The Unexpected Conversation Starter: Using Surveys to Pump Up Your Marketing

You probably got your first one sometime in grade school. It likely asked what your favorite color was and if you liked so-and-so who sat behind you in math class.

Yes, surveys have always been a valuable way to gather information - we figured that out as kids. But most marketers don't use the survey to its full potential.

With so many companies now offering affordable online survey services, it's easier than ever to ask your customers to share their thoughts. And since people are more likely to respond to the convenience and accessibility of online questionnaires, your ability to gather valuable intelligence data through surveys is better than ever.

Collecting information is always an important function, and a survey certainly can do that, but it can also do much more. It can also take your marketing to the next level. By focusing on some basic points, you can maximize the value of your surveys and kick your marketing up a notch.

Know thy customer
The simplest use of a survey is to collect information about your customers. Maybe you have some profile data from your face-to-face interactions, or basic demographics from your opt-in process, but a survey is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of exactly who your customer is - and how you can tailor your marketing to better capture their attention.

Of course, once you decide to ask some questions it's tempting to go overboard. Resist this urge and stay focused on one or two topics at most. Are you gathering "getting to know you" information? Asking for specific transaction feedback? Gauging the viability of a new product offering? Remember...ask for everything and you're likely to get nothing.

Be ready to react
If you're conducting a survey to gather feedback on your performance, it's important to have a follow-up plan in place. When customers take the time to comment, there's nothing worse than leaving them feeling unheard or ignored - especially when the feedback is negative - so be prepared to address any issues raised by your survey respondents.

Nick Magone, a partner at NJ-based CPA firm Magone & Company, used an online survey for the first time this year to gather feedback about his firm's processes and performance during tax season.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time people took to give us fairly detailed feedback," says Magone. "Was I happy to hear the criticism? No. Was it useful to the firm? Absolutely."

Magone was also glad for the opportunity to address specific concerns raised by clients.

"The survey uncovered some things we would never have had the chance to address otherwise. In the past, people might have simply taken their business elsewhere. Now, they can see that their feedback matters - that we're using their comments to improve our performance, which will hopefully strengthen our relationship with them over the long term."

Quick polling tools
In addition to full-service survey providers such as SurveyMonkey.com (our partner of choice), don't overlook the quick-feedback capabilities of tools like Twitter or LinkedIn.

You'd be surprised what you can learn in just 140 characters or less when you poll your connections or followers. Micro-blogging is a great way to test the waters when a full-fledged survey isn't necessary. And the near-instantaneous feedback can be invaluable when you're on deadline.

Carefully constructed surveys have many benefits. The simplest and most important is that, when done well, they give you a valuable customer touchpoint to add to your marketing arsenal - and data you can use to solidify those relationships for many years to come.

About the Author
NJ copywriter Lisa Fahoury, a Certified Business Communicator and principal at Fahoury Ink in West Orange, is the editor of Creative Compost: Where Great Marketing Ideas Grow, a marketing newsletter focusing on offbeat promotion strategies. She is also the creator of the Think Like a Fish seminar series on creative thinking. Reach her at 973-324-2100 or info@fahouryink.com

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