Surveys and opinion polls make their way into the news every day, whether they’re related to a political party’s approval rating or how companies feel about the economy. For a business, they can be a valuable tool for collecting information you can use in your marketing plans and public relations material. What’s more, commissioning a poll isn’t just for big brands. If you sell a product or service, a poll can tell you what your customers do and don’t like, providing evidence for improving how you work and informing how you communicate with the audience that matters most.
I spoke to Fiona Raglan, founder of Other lines of enquiry North in Hexham about why polls are a valuable PR tool, and asked about the nuts and bolts of carrying one out. Other lines of enquiry North uses its own in-house panel called Panelbase to deliver up-to-the-minute reliable poll data, covering everything from education and politics to food and leisure. Its polls are regularly used by some of the UK’s leading business and consumer press including The Sunday Times, Travel Weekly and The Journal.
Fiona explained: “Polls can be used by a wide range of organisations in a variety of ways, from understanding the awareness levels of a specific brand to customer satisfaction ratings. It’s always important to know as much about your target market as possible. Polls are a cheap, quick and effective way of understanding how your consumer thinks.”
When you’re commissioning a poll, you need to have a clear idea about what you want to find out from the results and how you want to use them. Is your poll designed to inform your marketing efforts, or do you want a poll you can use as the basis for a news story about your business?
As Fiona said: “Question wording is key. It’s important to be as clear and concise as possible without leading respondents.”
Similarly, you should also have a list of questions to ask polling companies about the way they plan to carry out your research. If you’re going to make business decisions based on the data, you need to be confident the results are accurate. Panelbase is a member of the British Polling Council, which has a strict code of conduct that members must follow to ensure that they are completely transparent about their methodology. When members publish polls, they have to include details about when it was carried out, how many people were in the survey sample and where they’re based, and whether they were interviewed in person, by phone or online.
You should also ask pollsters about: • Their experience in your market • Their bench marking data • Their breadth of knowledge on types of methodology suitable for your business.
Fiona added: “One of the most important questions you should ask your chosen research agency is about the demographic make-up of the sample.
“It is important that if you want to want to understand a specific audience, that audience is represented appropriately. For instance, if you want to evaluate what a sample thinks of a certain TV programme, then it’s important that they have actually seen the programme and are in a position to provide a valid opinion.”
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll get an accurate survey that you can use, whether you’re after a quick snapshot of opinions about items in the news or a heads-up on new trends relevant to your business. Used properly, polls are an important part of your PR and marketing toolbox, whatever size of business you run.