How To Get the Most Out of Your Thought Leadership Project: Part 1, Survey Design - (Archived)

Thought leadership research can have a tremendous return on investment while helping to establish your people as trusted advisors in the market — but only if you ask the right questions, understand what the data is telling you, and leverage the results. In this three-part series, we look at each of those three key elements of successful thought leadership research (starting with survey design) so that when you start your project, you will hit the ball out of the park.

Preparing and conducting any type of effective market research program — from thought leadership to customer satisfaction — requires expertise in a range of areas. Hands down, though, the survey design is the most critical component of success. Ask the right questions to the right audience, and you’ll mine marketing gold. Ask the wrong questions to the wrong audience, and the results will be tarnished. Developing the survey instrument requires you to work closely with your research provider, who is the expert in statistically valid survey design. You, however, are the expert in your industry and are the one who knows what you really want to learn. Some companies shy away from market research because prior studies failed to deliver data they could realistically use. Our goal is to help you avoid that.

Market Connections advocates what is sometimes referred to as a “backwards” approach to the research design phase. We start by collaborating with our clients upfront to define how the research results will be used. This process requires defining program objectives: What do you hope the outcome will be? For example, if you develop a software app that can prevent network security breaches, you may want to find out if agencies are using tools in that class, and if so, do the agencies feel secure?

This upfront collaboration takes time, but it yields a survey instrument that is more likely to generate rich results that you can fully leverage. Another key we have found is including the subject-matter experts in these discussions. They often bring a different viewpoint than the marketing department and can help identify questions that really get to the heart of the matter.

As you work with your research provider, keep the following tips in mind. They will help you give the research team the information needed to develop a good survey instrument.

Focus: Even in longer surveys, it’s important to have one main objective. The more focused you are on what you hope to learn, the more likely every question will help lead to rich data.

Think about who should be responding: Who will answer your survey questions is important: Do you need C-level executives or people in the trenches? Do you want an equal number of Defense and Civilian respondents? Does job tenure matter? The answers depend on the goals you have established.

Start out easy: General, easier questions help set the stage and put the respondents at ease with the survey. We often start with demographic questions, then lead into the more specific and/or complex questions that require thought and consideration.

Be crystal clear: Questions need to be succinct and easy to understand or there is a high risk that respondents will interpret them differently than you intend. There is even a risk that later, after you see the results, you wouldn’t remember exactly what you meant (that happens more than you would think). It’s important to wear the hat of survey respondents and think of all the ways they may interpret your question, and spend the time brainstorming that with your researcher.

Keep it simple: Sometimes the information you’re seeking just isn’t easily accessible. Respondents may not have ready access to the answer you need. Put yourself in their shoes. If it’s unrealistic that they could respond without looking up the answer somewhere or asking another person, simplify or eliminate the question.

Don’t bounce around: 
Whenever possible, we structure the survey so respondents complete questions about one topic before moving on to the next to help them focus.

Stay on track:  As you review the survey instrument your researcher provides, it’s critical to keep your objectives in mind. This helps ensure the questionnaire is designed to deliver the types of data you’re hoping for.

Paying attention to these tips will help you work effectively with your research firm, and increase the chances of a rich dataset with which to work. In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at how to interpret your research results.

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