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Using Surveys for Market Research: When and How?

Surveys are a great way to understand your audience. Knowing when to use a survey will not only save you time and resources, but also help you benefit from the true insights this technique offers.

Use a Survey When:

  • The question you are asking is clear. Why? Surveys are great for presenting specific options and getting responders to choose among them. For example: Do you prefer one logo over another?

  • You need a representative response. Why? Though response rates on surveys can be quite low (as low as 10%), if you have a large enough pool of candidates, the response will still reflect the broad population.

  • You are testing more than one audience. Why? If you are serving more than one audience, you will want to know what the preferences of those different populations are. For example, populations with a higher education may have different responses and preferences than those who have a lower education.


Marketing research offers many options, including consumer panels, focus groups, surveys, observations, and more. Each method has its benefits, limitations, and costs.


A Survey is Not Your Best Bet When:

  • You are exploring options. Why? Because surveys mostly measure quantitative data. Asking for creative responses is difficult without a proper set up for context. Consumer panels or focus groups are better choices in this case. For example: What words best describes your organization?

  • You are researching a narrow group. Why? Although today’s data on consumer habits can suggest a great deal about their demographics, drilling down to very specific groups is still challenging. In cases with small sample sizes, panels and focus groups are useful in gaining in-depth feedback. For example, parents of female children ages 9-10.

A Few Tips to Engage Your Audience:

When designing your survey, following best practices will help you reach the most accurate qualitative and quantitative measurements. Some suggestions:

  • Get ‘em on Board: Letting your respondents know how their feedback will be used gives them a sense that their opinion matters. And if you can tell them in advance that you will share the results with them, even better.

  • Set ‘em on Task: Retaining focus when taking a survey is very important in order to achieve reliable results. If certain questions do not pertain to all audiences to whom the survey is sent, use “skip logic.” This tool allows a respondent to identify a question that is not relevant and move on. The benefit is two-fold: the respondent does not waste energy, and the surveyor gets results that are not skewed.

  • Keep ‘em Honest: Sometimes you will pose a close-ended question that allows respondents to choose a preference among given options. These types of questions require respondents to provide an intuitive response without analyzing their thought process. To uncover more, it’s best to follow up with an open-ended question, such as “Why?” A word of advice: Take the responses with a grain of salt. It is difficult to self-analyze one’s immediate reaction. With that being said, you may be able to gain very valuable insights.