eliminate guesswork about your buyers

In the last few months, two very different clients of mine discovered unexpected and game-changing insights about their target markets. In both cases, we’ve been working on updates to their visual identity and positioning strategies, and some of the changes we’re contemplating are dramatically different from what they’ve done in the past.

This could be scary, but both client teams are feeling confident about the decisions we’re making because we’re not changing direction blindly. Instead, we’re making conscious shifts in direct response to information obtained from surveys of their best customers and prospects.

The surveys revealed that much of what we thought we knew about our customers was correct. But we also got some very surprising information that uncovered customer needs and desires our current marketing plan wasn’t taking into account. We found that many of our assumptions didn’t match the reality of how we were perceived by our customer base. In some cases, the survey data even identified organizational issues that needed to be addressed.

Both clients had the same reaction. They realized right away that the unexpected information made the entire survey process worthwhile. In response, we were able to re-orient our new positioning and identity changes to take advantage of the opportunities that were revealed.

a simple reality check makes change less risky

Surveys have long been a valuable source of feedback about customer needs and desires. Today they’re easier than ever to perform, thanks to free online tools like SurveyMonkey, FreeOnlineSurveys.com, KwikSurveys, and similar services. You can even do simple polls of up to five questions through LinkedIn groups, giving you the chance to get feedback from people who aren’t on your house list.

The value of a survey is in shaping your strategy. If you know your customers well, you’ll get validation of your current direction. But even if you’re closely in tune with them, surveys will often uncover new ideas, highlight unexpected opportunities, or give you advance notice of changing market dynamics. Whatever the result, you’ll be able to make marketing decisions with more confidence than you could if you were shooting from the hip.

A good survey starts with strategic thinking. It’s important to know what you want to learn before you begin writing. That way, your end goal can help shape your questions.

Your survey can be any length you choose, but there’s a balancing act here. Longer surveys give you more detailed information, while shorter surveys tend to result in higher response rates. Questions that can be answered with quick clicks (yes or no, multiple choice, rank from 1 to 5, etc.) also make surveys easier for your prospects to respond to. You can also increase your response rate by offering incentive prizes, and by making it clear up front how much time it will take to complete the survey.

Whatever length you end up with, it’s important to have at least one open-ended question where you prompt users to tell you anything else that’s on their minds. This is the most likely place for surprises to turn up, and if you hear the same things from many people, you’ll know there’s something you need to pay attention to.

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