How to start a successful survey: in 5 simple steps.

woman taking a survey on her phone

You need a killer market research survey…

But you’re stuck.

Call it researcher’s block, or whatever, but you need a little help with survey design. Truth is, it’s not easy to write a great market research survey. There’s a lot to consider.

So we put together five steps to help you find success. Here’s how to get the best consumer insights.

  1. Pick the right audience.
  2. Confirm their actions.
  3. Choose the best way to reach them.
  4. Ensure your goals are well defined.
  5. Survey, then collect accurate data.

We’ll review each of the five steps in detail, but that’s your cheat sheet above. Hold onto it. Now, before we dig into all the beautiful details, here’s a guide for those of you interested in what the biggest survey biases are.

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Step 1: Pick the right audience.

It’s not as simple as it sounds.

The consumer panel you choose—can make or break your market research survey. You’re about to place a lot of trust in their hands. They need to speak on behalf of your target audience. It’s essential that they’re really representative of that group, or the results just won’t be accurate.

Here’s why. Recall bias is real. We’ve conducted studies to measure the impact of inaccurate insights. Want to know the results? We found that recall bias can cause as much as 300% sample error1. Not only is that way too high; if it happens, you’ll never trust that panel again.

Okay, so how do I pick the right panel?

Glad you asked. For a successful market research survey, your panel needs two things:

  1. Multi-step validation: Pick a panel that’s been verified. You should be speaking to first-party consumers. Their data should be matched to the re-verification survey questions. This way you know there’s no fraud or misrepresentation in the panelists.
  1. Observed, behavior data: Get real people engaging in real time. You do that by observing consumers via their GPS. The moment they take an action: go into a store, or hit a website, you survey. Now the information is in-the-moment, unbiased, and validated.

Let’s dig in a little deeper into these observed behaviors you want, in step 2 below.

Step 2: Confirm their actions.

Let’s take an example.

You need a market research survey on a certain brand of chips. It launched three months ago. Sales weren’t what you expected and you need to know why. Great, let’s talk to consumers.

Not so fast.

How do you know that you have the right consumers? This is why observation is important. It confirms that the people who naturally buy your brand are surveyed. As well as, anyone who’s chosen a competitor’s brand. Using the GPS on their phone, you can validate their behaviors.

Of course, you need express permission to get that GPS information. At MFour, we do it by paying panelists in cash. They give us their data, we pay them for it. It creates engagement. But, whichever way you choose, just be sure you have their express consent to track their actions. 

Cool. Now you have first-party consumers, who’ve agreed to share their locations. You can ping the ones who’ve left a store that sells your products right away, or in a few hours. Either way, by confirming they’ve taken the actions you need ahead of time, you’re getting accurate data.

Your panel is verified. Their actions were validated. And, you’re ready for a methodology.

Step 3: Choose the best way to reach them.

It’s almost time to reach out. 

As you prepare your goals, which we’ll dive into a little deeper in Step 4, you’ll want to think about the method you plan to reach them with. This will help you to hone in on the questions you need to ask and ensure that they’re properly teed up for the best results.

Let’s start with what we wouldn’t recommend, and why. Here are four survey methods we’d avoid:

  • Mail: It’s slow and hard to review.2
  • In-person: It’s expensive and intrusive.3
  • Phone: Less than 6% answer the survey.4
  • Online: Only 49% satisfied with experience.5

You can easily eliminate these—by using a mobile methodology. 

Mobile survey research also confirms consumer behavior ahead of time, and validates your panelists, as shared in Steps 1 and 2. The other four methods can’t, because they don’t have access to the behavioral data implicit in mobile technology. It sits on the panelist’s cell phone.

There are three more benefits to this market research survey method. On mobile, you can:

  1. Run digital surveys: Access the $602 billion spent online6
  2. Verify phone data: Get info on consumers’ apps, carrier, make, model & more7
  3. Get personal: Consumers share their pictures and video responses with you8.

Great. You’ve got a panel, you know their actions, and you have a platform to use. Now, it’s time we dig into goals for your market research survey.

Step 4: Ensure your goals are well-defined.

Here’s the thing…

Or, three things, really. Because, no matter what’s inside of your market research survey, you’re likely to have one of three goals in mind:

  1. Market evaluation—you want to understand the market landscape.
  2. Pre-launch test—you want the product/brand launch to be a success.
  3. Post-launch evaluation—you want to know how the brand/product is doing in-market.

That’s it. 

So, asking the right questions starts with a goal—and works backward from there. Let’s have a look at each goal in more detail, to create impactful market research surveys.

Market evaluation.

If you know how consumers shop your category, you can market to them better. 

For example, let’s say you know the exact stores and visitation frequency for ideal customers. By running a market evaluation survey you can ensure that your channel strategy, and marketing plans, are built to support the best customer experience—and adjust ad spends accordingly.

Or, maybe you want to know the % of product sales that go to you, versus the competition. To grow wallet share, you’ll need to understand what your customers are purchasing, and how much. Run a share of wallet evaluation to find out where you stand. Then craft a competitive strategy.

Another great example is a big uptick, or drop, in sales. If the category as a whole stays level, it’s a perfect time to do a market research survey. Find out why so many people are making a switch from one brand to another. Is the category collapsing into just a few brands? See how it will impact your product line and your business—and then go make the necessary changes.

Pre-launch test.

Get the data you need before you launch.

A pre-launch test gives you the purchasing behavior you’re looking for, before the product even hits the shelves. Consumer insights can help you fine-tune the product, messaging, packaging, and media spend—all before launch. Testing content is crucial to ensuring long-term success. 

And ads are a great place to start. With so many different platforms today, there’s a ton to test. Need a social media ad that can scale ROI positive fast? Do a pre-launch test. Insert your social media ads into consumers’ news feeds for instant feedback. Then, adjust your social media ads.

Or, run an out-of-home ad test in a certain market. See how consumers respond to the ad by sending them a survey once they pass it. Test the messaging, copy, and design—pre and post launch. It’s the best way to get metrics. Be sure of your spend, before you make a big investment.

Post-launch evaluation.

If brand perception is important to you, a post-launch survey will help.

Maybe a new competitor has entered the market—or, you made changes to pricing. Either way, a market research survey for an in-market product will give you rich data on brand awareness. Hear which way consumers are leaning, what their affinity is like, and then pivot your channel strategy.

Or, let’s say you’re in entertainment. And, just launched a TV pilot. It was a highly anticipated show but ratings are down. Want to know why? Episodic testing can help you survey viewers immediately after they’ve watched your show. Get in-the-moment insights. And understand the “why” behind your ratings numbers, so you can pivot based on audience engagement.

It’s always going to be a battle to capture consumer attention. But, the best way to find out what customers want, is to actually talk to them. So, if you’re curious about an in-store display or a promotional offer, it may be the perfect time to launch a market research survey. The ability to survey your market in-the-moment, based on what they’re really doing, creates a massive ROI. 

Step 5: Survey, then collect accurate data.

That’s it. 

Now, hold your breath and hit send, because this is our fifth and final step. 

The only missing link is in the data itself. By picking the right panel, observing their actions, selecting the best methodology and making sure your goals are in place—you’re 90% ahead of everyone else. Your market research survey is primed and prepped, ready to give you results.

The insights you get back will paint a full picture of what your consumers think, and do. And, the best part is, it’s all in real time. Now you have the power to impact change in the organization. You can use that data to change ad spends, adjust channel strategies and improve your outreach.

They say seeing is believing. And we agree. When you can see what consumers are doing, and really impact your customer experience, you can easily beat out the competition. 

By Sydney Lewis

Reviewed by Theresa Bui

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