Once the public relations and marketing tool of businesses big enough to afford the hefty cost of fielding them by phone or snail mail or in person, surveys and opinion polls have suddenly become far more accessible to smaller businesses, thanks to the vast and inexpensive reach of the Internet. Today almost any small business can take advantage of surveys as a creative, fun way to stay visible and connect with their clientele. Here are some affordable options.
Traditional Survey Companies
If your goal is to grab headlines, you will need to employ a company recognized by the media as a stalwart of opinion polling such as Yankelovich, Harris, or ICR. These firms offer omnibus surveys, which poll 1,000 adults by phone or online and have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. If the survey is relatively straightforward and involves up to five questions, it can be fielded online at a considerable savings ($3,100 online compared to $4,550 by phone.)
“Online surveys are becoming more popular because they are becoming more acceptable to media,” said Deb Winneberger, an account executive at ICR.
Web-Based Survey Companies
If the purpose of your survey is simply to gather information to freshen up your Web site or polish a sales pitch, you can try one of the newer online survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, or PollDaddy. For $59 a month, your company can field an unlimited number of questions and responses. You’ll get an analysis, but don’t look for rigorous standards and data such as a margin of error. Still you’re getting a unique view of public behavior or opinion, which can be an invaluable marketing tool.
Finally, if you have a strong enough e-mail base, you can even deploy your own survey to serve as an online focus group. Julia Brannan, co-owner of M & J Marketing Communications uses this tool to collect intelligence to help her clients market to women of a certain age.
“We use our e-mail base to gather data from 50 women age 50-plus who give us a fast blast snapshot of what this demographic is thinking on a particular topic,” said Brannan.
“It’s never onerous. We limit it to 20 yes-or-no questions and two open-ended questions. It doesn’t require a lot of time on their part, but they feel like they’re being heard,” said Brannan, who notes the results are not statistically sound and are used strictly to inform marketing decisions.
To come up with your list of questions, think about the story you ultimately want to tell, either to the media or to your potential clients. For example, if you own a dry cleaner and you want to draw attention to your move to environmentally friendly methods, you may ask questions to measure public awareness of green cleaning. If the results show a lack of awareness among those polled, your company can explain the eco-friendly options that are available and how your company is using them.
Using Your Results
You have carefully designed your questions, fielded your survey, and compiled the results. Now what?
You can post the results to your Web site to refresh copy, entertain, and inform visitors and show you are keeping a pulse on your customers. You can share the results with media and offer perspective as an expert in your field. Or you can use the information internally to influence marketing decisions or in new business presentations to demonstrate your grasp of the desired demographic.
Surveys, in the digital age, are one of the more affordable tools for small business to gain a clear understanding of their marketplace and put that knowledge to work for marketing or PR.
In her 16 years as a PR professional, Barbara Goldberg has helped clients in health care, alternative energy, and the performing arts tell their stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS News, ABCNews.com, and many other media outlets.