How to Find Out if You’re Asking the Right Survey Questions

February 13, 2014

You know you have been asking the wrong survey questions when you have a ton of data and you still don’t have the answers you need. Crafting an effective survey is no easy matter. The key to success is knowing the right questions to ask.

Too often, marketing surveys tend to focus on the what rather than the why. Understanding what your customers want will certainly improve your marketing message, but it may not necessarily lead to better knowledge of your product and target audience.

Why? Because asking your customers what they want to buy, will likely result in them telling you about their past purchasing behavior. You need to know why they decided to make the purchase. Why is the driving force that can propel your brand into the future. Understanding why they made a purchase will help you differentiate your brand and allow you to create a strategic marketing plan.

If you want to improve your business outcome by grabbing a larger piece of the market share, you need to know not only what your customers want but why.

Know How Much to Ask

It seems like all the talk lately is around Big Data and how more data will give you more customer insight. But don’t be confused – more data does not mean better data. You can be flooded with data (which we often are) and still not have the data you need.

In fact, all of this data may be creating “noise’ that is distracting. You may have so much data that it is hard to see a pattern without the aide of an analytics tool. You need to stop collecting data and start understanding it. Particularly, what is missing?

The Pitfalls of Asking “What”

Crafting an effective marketing survey requires a lot more than compiling a series of questions asking what your customers want. In fact asking what they want will likely result in a history of past purchasing behavior. You may even get a list of what your competitor(s) have to offer.

This data isn’t bad. It will allow you to create a tactical marketing plan to satisfy your current customer base. But it may not be enough to keep them or put you ahead of your competition. It certainly won’t set you apart from competitors or increase your market share.

What you really need is a strategic marketing plan that will carry your brand into the future and distinguish you from the competition.

Asking what they want may be the wrong question. A better question might be why they want it.

Understanding The Psychographics

“Why” opens the door to opportunity.

Asking why your customers like a certain feature or benefit, provides deeper customer insight. Now you are getting personal. You are no longer researching features; you are researching people. What are their underlying needs? What made their need important enough to warrant a purchase?

Now you are getting into the psychographics.

“Psychographics are the attributes that describe the personality, attitudes, beliefs, values, emotions, and opinions of customers, and prospective customers.” – Dr. Joel Goldberg

Psychographics explain “why” people buy. Combined with demographics, psychographics are useful in creating buyer personas. (If you are not familiar with personas, you can learn more in this article, Understanding Your Core Customer).

Customer personas help you identify with your customers so that you can make deeper connections with your target market. Your message will resonate and your customers will say “wow” this brand really understands me.

This valuable data will allow you to create an integrated marketing strategy that will differentiate you from your competitors. Buyers will be delighted with your marketing message. You will convert leads into customers.

Not convinced? Let me share a story with you.

In a Huffington Post article, Mary Buffett shares how JC Penney’s CEO, Ron Johnson, failed to understand the retail store’s core customer values before implementing some major changes. The result has been catastrophic for the one time retail giant.

“In spite of an exciting brand refresh, retail sales were off by 25 percent and the stock had fallen by half.”

What went wrong?

When Ron Johnson moved over from Apple to JC Penney, he also imported Job’s distrust of market research. He felt that marking up products before offering steep discounts was a sham and an insult to customer. It was the old movie adage, “If you build it they will come.

But this was not the case. Johnson should have explored why customers shopped at JC Penney before embarking on his re-branding campaign but he failed to see the need. He believed that what worked once before would work again.

JC Penney was not Apple. At Apple, Steve Jobs hated focus groups and stop asking customer long ago about what they wanted. Instead, Jobs and his core product team at Apple focused on anticipating the needs of their core customers. For the most part, it worked. Jobs always fashioned himself as a penultimate product guy and held the last word on how form followed function.

Johnson failed to realize that JC Penney customers lived for those deep discounts. JC Penney lost sales and Johnson lost his job as a result.

Johnson’s’ failure at JC Penney should remind people that just because you’ve been successful in one area, it does not always guarantee success somewhere else.

Never assume; always ask! Your customers know best. So get to know them!

There Are no Shortcuts to the Right Answer

The reason why many brands do not take the extra step to gain insight into the emotions and minds of their customers is because qualitative research can be difficult to evaluate and measure.

Qualitative data needs to be coded before it can be analyzed which requires identifying patterns, categorizing them, and assigning numeric values to them. It is a time consuming process, but well worth it when done correctly.

Because it is a time consuming process, it is best to use a smaller, but highly selective sample.

Of course, the data is highly subjective. It requires an open-minded and objective interpreter. The subjectivity and small sample size may call in to question the accuracy of the conclusions. While the results won’t provide a definitive answer, they can establish a firm basis for decision making. Need help convincing decision makers to act based on this non-definitive data? Check out our article on how to make your CEO act on your survey’s results.

Creating a Strategic Marketing Plan

Your survey’s success is only as good as the data it collects. If you aren’t asking the right questions you are wasting your and your respondent’s time. As they say, “Garbage in garbage out.”

Great data will allow you to to make better business decisions!

Remember your goal; it is not to find what features your customers want but why they buy. Your first questions should be about the your audience, not your product.

Fully understanding your customers will shed light on new opportunities which you have not explored and allow you to grab a larger piece of the market share. The possibilities are out there – you just need to explore them.

Tell us how you conducted an exploratory study to open new marketing channels.

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