Preparing a Survey: Three Key Questions

Conceptual the customer responded to the survey

Last month we talked about The Power of Primary Research and why conducting it is vital to keeping your brand and business healthy and growing. We mentioned that primary research includes both qualitative and quantitative methods. In a previous article Are You Playing with a Full Deck? we discussed the benefits of including Qualitative Research in your strategy and research regimen to best understand your customer’s and prospective customers’ needs, perceptions, behaviors, and more.

As we said, “Qualitative is the ‘heart’. It gets you the ‘why’, the ‘so what’ and so much more.” But if we’re looking for the most holistic approach, we need to conduct Quantitative research as well. So, it begs the question, “What should quantitative research look like for my business?”

Unfortunately, the answer is, “It depends.”

We realize that answer isn’t all that helpful. So to expand a bit, we’ll provide some actionable advice on the subject.

First, let’s discuss quantitative research; what it is, what it looks like, and what it does.
In consumer and brand research, quantitative research primarily involves surveys. While other methods such as forms, sales data, and experimentation can be used for quantitative analysis, surveys are commonly relied upon for collecting hard data useful in determining trends. But that doesn’t mean one should jump straight into putting together a survey full of all their burning questions. First, there’s some homework to be done.

To begin, whenever  we approach a research project with a client, we like to use the following questions as a guide:

  1. What is the impetus for research?
  2. What do you know?
  3. What does success look like?

The impetus for quantitative research is usually either reactionary or proactive.
A reactionary impetus could be that sales are down, that customers are complaining about a product, or a new competitor is entering the marketplace. If the impetus is reactionary, we explore the driving force behind it. Is the challenge marketplace/channel driven? Is it a natural, ‘product life cycle’ progression or ‘man’-made? How do competitive products and competitors’ messaging differ? We’ll let the specific issue(s) guide the exploration and rely on client expertise to fully understand the situation and landscape.

On the flip side, sometimes a business proactively decides it wants to conduct ongoing quantitative research at a regular frequency to stay on top of trends and better capitalize on opportunities as they arise. These ‘tracker’ surveys can vary in scope and focus but always explore key product features, benefits, perceptions, price points, and more to establish the right set of core questions and measures that will best advise success in the future.

Whether the need for the quantitative survey(s) is reactionary or proactive, both involve further discovery and exploration to guide and optimize survey creation.

Understanding what you know is a broad, far-reaching task. It includes what you’d expect in terms of evaluation and review of any past consumer research – as far back as deemed relevant. The last thing we’d want to do is waste valuable time and money reinventing the wheel. This also includes a review of any relevant secondary research used in decision-making. Other data points that can be accessed (purchase info, sales data, website metrics, etc.) can provide valuable insight into “what we know” relative to the issue(s) at hand.

In addition to scouring reports and documents, we also like to have some conversations with key stakeholders. This may include anyone from the CFO to those on the front line. Sometimes what we think we know isn’t proven in our research. And what we think we know can hurt the bottom line and growth when it drives errant decisions. Research is about discovering. Discovering what’s new AND what’s changed.

Creating a successful survey includes answering the very broad question about what success looks like. To answer it, we challenge our clients to always think bigger than this survey, at this moment. We drive towards getting a deeper understanding of what success looks like, the ‘big picture’.

We’re looking for our clients to say things like:

“We want to be the market share leader in the category”
“We want to grow our private label/store brand sales by 25%”
“We want to move the majority of our sales to our e-commerce site in the next ten years”

And that’s exactly what we’re after, even though research alone cannot deliver that success. We ask the broad question to get big picture business goals and break them down into what research can accomplish that will support them. We use our knowledge about what’s most important for the future of the business to hone our research so that it delivers insights that advise decisions and guide actions.

By asking these three simple questions and fully exploring them the way we describe above -taking the time to listen and learn- we set the stage for creating a thoroughly planned, vetted, and thoughtful survey tool with the best chance at meeting and exceeding the research goals.

If you’d like to know more about conducting quantitative research or would like to discuss a custom, holistic research strategy for your business or brand, feel free to contact us.

Our ‘In the kNOW’ series tackles the burning questions we all want to know about right NOW. If you have questions you think we should ask, topics we should explore, or things you’d like to learn more about, shoot me a note at