance in our own exam, and the sense of the interviewers, we make a decision to hire or not.

QUESTION: Do you have people that specialize in different fields, different areas of marketing or special kinds of analytical techniques?

CLANCY: The answer is “yes” to the latter. People get pigeon-holed here into functions like statistical analysis, modeling, consulting versus general management. We make decisions pretty quickly as to which people are going to be out facing clients every day, as opposed to which people are not good at that—they’re going to stay working in the back rooms.

QUESTION: How do you decide that?

CLANCY: By watching them.

QUESTION: How they interact with clients?

CLANCY: Yes. We take everybody to client meetings. Some people are really good. Some people don’t talk or have a habit of saying dumb things. If I had a bigger company, maybe we’d take the time to retrain them. A lot of these characteristics have been imprinted in people from the time they were 13 years old, and they don’t change very much over time. I’m thinking of people in our firm who couldn’t give a presentation when they first came here. And 10 years later still can’t give a presentation. But we make a decision as to whether somebody is a consultant or a researcher. If they’re a researcher, are they into statistical analysis or not, are they an inside person, are they an outside person, and then, we just see what happens over time.

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the quality of people’s work?

CLANCY: Every project has a project manager or project director, typically somebody who has been with us for six years or more, like tenure in a university. Their responsibility is to monitor the work that goes on for the people who work for them. The project manager is responsible for every single thing shown to a client. And the project manager gets compensated, in part, based on the client’s delight with respect to that project. In addition, this is not a big firm. Between here and our other offices, we have maybe 100 people. And the senior partners in all of our offices in Boston, in Wilton, Sao Paolo, Brazil, in Rio—the senior partners see all the work that’s going out to a client before it goes out.

QUESTION: How many people do they oversee, on average? Do they oversee a couple of people or larger groups?

CLANCY: The groups are small, on average, maybe about three.

QUESTION: So they have a lot of direct contact?

CLANCY: It’s an important part of our business.

QUESTION: Do you emphasize that people in your company have an overall perspective of what is happening in the marketing community or what is happening in your firm? Is it more hierarchical?

CLANCY: It’s very important that everybody know something about everything. It’s also very important to us that our people are the best at what they do. I’m very competitive. My partner Peter Krieg is very competitive, and we run the company to be very competitive. In another life, we’d be professional football coaches. Our objective is to be the best. When we go into a meeting to give a presentation to a prospect or to a client, we think we’re giving them the best they could ever buy. That means that the young people in the firm are trained to deliver the best that money can buy. It’s important to us.

QUESTION: You state in your book [Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head] that what you really advocate is “careful analysis of unimpeachable data” combined with “judgment and experience.” In your many years of experience, which experiences have added to your keen sense of judgment?

CLANCY: I’m not sure that it’s any one, or two, or three experiences. If you were a surgeon, and you did the same operation over and over again for a period of years, you would become very, very good at what you do. You have come to learn which way of slicing the body is less invasive and less painful afterword. You just learn a lot. I was a pretty smart guy when I came into this business. I’ve learned as much about the business as I could over the years, and I have had a lot of great experiences with my clients.

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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.