Making the most of thought leadership surveys

 

These days, most firms are battling it out for share of voice for their thought leadership content, often using some kind of survey to demonstrate their expertise.

Planning, researching and writing a successful survey is no mean feat – as those of us who work on them frequently are acutely aware. It can be a lengthy and time-consuming process that relies on several factors coming together – finding the right subject matter or a new angle, ensuring a good response and drawing insightful conclusions.

If you’re working on a survey for the first time or just looking for a few tips to enhance your current approach, read on.

1. Be clear on your motives
The essential question to ask before embarking on any kind of issues-based survey is: ‘What are we hoping to achieve?’ Any survey should, first and foremost, be of value to clients or prospective clients – providing them with original and relevant data that will keep them engaged.
Often the goal is to allow clients or prospects to benchmark themselves or an aspect of their business against industry best practices, or to encourage them to embrace new ideas. Ultimately, your survey needs to open up the possibility of an informed conversation on the issues. Consider working with a relevant, third-party organisation to enrich the content and provide third-party endorsement.
2. Find a hot topic
Coming up with original survey ideas can prove extremely challenging – there are a lot of surveys out there. To cut through the noise, a survey needs to give people something to think about, such as identifying new opportunities or addressing existing issues differently.
The key to finding a good survey idea is to work with the right people. Usually this will be fee-earning subject matter experts able to tap into changing attitudes to a particular issue or trends among individuals or businesses. You’ll also need commitment and buy-in to drive the idea forward – usually including someone with enough clout internally to ‘own’ it.
Do your homework on competing surveys already out there. You can still focus on a topic if a competitor has already covered it – the key is to find new angles, for example, aim your survey at a different audience, or by size of company or location.

3. You get out what you put in
Having established what you want from your survey, the next essential step is to design it carefully and ask the right questions. With each one, ask yourselves: ‘What can I do with the answer to this question?’ and ‘What’s the potential?’

Some of the best surveys mature with age, gaining additional credibility by tracking attitudes over time. If you’re producing the same survey regularly, keep some of the questions consistent so you can track trends.
Many firms use an incentive to encourage sufficient numbers of respondents and give the survey credibility. We find value-based incentives such as a benchmarking report, exclusive presentation or free consultation are more likely to boost survey numbers than prize draws or other gimmicks.
Don’t forget that once you have your survey responses you need enough time for serious analysis and to extract relevant insights from your experts. Don’t ‘tailor’ unexpected results to fit a pre-conceived message – or, worse, omit them altogether. And don’t try to explain the ‘unexplainable’ – it may be enough to state results and let readers draw their own conclusions.
4. Draw in the reader
Having done all this hard work, you need your findings to engage your audience. No matter the medium, it needs to be carefully crafted in a clear, compelling and informative way – with a clear structure and in jargon-free language. At the very least, you’ll need clear summaries and highlights. Think about infographics, key facts or quotes from respondents to break up the text and make the results easier to digest.
There’s a balance between producing a report of depth, substance and real authority, and one that’s easy to read. Critically, there needs to be a mix of findings and insight – but the latter is what your readers will be most interested in.
Readers want to understand how other organisations are addressing a particular issue. Qualitative, ‘free-text’ answers from survey respondents are often your most valuable source of insight, so make the most of them. If you want to use direct quotes from some of your survey respondents, you’ll probably need their permission first.
5. Find the right channels
Producing surveys takes time so when you finally finish your report, make a big deal of it. Consider the most appropriate and effective channels at your disposal, whether it’s through the press, blogs, e-shots, newsletters, LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare, video, animation, website or a seminar.
While there’s a place for digital and social media to present headlines and soundbites, the value of results is often in the detailed analysis. It’s here that firms get to fully demonstrate understanding of their clients’ issues and give insights into possible solutions. Readers value high quality, reasoned content and this can help a firm stand out from the crowd.A ‘drip-feed’ campaign approach is especially useful with larger surveys produced annually or more infrequently. It’s easier for readers to absorb the results and gives you more ‘bang for your buck’.
6. And finally… don’t reinvent the wheel
If you know your survey works and is well thought of within the industry, think about how you can apply the same format for other services, sectors or regions in which your firm is active.

For further information on how to create engaging communications that make the most of your client surveys, please get in touch.