How questionnaires can help you plan and market your business

An invaluable marketing tool, if you avoid the pitfalls

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A properly devised questionnaire can be an invaluable marketing tool, as long as you avoid the common pitfalls.

A good market research agency with experience in your sector can help with this, because you need to take care in drawing up the questions.

Simon Wieremiej, spokesperson for the British Marketing Research Association (BRMA), says questions like “Would you buy this product?” can give misleading answers: “The answer might be ‘yes’, but they could mean that they would pay £1 whereas the price might actually be £10.” Avoid closed questions, with yes/no answers – better to elicit a fuller response.

Michael Warren, former director general of the Market Research Society (MRS) and now a freelance research and consultant, is equally cautious: “In sectors such as fast moving consumer goods where market researchers are trying to explore the image of one client’s products against those of a rival’s products, it is usual for respondents to be asked about other products, some of which they may never have used.

“You might ask them about a range of variables, including smoothness, price, levels of satisfaction, but you have to be careful about what you compare the product to. Asking people how a new car, say, compares to a Rolls Royce really gets up respondents’ noses because they have never driven a Rolls.”

Market research falls into two broad types. Quantitative research focuses on a broad cross-section and produces a numerical result, eg 36% of the population think this – useful figures to throw at your bank manager.

Qualitative research is more in-depth, often using a smaller – but representative – sample, and discovers not only what people do but why they buy a certain product, how they feel about it, and how they would like to see it improved.

But Warren emphasises that it is misleading to suggest that one kind suits certain goods and services better than others: “Qualitative and quantitative research are complementary to each other, and should be used together: qualitative research especially can be used to give a greater understanding of the figures.”

Whichever type of research you decide to undertake, there are a number of factors you should bear in mind before beginning:

  • KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Long-winded questionnaires are likely to put respondents off, and will distort the response – the only respondents may be those with nothing better to do that day, which may not be your target market.

“Telling them that a survey will take five minutes is likely to get a better response than one lasting 25 minutes,” says Warren: “If it does last longer than that, it is bad for the industry and not good for your product image.”

  • Choose a representative sample. Market research agencies can advise on this process.
  • Circulate the questionnaire via the Internet, or, if you are a retailer or caterer, hand one to your customers. Offer a prize draw for completed questionnaires. Remember that a low response rate will distort figures.
  • Respect confidentiality. The MRS Code of Conduct specifies that respondents should not be misled over what they are being asked about. Do not use their responses for follow-up sales. The customer who completes a questionnaire in your restaurant will not take kindly to telephone calls the next morning.

Long-winded questionnaires are likely to put respondents off, and will distort the response.

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