By Lynn Manternach / Guest Editorial

Building a strong brand requires making strong connections with customers and potential customers. While the overall goal is to move product, the best way to do that is to move people. Connect with them. Engage them.

The relationship you have with your customers and potential customers is one of your company’s most valuable assets. It’s a measure of your current success and a predictor of future success.

So how do you know if you’re connecting with customers in the right way? Ask.

There are lots of ways to ask customers what they think. There are numerous DIY research options available, making it easy to whip up a survey and send it out to customers to find out what they think.

Customer research, when done right, is one of the most effective research tools for developing better branding and marketing strategies. But you need to ask the right questions in the right way to get the insight you need for strategy development. And like most things, there are more ways to do it wrong than you probably expect.

Here are some tips to help you get it right:

Clearly define your research objectives. Focus your objectives on outcomes. What do you really need to understand when the research is completed? Think past the research to your proposed action plan. Clearly stated objectives will keep you and your team focused on what is most important.

Keep your survey short. No one wants to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes responding to an online or telephone survey. Seriously. No one.

Research shows that consumers are much more likely to take your survey if you keep it under 25 questions. Longer than that, and respondents will abandon the survey before they complete it.

Cut unnecessary questions from your surveys. Every question you include should have a well-defined purpose and a good reason for being asked. Keep your survey focused on actionable data.

Watch out for leading and loaded questions. Review your questions carefully to make sure that there is no emotionally charged language that hints at preferences or assumed facts. Ask someone who was not involved in developing the survey to review it for potential bias.

Use open-ended questions wisely. While qualitative data can be incredibly valuable, a big text box can be intimidating for survey respondents. What’s worse, if your open-ended question is not easy to answer, chances are good that they will simply skip it.

Use scales or closed-ended questions to get additional information (“How satisfied are you with the service?”), then follow up with a targeted, open-ended question to get specific information (“Why are you dissatisfied?”).

If you use broader, open-ended questions on their own, you will get broader answers that will be more difficult to classify and interpret. In addition, broader questions are more difficult for respondents to answer because it’s not as clear to them what’s expected.

Keep rating scales consistent. While you have read the survey carefully, don’t assume your respondents will. Avoid tripping them up by switching up your scales. If you start out using a scale of one to five, where one means not at all important and five means very important, make sure all of your scales are consistently set to go from negative to positive, regardless of the specific wording.

Survey the right people. Solid sampling helps you make business decisions with confidence. You can only generalize your results to people similar to those you include in your initial survey response set. Refer back to your research objectives to help determine what kind of respondents fit your needs best.

Look beyond the obvious. While basic percentages and crosstabs can provide informative and descriptive information, advanced analysis is where most of the magic happens. Consider using advanced analytical approaches such as correlation, multiple regression analysis and statistical modeling to arrive at the type of conclusions that will drive more precise, meaningful results.

Ultimately, research has the potential to drive positive change across your organization, focusing critical decisions on the needs and perceptions of your targeted consumers. But there are lots of ways to get it wrong. When you are making significant decisions, consider partnering with a research professional to guide the process, so you build your corporate strategy on a solid foundation of insight.



Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. ( in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact Lynn at

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