Suffering Surveys

I thought my client had stopped breathing.

We were going over elements of a large-scale survey he wanted Silicon Strategies Marketing to do for them. The mechanics were fine, the methodology was agreeable, and the timelines were A-OK. But when the cost to incentivize respondents was presented, I momentarily mistook his slacked jaw expression as a sign of a cerebral stroke. He quickly reached into his desk draw, took a slug from a flask, then asked if the incentive amount was a typographical error.

survey-signThe benefit behind primary research is that it delivers precise answers about your market. Surveying remains the best way to build quantified business cases and MRD‘s. However, surveying on the cheap produces unreliable results, and surveying in some ways is getting more expensive by the minute. The basic problem is that unless the subject matter of a survey really excites people, they would rather not invest time taking one. This opting-out phenomena causes surveys to be answered by the least viable of all respondents, namely those with excess time and insufficient outside interest. Building a product or defining a market with input from such lackluster respondents is an expensive error, where the expense is accounted in bankruptcy filings.

This congenital defect in surveying has been exacerbated by cheap Internet technologies. Every monkey can survey online today, which has produced a flood of amateur surveyors, survey invitations, and an ever greater public desire to not participate. Survey invitations without incentives have less than a 0.5% response rate, and that average is dropping daily. Even well incented surveys often fail to rise above 1%. The most successful survey Silicon Strategies Marketing ever accomplished achieved a 23% response rate, but everything worked in our favor (solid house list, well targeted audience, and an innovative incentive).

To con or convince people to take a survey requires a few simple steps:

Target your audience: Sending my cousin Bubba `an invitation to rate silk scarves to would be fruitless. If you think blindly sending a massive number of survey invitations to undefined or ill-defined recipients will generate copious and quality responses, then you will be disappointed in the results.

Test invites and incentives: It only takes a little time to test several survey invitation email formats or several incentive offers. If one email option changes response rates from 0.5% to 1.0%, then you will save time, money and aggravation in mass mailing.

Reward participation: Bluntly said, people need to be bribed, and the higher up the economic food chain, the more creative the bribe must be. Some incentives, such as cash, work well providing your target respondents are not well heeled. Offering a “chance to win” something fancy only works when the survey is short (unless that fancy item is the Taj Mahal, and then even I’ll participate). Donating to charity is becoming more viable when polling executives and upper-income people, though you need to be specific about the charity and choose one devoid of controversy.

Keep it short: We all want to ask people a lot of questions, but people don’t want to spend a lot of time answering. If in doubt, find the two or three key questions that you must have answered, and triangulate the rest.

Better yet, drop Silicon Strategies Marketing a line and have us do all the hard work. We know how to get results without causing you a financial coronary.


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