6 Tips on How to Use E-mail for Market Research
In its short lifetime, e-mail has proven itself as an incredibly effective sales tool. According to the Direct Marketing Association, every dollar invested in e-mail marketing returns $45.65, more than twice as much as other online media and nearly three times as much as direct mail. With these heady numbers, marketers might be excused from thinking about other uses for e-mail.
However, marketers who fail to look beyond sales do so at a great potential loss. In particular, these marketers will overlook a hidden capability of e-mail: market research. While using e-mail for market research has its limitations, it brings substantial advantages in cost and speed to answer.
First, let us recognize that just about any e-mail with a call to action offers a rudimentary form of market research. Imagine a retailer with 10 items in its e-mail. By seeing which item gets the most clicks, the retailer can not only determine which item has the greatest popularity overall, but it can also determine much more by analyzing the results based on who clicked on what. By measuring clicks across any member data (past purchases, demographic information, etc.), the retailer could determine what kinds of people liked which kinds of merchandise. The principle applies to more than just retailers, of course. A business services marketer could use this kind of research to determine what kinds of customers have interests in different service offerings.
Second, let us recognize what e-mail-driven market research cannot do. E-mail-based research cannot take the place of a traditional, blind survey with a balanced sample. Your customers will know who sent them an invitation to a survey (you) and your sample will depend on what kinds of customers you have in your list. The lack of anonymity means that customers' perceptions of your brand may color their answers, good or bad. The discrepancy between your customers and a national sample means that you may not realistically project the results to the nation at large.
That said, the survey will give you a good sense of what your customers think, warts and all. Here's how to make the most of a survey delivered via e-mail:
- First, think about the invitation. A surprising number of people will fill out a survey, but where appropriate, sweeten the odds with an incentive. Good, easy-to-implement incentives include discounts for consumers and white papers for business customers. Also make sure to explain to your customers how completing the survey will help your brand meet their needs.
- Then, think about the survey body. Most of the traditional rules of survey writing apply here, with an important caveat. Your respondents will know who sent the survey, so questions about unaided awareness (e.g., "What's the first brand you think of when you think about kitchen appliances?") will be useless.
- Make it easy for the consumer to complete. As with any online survey, keep the questions to a minimum—no more than 25. Use closed-end questions such as multiple choice or ratings.
- To get the most out of the survey, work with a survey vendor to associate member-level data with responses. In other words, make it possible to identify key member-level data (purchase history, location, etc.) in the analysis.
- Analyze the data by cross-referencing the findings with member-level data. In other words, compare answers from buyers versus non-buyers. Or residents of the Northeast versus residents of the Midwest. With this kind of analysis, you will have information that a traditional survey could not get.
- Think about progressive profiling. That's when you insert a single question into an e-mail as a poll that the consumer can answer and see instant results. You can change the question with each mailing or, through the use of dynamic content, keep a question in the e-mail until the consumer answers it and then change it.
Ben Rothfeld is the global director of marketing strategy for Little Rock, Ark.-based Acxiom.