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Monday, May 23, 2011

Clear Objectives: Insurance for Great Surveys

What is the single most important step to take before you start planning an online survey project? Setting clear objectives. Without clear objectives you are likely to end up with a bloated or rambling 
questionnaire design. Even worse? At the end of the project, you are likely to find that the data you collected didn’t adequately meet your most important needs.

With online surveys, a clear set of objectives is an insurance plan you just can’t pass on.

How to State Objectives
When we’re thinking about objectives for market research projects, it’s often helpful to think in terms of questions or hypotheses. Some examples of goals stated as questions are as follows:
  • How can we improve our sales success within a specific customer group?
  • Why have we experienced a sharp increase in customer defections?
  • Which of three new product concepts should we invest in developing further?
  • In which of several possible geographic areas should we expand sales distribution?
  • What types of marketing messages are likely to resonate with our target market as we roll out this new product or solution?
  • What percentage of our target market knows we exist?
  • What percentage of a specific customer group prefers our competitors and why?
These are all examples of specific questions that can define a research project’s scope. They are precise enough to be meaningful and clearly map to important business issues.  While your own questions may be different, these examples can be used as a guide.
In addition to framing objectives as questions, you can also frame them as hypotheses. Then, the survey is designed to test the hypotheses. If you already have hypotheses, that’s a great way to define a project’s cope. Here are some examples:
  • We have a hypothesis that preference for our brand is notably higher among 18- to 35-year-olds than among those 36 to 49.
  • We have a hypothesis that our customers prefer competitor A’s packaging.
  • We have a hypothesis that we need to add feature A before we add feature B, to optimize near-term sales.
  • We have a hypothesis that sales of new product a are lackluster because our retail partners are not adequately trained with it.

By using questions or hypotheses to specify project objectives, you will be able to effectively document the project’s scope. This will be the information you need to design an effective survey and will also be a handy reference for getting buy-in from team members or colleagues.

How Many?
The most successful custom survey projects have one or two high-level objectives, three at the most. Of course, under that level, there can be several sub-goals. For example, in a case where the primary goal is to measure brand awareness among a target customer group, appropriate sub goals might be (a) to understand how that varies by age range, and (b) to test how it compares relative to competitive brands.

Bonus Benefit
As an added bonus, clear objectives will help you avoid scope creep. It is a common scenario: you start with a very precise study topic. Then word gets out that you’re planning to do a survey project. Suddenly you are bombarded with requests to add “just” two or three questions to the questionnaire: “As long as you’re talking to our customers, can you please ask them about color trends?” or, “Can you please find out if they’ve seen this recent ad we ran?”  Being able to point to a clear, agreed upon, documented project scope will you stand firm.


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