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What makes a survey effective?

I confess: I’m a data nerd. It’s become so bad that I’ve even assigned made-up percentages to issues in my life (I believe that 87 percent of people raised in the metro Boston area have not taken an adequate driver’s test before receiving their license).  Numbers impress me – for the most part because I’m terrible with numbers. I think (with a margin of error of +/- 80 percent) that 60 percent of people are the same way. Is your head spinning yet?

I confess: I’m a data nerd. It’s become so bad that I’ve even assigned made-up percentages to issues in my life (I believe that 87 percent of people raised in the metro Boston area have not taken an adequate driver’s test before receiving their license).  Numbers impress me – for the most part because I’m terrible with numbers. I think (with a margin of error of +/- 80 percent) that 60 percent of people are the same way. Is your head spinning yet?

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Surveys can be confusing stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to separate the fact from the spin. An article this week from Green Biz talks about the July 2009 Green Brand survey by cohn&wolfe, Esty Environmental Partners, Landor, and PSB. The post’s author is skeptical of the overall concept of surveying the elusive “green consumer” but finds a few high notes and unexpected results. For example, the survey covers perceptions and attitudes on sustainability (and the most sustainable brands) from around the globe. They found that the most sustainable brand in (as the author says) “less-developed” countries is (drum roll, please…) Microsoft.  Huh. Who knew?

 

So what are a few things that made this survey more effective than your run-of-the-mill “green consumer” survey?

 

1)      They surveyed 5,000 people. That’s a big–but necessary – sample size when surveying consumers. If you’re looking at a more targeted group of people, your sample size will naturally get smaller. Think about it, there are only so many men who wear berets in South Carolina. The more targeted you get, the smaller (and harder to find) sample you’ll be working with. Here’s a useful calculator that tackles the problem of finding the right sample size.

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2)      They considered their audience (companies who want to sell green products) and asked compelling enough questions to elicit unexpected answers.  Brands trying to sell products in developing markets want the intel on consumer perceptions, but they also want details (e.g. Do they think green products cost more? Why would they buy green products? What issues lie at the root of their concern? etc …)

3)      They made a risky (but thought provoking) comparison. Comparing China, India, and Brazil to the U.S., UK, Germany and France could have gotten messy, since no one likes to be stereotyped. But this survey deals with perceptions in different parts of the world in a thought-provoking way that avoids the developed vs. developing nations typecasts.

4)      They involved an in-depth analysis of major, international brands. Not everyone has the money and political pull to make assertions about top global brands in their surveys, but having a few big names certainly helps, whenever possible.

 

Surveys are –to be fair–a mix of art and science. Have you ever come up with an effective survey? Why was it effective for you?

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About the author

Erica is an account manager for LaunchSquad in Boston, working primarily with emerging growth tech companies. Follow her on Twitter @esal.

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