Tips for Writing ESP Surveys to Get Solid Market Research

By Jeanette McMurtry

ESP surveys — this is where marketing research gets tricky. It goes without saying that asking the unconscious mind a question and getting a solid result is a difficult thing to do. But a big reason for doing surveys is to uncover the emotions that drive the decision process and ultimately choice and loyalty. Asking questions about how customers feel is a good start.

You may also want to ask a marketing expert with consumer psychology and behavior marketing expertise for some help asking questions. This person can guide you on how to ask the same question in two or three different ways so you can see how emotionally charged, or conflicted, or confused your customers may be about a topic.

One surveyor did this when surveying customers about climate change and learned a great deal. For one, what people said about their values did not match up with their intended or likely actions. And interestingly enough, those who highly valued environmental protection as a life goal scored very low on willingness to contribute even $5 a month to help out. Huge insight was gained by that contrast. These are the kinds of questions you need to ask to see how customers truly feel versus how they say they will act.

Here’s a sample question that can help you gain actionable insights based on feelings, not just past transactions:

  • Of the following, which is most likely to cause you to donate $5 a month to reduce the amount of waste you contribute to landfills?
    • Knowing you are helping to preserve your local environment for future generations
    • Knowing you will be reducing your personal imprint on the local environment
    • Knowing the earth around you will be cleaner and safer for your family’s immediate and long‐term health

How consumers answer these questions reveal a great deal and helps you identify the values that are most likely to capture their attention and influence their behavior.

Today’s consumers are less interested in receiving “personalized” information from you that just reiterates what they already know, such as what they just bought from you. Ask questions about what type of personalized information would be meaningful to them and add those variables to your customer profiles.

Consumers are more willing to answer surveys if you make it about them and not just about you.

Preface your survey by indicating that you will use the information to better serve them. If you plan to keep all answers confidential, tell them that, too. Transparency regarding how you plan to use and share their information is critical to completion and building trust with your customers.

Be prepared for feedback about any controversial topics you may bring up. One Surveyor was promoting a program to reduce carbon emissions, and by simply asking respondents whether they believed in climate change, quite a bit of angry mail was generated. However, those comments were taken to heart and added to the research findings as well.

Don’t oversurvey. Use discretion as to how much and how often you ask. Keep surveys to 15 questions or fewer and do only one survey a quarter or less often if you want to get responses.