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How to write market research questions for humans—not respondents

Need some help writing market research questions for your survey? Don't fret—with these market research question tips you'll be getting the best completion rates you've ever seen.

We’ve got a little secret for you—respondents and target markets don’t exist. But people do.

Imagine you’re on a hot date. You’re sitting across the table from someone who means a lot to you—someone who could be in it for the long haul. You want to impress them with your excellent communication skills, you want to get to know them and you want to understand how they think. Do you:

A. Ask a series of tick-box, closed-ended questions in robotic language? B. Gear open-ended questions around what you’ve already learned about one another?

Opt for A, and the relationship ends there.

But if you go for B, it could be the start of something beautiful.

At the risk of sounding slightly crazy, we’re going to leave that metaphor there. But the message is simple—when someone responds to a market research survey, they want to be treated with the same conversational care and respect that they’d expect from any other human being.

Examples of market research questions

  1. Demographic questions e.g. How old are you? Where do you live?

  2. How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?

  3. Did you consider any of our competitors? Who and why?

  4. What do you wish our product could do?

  5. How would you rate your most recent experience with us?

  6. How long have you been a customer?

  7. How much money do usually spend on X products?

  8. What’s the maximum you’d pay for X?

How to write market research questions

If you’ve struggled with writing questions on market research, or you simply think you have a little room for improvement, bookmark this page.

It’s going to be your go-to guide for how to write marketing research questions that get people talking and tweet-ing. So next time you’re launching a new product, researching a value proposition, or working on a marketing strategy—come back here and get clued up.

  1. 1
    Start with the end goal in mind

    With any big project, it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal and accidentally go off on a tangent. Whether your end product lacks continuity or you’re kicking yourself for wasting time, it’s definitely something you’re going to want to avoid.

    Luckily, the solution is simple. Before you start, set yourself a SMART goal. It must be:

    • Specific

    • Measurable

    • Attainable

    • Relevant

    • Timely

    For instance, you might decide that your goal is—in two weeks time, I need to know which websites my customers go to on a daily basis, so I can help the marketing department distribute its advertising spend most effectively.

    As long as it’s SMART, it’ll keep you on track. Write it somewhere visible in your office so you and anyone else involved in the project are constantly referring back to it when making decisions about the market research project.

  2. 2
    Before you begin, look within

    Keeping surveys short and sweet is key to a high response rate. When it comes to the final draft, you’ll need to be brutal—chopping out any questions that are even slightly unnecessary. You can call yourself Edward Surveyhands.

    Defining what you do know is as important as what you don’t know.

    By getting lots of different people in a room to brainstorm, you can pool your knowledge about your ideal customers. Having people from different departments will give you a more rounded, true representation of who you’re talking to when you’re communicating via a market research survey.

    Here are the questions you’ll need to answer before you begin writing your market research questions:

    • Who is our ideal customer (and is it your current customer)?

    • What do they struggle with?

    • What do they really want?

    • What sets us apart from our competitors?

    • What benefits do our customers think we can give them?

    Some people call this buyer persona development.

    We just call it getting to know people.

  3. 3
    Group questions into topics

    Once you’ve written down what you do know, it’ll spark off lots of thoughts about the gaps in your knowledge.

    Because of this, it’s likely that you’ll come out of the brainstorm with a list of questions as long as your arm.

    But as your final survey should be as short as possible, now is the time to get brutal. Splitting your questions into topics will help you decipher which questions essentially provide you with the same information, while also helping you get as much information from as few questions as possible.

  4. 4
    Think big—at first

    A general rule of thumb in market research is to start general and get more specific later on. Cover the biggest, broadest question first, before zooming in on more detailed questions.

    You could also consider doing multiple surveys in this way. If you still had a long list of questions that needed answering, you could send out weekly or monthly surveys.

    If you do this, make the first one as broad as possible. After that, you can pick and choose who to send which detailed question to.

  5. 5
    Act as a copywriter would

    Think of your survey as a one-to-one dialogue.

    Once you’ve got your final draft, read it out loud to another person.

    Do the questions seem self-serving? Have you used conversational language? If someone asked you this question in real life, how would you feel?

    To get the most valuable information, you’ll need to avoid any kind of leading language. At the same time, to inspire the most thoughtful responses, you’ll want to give them an emotive reason to answer the question.

    This can be a tricky balance—but working with another person helps to ensure that your survey is just part of the bigger conversation you’re having with your customers.

  6. 6
    Choose your target audience

    A lot of the time, people assume that all of their customers would ideally take part in their market research survey. That’s certainly not the case.

    It may sound counterproductive, but you should actually send your survey to as few people as possible. That way, you’ll end up with the most hyper-focused think-group possible—allowing for some truly insightful information from key questions that have the power to drive effective change in your organization.

    If a customer hasn’t purchased your product or interacted with product features in a long time, they’re ideal for a survey that aims to re-engage previous customers in order to increase customer satisfaction. They won’t be quite so suited to a survey that looks to get feedback from a recent tweak in the product.

    Similarly, think outside your immediate audience. If you’re hoping to get insight on how to reach a new demographic, there’s not a whole lot you can gain from sending a customer survey that targets your existing demographic—you want potential customers, not existing ones.

Get SMART with your market research survey questions

There are lots of ways to come up with truly SMART market research questions.

One thing they all have in common? They’re the right questions for the right people.

Forget the respondent, and start thinking about the person. Consider them as important as any other human being in your life and it really could be the start of something beautiful.

How you ask is everything.