On Online Surveys: Rich Hall – Marketing Genius

If you don’t know Rich Hall, he is an American comedian who’s also done quite a lot of stuff on UK TV. A very funny fellow, who I now believe is an online marketing genius.

Why do I think he’s an online marketing genius? Is it that he sells a gazzillion DVDs or the iTunes equivalent? Maybe, but not what I was thinking.

I would like to nominate Rich Hall into the halls of genius marketers for a rant he did once did about US election polling – that I’ve thought about a lot as I get confronted with yet another website survey.

During this rant, he referred to dodging the people with clipboards and surveys. Hall said something like:

“You know where they take these polls? Shopping malls. That means that 67% of the people weren’t smart enough to get out of the way of someone with a clipboard bearing down on them!”

This “smart enough to get out of the way” is the phrase that resonated with me and has been like a little bit of grit irritating itself into this blog post. During the long gestation on this post, I observed two organizations surveying their customers in the real world.

The first British Airways who on a long hall flight handed surveys and pens to random, but very specific seats. The recipient had nothing better to do than to give it their full attention and they were addressed seriously and personally, as a favor to the airline and by virtue of the personal request a favor to that cabin crew member – I didn’t see anyone refuse.

My wife, an excellent litmus test of these things took it fairly seriously and as a city girl is incredibly adept at avoiding the high street clipboard – so not someone who seeks the opportunity to express her opinion.

The second example was a bored looking official with an armful of surveys wandering through a busy UK train, half heartedly asking if anyone would like to fill in a survey. Like BA, a fairly captive audience, I certainly had the time to my destination for a quick survey, I had a seat with table in front me – it wouldn’t have been that inconvenient.

Yet, I did not see anyone say yes. Who would want to put their hand up in front of their traveling peers and say “I am a survey filler”?.

I am not privy to the results of these surveys, but you can imagine the difference in the quality of the results.

You can therefore discern that the quality of survey results is down to the people completing the survey, their randomness and how they are engaged.

So, back to the world of digital customer engagement it follows that to understand the quality of a web survey, we then need to think about who fills in those things?

Is this the targeted BA experience or the bored train official limply asking for feedback?

How are you engaging me to give you this feedback? To use the old actor phrase “what’s my motivation?”

Knowing the motivation, is a good way to think about the ‘who’.

I am not going to be as harsh to suggest that (to use marketing guru and sometime comedian Rich Hall’s phrase) visitors that fill in a survey are ‘are not smart enough’ to avoid it but they are not a random sample of people coming to your website.

I suggest that the people that fill in surveys are either engaged enough with you already to be extra nice and indulge you with their time  – or they are dissatisfied sufficiently to be motivated to vent.

If you have been exposed to any sentiment analysis of brands, products or services the bulk of folks sit in the neutral middle, between these two love/hate motivations. Therefore in most audiences these survey filling folks make up the minority of visitors.

That is unless of course you are really, really bad or really, really good and the motivated antagonized and the adorers make up your mainstream. In which case you probably know that already and what was the point of the survey to you? Then, more crucially,  what purpose has that annoying survey pop-up served the silent mainstream visitor?

How has it helped them engage with you? Or achieve the task, reach the call to action or whatever is the purpose of your website. You’ve given most people a minor irritation – another click – in return for?

Imagine the BA survey takes place just before you land. That it delays you getting off the plane. It would completely change that experience, and therefore the results.

As you look at the dial marked ‘survey’ on your digital-engagement-o-meter. Is this really a good basis to make digital engagement decisions, without this context?

Having said all this, I do think surveys are a great way to build awareness about the audience – done right and the opinion of the engaged is important when taken in context. Even done wrong the fact that someone fills in a survey tells you something. It’s just that out of the context of the survey experience the results could be misleading.

Or to put it another way, back to my analogy, using Rich Hall’s monologue:

If you heard on the TV that 67% of Americans said that they will vote X – you would probably take this at face value and value the results.

If on the other hand you heard that 67% of Americans in malls, who weren’t smart enough to avoid a random stranger with a clipboard and then indulged them with their time will vote X. You may feel differently.

I give you Rich Hall, marketing genius.

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