Online Surveys, Part 3: Real-Life Tips and Tactics

We did our own informal survey of clients, colleagues, and ClickZ readers to research this three-part series on online surveys. For this final installment, we’re going to do a brief rundown of some tested tips and tactics — in survey form.

What Incentives Work to Get People to Complete a Survey?

  • gift certificates

  • American Express gift cheques
  • White papers, downloadable books, and so on
  • Electronic devices such as PDAs, digital cameras, or two-way radios

Carol Nelson, group marketing director of Advanstar Communications, has used Motorola two-way radios as well as Amazon gift certificates and American Express gift cheques. Her response rates for surveys for Sensors magazine and Sensors Expo & Conference are typically 15 to 20 percent.

A drawing in which entrants (a.k.a., survey participants) could win one of five $50 American Express gift cheques worked for Julie Chapman, marketing manager at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Her survey generated a 34 percent response.

Another possible offering, employed by Ellen Sills-Levy, president and CEO of Strategic Surveys International, is partial sections on a relevant book as a download. Sills-Levy got good results with the strategy.

The beauty of online incentives, such as gift certificates, is no fulfillment costs are involved. You can also offer them in relatively low denominations, or hold a drawing, to keep your premium costs affordable.

What Audiences Respond Best to Online Surveys?

  • Middle-level management

  • Senior executives
  • Academics
  • Engineers

Nelson’s target audience for Sensors is engineers. Although she finds engineers are normally reserved when talking in person, she finds they respond very candidly to open-ended questions delivered by email. Chapman, whose audience is also engineers, concurs. She finds in general academics and engineers respond enthusiastically to online surveys.

What about middle managers and senior executives? Middle managers are often responsive to online surveys, but senior executives can be a different story. Sills-Levy has actually talked major clients out of doing online surveys aimed at senior executives. At that level, she finds telephone and even face-to-face surveys generate higher-quality results. She cautions that though online surveys seem cheaper, they’re not if you don’t get the response you need. Many senior executives have their admins screen their email.

Both Nelson and Sills-Levy caution with business-to-business (B2B) email overload, online surveys will probably generate lower response rates over time.

What’s the Best Format for Online Surveys?

  • Rolling surveys (with all the questions on one page)

  • One question per page

Most of the surveys we’ve seen generated in-house by marketing managers are rolling surveys with anywhere from 7 to 20 questions. However, Sills-Levy encourages the use of more professionally designed surveys with one question per page and quick-downloading colors.

Our take on it is for a “quick and dirty” survey, you can probably design your own one- or two-page survey. But when it comes to a high-profile survey where there is a big marketing budget on the line, you should consider hiring a marketing research firm. For example, Sills-Levy often recommends alternative research vehicles, such as online panels — for which her firm will recruit a select group to “meet” regularly online to discuss moderated topics — or dedicated chat rooms.

How About Timing?

Here, we’re talking about timing as it pertains to post-conference surveys only. What’s the best time to gauge an attendee’s conference experience after the event?

  • One week after the event

  • Two weeks after
  • Three weeks after

Both Nelson and Chapman agree that though you want to talk to recent attendees while the experience is fresh in their minds, you also need to give them some time to get settled in back at work. They’re not going to read or respond to your survey the first week after the conference, since they have to catch up with their overloaded inboxes. Both suggest sending the survey three weeks after the event. Chapman then follows up with a repeat request after another two weeks, which lifts response appreciably.

Final Note: From a Copywriter’s Perspective

Karen considers survey results — especially written responses to open-ended questions — to be golden nuggets of marketing information.

For example, reading the responses to a survey from Sensors Expo & Conference, she was able to understand the nature of the networking that happened at the event. It wasn’t about making valuable career or sales contacts. It was about engineers finding the right products and talking to vendors face to face to see if they had the knowledge and expertise to solve the engineers’ design problems. As a result, Karen was able to target the copy more closely to the actual attendee experience — and use actual testimonials to give the copy more credibility. (Be sure to request permission up front to use testimonials!)

With this, our series on online survey comes to a close — at least for now. We’ve a lot more interesting topics in store. Keep your case studies, tips, and questions coming to Karen to spark some new column ideas.

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