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Mar 19, 2003
How To

Emailing Market Research Surveys: How to Pick Lists, Incentives, Subject Lines & Estimate Response

SUMMARY: Postal mailing a printed survey is a thing of the past. Now researchers are sending out broadcast emails instead. This useful tutorial explains:
a. Incentives: What do you have to offer to get responses?
b. Subject lines and From addresses that get email opened
c. Message copy that works
d. List rental tips
e. Metrics & tips on results to expect

Includes a sample of a Procter & Gamble survey email.
Email is the biggest trend in market research business. In the past two years, many traditional survey firms have switched from relying nearly 100% on postal mailed surveys to now relying 50% or more on email.

Brett Lavoie, Operations Manager of Penn Schoen & Berland's Internet Surveys Group (who conducts 5-15 surveys a week for clients including Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, British Petroleum, and Verizon) and John Taliercio, Senior Account Manager at NetCreations (who brokers email lists for hundreds of surveys a year) shared their tips and metrics with us.

a. Incentives: What do you have to offer to get responses?
b. Subject lines and From addresses that get email opened
c. Message copy that works
d. List rental tips
e. Metrics & tips on results to expect

-> a. Incentives: what do you have to offer to get responses?

It depends on your target demographic and how lengthy your survey is. If it is going to take people a long time (more than a couple of minutes) or they are very busy people, be prepared to offer something.

However, many consumer surveys work well without an incentive. Lavoie says, "People like giving their opinions and talking about their preferences. For a lot of people, that's enough."

If you just want folks to pick which vacation they would rather take, or which magazine cover they find more appealing, asking is its own reward.

If you do not get enough response with your test panel, or your survey is longer or duller in topic, then Taliercio suggests you try offering consumers a chance to win cash. "Do a lottery where one out of every 400 people wins $250 or something." The key is to make it appealing without being so high as to be unbelievable (a problem a lot of sweeps have) or too costly on your end.

However, if you are targeting IT pros, who are overwhelmed with surveys these days, you will need to offer an incentive. Cash works better than anything else (far better than a t-shirt or Amazon gift certificate). Expect to pay $10-15 for average IT pros and $25-30 for senior people. Checks are mailed out to respondents after the survey is completed.

Make your cash incentive contingent on the survey-taker qualifying as part of the survey-pool and then filling out the entire survey. People whose answers disqualify them from taking the entire survey would see a polite "thanks but no thanks" page instead.

Lavoie says, "Ask a number of questions on the qualifier page [at the start of the survey] and try to mask what the real screeners are. We're always looking for different people and you can't be sure which answer is the correct answer to get you through."

-> b. Subject lines and From addresses that get email opened

If you are offering a cash incentive, focus on it in your subject line for the best results. Otherwise, simply state very clearly what the email is about. For example: "Magazine cover survey".

Clever subject lines like "two cents for your $.02 worth" do not work well because people just get too much bulk email these days. Anything that does not state exactly what the email is uniquely about (versus all the other survey offers in the inbox) is far more likely to be deleted.

"From" names are a moving target. Lavoie notes that personal names used to work best, but so much spam uses personal namesnow that he has switched to using brand names. A survey from Procter & Gamble might use the from name "Procter & Gamble."

He notes, however, if the names on the list have a strong relationship with the list owner (for example if they come from a niche Web site's list) your best bet is to use a "from" that Web site name.

The most trusted and recognizable name in a "from" line is what works best.

-> c. Message copy that works

We have posted a link to a sample of a successful Procter & Gamble survey invitation below. You will notice that although it is in HTML, the creative contains text preface and postscript from the list company and the surveying company.

Their object is to gain enough trust that the consumer agrees to click and take the survey. Cash rewards and input is not enough, it is about trust. Privacy statements raise response.

Neither this sample, nor the vast majority of emailed survey invitations sent these days include any part of the survey in the message. 99% require the recipient click to a Web page to start a survey.

That is because not everyone's email works with interactivity beyond a hotlink yet. (Heck not everyone's email works with plain HTML yet.)

Someday we expect that many emailed surveys will begin within the email, at least for qualifier questions.

-> d. List rental tips

Email list brokers and owners know surveying is big money right now and they are deluging survey firms with phone calls pitching lists.

Just as other list renters have told us, Brett Lavoie says he has learned from hard experience to beware of rental file offers that seem too good to be true. "We've had some really bad experiences. There are a lot of phonies out there. They promise you the world. They say they can send 200,000 targeted names for just $1000."

The key is the word "targeted." There just are not that many micro-targeted permission lists on the market. For example, anyone who says quickly, "Oh yeah I can get you 50,000 department heads in the financial services sector" is probably lying. Lavoie says, "They're just going to send out a ton of email, it's not going to be an effective campaign."

To avoid problems, Lavoie always runs a test-send to a small segment of a new list to judge results before agreeing to (or paying for) a roll-out.

He also seeks out lists direct from owners such as niche Web sites as opposed to big brokered lists, whenever possible. "Those lists always work well because if you're interested in Y and you go to a Y content Web site and sign up for information, every time that site sends you something it's a name you trust and you're interested in."

-> e. Metrics & tips on results to expect

Lavoie notes he has definitely seen some results slippage due to the increased amount of clutter in people's inboxes. "There definitely is a trend of response rates across the board in general going down. We probably have to send maybe even twice as many emails now as we did two years ago to get the same type of project done."

However, he is firmly on the side of continuing to email. Even with sliding results, it is far quicker, easier and cheaper to run a survey via email than by postal mail or telephone. Email surveys are here to stay.

In order to mitigate lowered response rates, he is focusing on list quality and time of day more than before. Currently he will not send out campaigns after 7 P.M. ET. He is considering moving that hour even earlier in the day later this year.

Taliercio noted these metrics for his lists:

- With a really good list, the basic consumer two minute survey gets a completion rate of 2-5%. "If you're sending out 10,000 emails, you're getting 500 completes at the end of the day."

- Completion rates drop at the five-minute mark (in terms of how long it takes a consumer to answer the questions) and drop again quite profoundly at the ten-minute mark.

- With an average list, B2C survey completion rates average at 1% surveys completed out of all emailed invites sent. B2B averages at only half that. "These are busier people."

- 80% of responses come within 24 hours. "We need a three day window. You start off with a test of 20,000 names on Wednesday, roll out Thursday and by Friday you're done."

- According to Lavoie, for US-lists that do not allow geographic selects, you can count on about 10% of responses coming from outside the US.

Obviously if you are sending a survey to your own house list, your results will be completely different. House lists outpull third party lists significantly for everything under the sun.

Useful links:

Sample of an emailed survey offer from Procter & Gamble:

Penn Schoen & Berland:

See Also:

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