Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Surveys as a Marketing Tool

In the 1987 classic Wall Street, Gordon Gekko said, “That's the one thing you have to remember about WASPs: they love animals and hate people.”


That's completely irrelevant to this article, however. Gekko did have another bit of wisdom that is helpful to think about, “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Primarily, surveys supply a source of information directly from current or prospective customers. If correctly done, they can show you exactly where you need to improve your business by giving you information on customers perception of your product.

While conducting a survey for a client, I noticed that surveys also hold another possibility: a cheap marketing tool. This particular survey was for a client who felt their services were being underutilized by the community they served. By sending out surveys to thousands of people, we found that interest in the services we were inquiring about increased, simply because a large portion of these people were unaware that these services even existed. Without even intending to, and at very little cost, the survey had served as an educational marketing outlet for our client.

Surveys can serve a dual purpose, by gathering information from customers about how to improve your service while simultaneously educating new customers about your product.

The pitfalls to having the survey play this double role is that if you try to use an informational survey the same way you might use a poster or flyer, the data gathered will be completely unreliable. The art of taking a survey is delicate, and any hint of bias can screw up the results. A survey is not meant to champion the benefits of a product, but merely gather information about it. Surveys can only really be used as an effective marketing outlet if the product you are advertising is relatively unknown.

I received an example of this first hand when I received an email asking me to take a survey about my perception of a service offered on campus. I knew of the service, but didn’t know exactly what they did. The survey asked specifics about what I thought about each facet of the organization, and by showing me all of the different things offered, I was intrigued to investigate more about it on my own.

I think marketing was best described by Le Herron, former CEO of O.M. Scott & Sons, as, “Marketing is understanding what the customer’s needs are and communicating our solutions in ways that he can understand.” Letting a survey do the talking is one way to achieve this.

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