Avoid Them: 5 Mistakes Marketers Make When They Conduct Surveys

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Surveys can be extremely powerful tools for finding out what customers really think, but that's only if you use them right.

Surveys can be extremely powerful tools for finding out what customers really think.

But you may find that most customers have no interest in answering your surveys.

You may discover that your customers are not providing any comprehensive answers. It’s not their fault. It’s in the way you are conducting your surveys.

Related Article:Data-Driven Marketing: Decision Making Through Surveys

But don’t worry. I’m going to introduce you to some of the major mistakes marketers like you make when it comes to survey methodology, and how you can go about solving them.

1. Reaching the Wrong Respondents

Once you have designed a great survey, you need to find people to answer them. Many marketers will simply opt for the free route because it means they come in under-budget. They will go for friends, family members, and former customers. There’s a big difference between respondents, though. And many of them will not give you honest opinions.

Unless you specifically want to hear from your most loyal supporters, you need to go out of your way to find people who have no connection to you. Try targeting people who may have only made a purchase once before, for example, or even customers who didn’t like you.

You need a true representation of the population, rather than just the people who already like you. It may be nice to receive a survey telling you about how great you are, but this is not going to do you much good. You need people who can give you actionable feedback, otherwise, the survey has no point.

2. Writing Biased Questions 

Look to politics and you will see politicians making regular use of certain surveys to reinforce their points and justify their actions. The beauty of a survey is that you can easily get the right answer if you ask a question in the right way. This is precisely what politicians do. Through using flowery language, you can essentially force someone to answer an issue in a certain way, and then you can interpret the information in the way you please.

Writing biased questions is easy when you are the owner of a business. The best way to get around this is to have someone independent craft the questions for you. In some cases, you may even wish to download a template of a survey online to help you craft questions that aren’t accidentally biased. If you have the budget for it, you could even employ a professional to look through the questions for you in order to give you a second opinion.

Related Article: Into the Crystal Ball: 4 Online Marketing Predictions for 2016

3. Treat a Marketing Survey Like an Ordinary Pen and Paper Survey

In this day and age, practically nobody is still issuing a physical survey. The logistics of this are too much, and most people will never fill them out because they take a lot of time to manage. Another nuance of the pen and paper survey is that most questions are close-ended and just offer a few choices to choose from. 

You are missing out on a massive benefit of online surveys simply because you are not asking open-ended questions. This will make your online feedback far richer and much more useful.

Try adding some different types of questions. For example, you could have people click an image. You could then use the resulting heat map to tell you more about what images and what parts of images appeal the most to your target audience. This is extremely useful for split testing, especially when it comes to mobile apps.

If you decide to work with a professional survey company, take a look at the different question types available. Ask them about what their newest question types are. You don’t have to purposely use the most creative type of question possible, but it’s worth considering something more than a traditional multiple-choice answer. 

4. Not Taking Margin of Error into Account

A survey may have multiple answers and you may see that one answer has beaten out the rest of them. Marketers so often just go with the most popular suggestion and move on from there. What they are not taking into account is the margin of error. A margin of error is based on the number of respondents you get back.

For example, if you ask 100 people what they think of a new product name, you have a margin of error of 10 percent. Unless there’s an overwhelming winner, you are not sure whether the most popular option is actually the best option to go with.

Working out the margin of error can be done with a number of online calculators. You may also decide to look up a table, which will tell you immediately what the rough margin of error is.

5. Failing to Look Deeper in the Data

To take advantage of the power of user reviews, you need to look further than the top lines of a survey. The top lines are the basic answers. You will look at each one in isolation in order to come to conclusions about your customers. Instead, try looking deeper. Here are some examples of how this works: 

  • Of the people who answered, "yes" to a question, how many of them were women above the age of 40?
  • How did the people who answered, "yes" to question three answer question five?
  • What did men above the age 35 answer to question seven?

This is where it gets more complex and this is where you can draw the most accurate conclusions about your customers. You should keep in mind that the margin of error will change when you begin to look at questions in this way because you are reducing the overall number of users involved in your sample. Remember that you are now looking at individual questions only. 

Related Article:Is Boring Better? The Case for Plain Jane Online Marketing


Surveys can become even stronger if you are willing to spend a little more time drilling down into them and figuring out how you can extract even more information. What are your top tips for crafting great surveys?

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