Wednesday, February 13, 2013

9 ways to get survey results that matter

survey results, independent schools, fundraising, markeking that works
You probably know that surveying stakeholders is critically important to the marketing success of your business, school or organization. That’s the easy part. The hard part is how to get started.

There are consultants and firms that will develop surveys and provide analysis but like all good things in life, they come at a cost. On the other hand there are numerous online alternatives, many of which are very robust and cost effective – and are worth using. But, for your research to be effective, you need to know what you are doing. With that in mind here are a few (nine to be exact) tips on how to create surveys so that you get results that matter.

1. Link questions to decisions. Think about the questions you need to have answered in order to make important decisions for your organization. You may want to start with a list of issues that are currently under discussion. For example, you may want reaction to the new product line, the revised curriculum or updated donation opportunities. Survey questions should also support decision-making on longer term issues like service, quality and pricing because it's not going to be practical or meaningful to survey more than once a year.

2. Make it actionable. Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If you can’t or are not prepared to act upon the results related to a particular question, don’t ask it. You don’t want to ask your customers how they feel about your hours of operation if you do business in a mall where those hours are restricted. Similarly, you don’t want to ask for feedback on your organization’s mission or philosophy if is there is no mandate from the Board to make changes. In addition to wasting the time of the respondent in answering these questions and your own time in tracking results, you will be setting unattainable expectations. If you ask me whether I would prefer to have expanded donation opportunities, I assume that by answering the question I may influence change. If that change is not possible, you’re just leading me toward inevitable disappointment.

3. It’s got to be measurable. If you just want to hear what people are saying about your organization, you can monitor social media or stand in the school parking lot. The point of surveying is to arrive at results that you can analyze and compare – year over year or to other similar organizations. Questions have to be framed in a way that allows for measurable results. Have respondents rank or rate statements or choose from a list of potential responses.

4. Make questions precise. You want to zone in on exactly what it is you want to know and make sure the question will provide the response. Instead of asking a respondent to rate their satisfaction with the service provided, ask them about the various aspects of that service. Was it prompt? Were their questions answered? Was it delivered pleasantly? This will not only provide precise information, it will be a more effective guide to changes in customer service you may want to consider.

5. Use clarity. What you are asking the respondent needs to be crystal clear. Test your question by imagining yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself whether you would understand what’s being asked. When people take a survey and don’t really understand what’s being asked, they skip the question or answer indiscriminately.

6. Be polite and conversational. Phrases like “Now we want to ask you some questions about why you support our organization” are effective because they show respect and they may even make the intent of the question clearer. Questions that begin with please – as in “Please rate the following ….” value the respondent and by making the experience more pleasant. In that way, you also increase the chances that someone will complete the survey.

7. Open-ends add context. Open-ended questions – those that require a narrative response – are important for two reasons. They add context to the measurable parts of the survey. By reviewing the open-ended responses you will likely begin to understand the reasons for empirical results. In addition, respondents often want the opportunity to express an opinion or tell you their story. The responses can be very rich. Just be prepared for the bad news as well as the good.

8. Be time sensitive. There are probably tons of questions that you would like answered but a survey that is too long compromises the quality of responses in two ways. This research from the people at Survey Monkey proves that the longer the survey, the fewer people will complete it. But the deeper finding is that the longer the survey, the less time respondents spend on each question. While greater respondent affinity (as is the case with schools and religious organizations) buys more time tolerance, your survey should take no more than 10 minutes for maximum effectiveness.

9. Report back. This is the step that is probably most often missed by organizations that conduct research. Close the loop by reporting back to your stakeholders on the results of the survey. You can brag about the positive responses and in addition tell your community what action you are taking as a result of negative responses. It demonstrates accountability, transparency and a commitment to your customers and to continuous improvement. It will also encourage people to participate in future surveys.

Done well, surveying stakeholders will allow you to gauge satisfaction, determine the effectiveness of marketing or operational initiatives and verify the assumptions you are making about customer behaviour. Perhaps most importantly it is the best way to evaluate the success of branding efforts.

What do you think? Do you have any advice for those doing their own research or any experience wit your own research that you think can be helpful?. Please share.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Branding gaps and 6 ways to bridge them

Branding gaps are the most likely source of declining enrolment in an independent school. But where do you find them and what do you do about them?

First, some ground rules. For the purpose of this discussion I am using Seth Godin’s definition of a brand: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” So, you can see that a brand is infinitely more than logo, tagline and ad copy.

Now, to define branding gaps we need to accept that organizations effectively have two brands. One is the promised brand – the one that marketing, communication, mission and other efforts have been designed to convey. The other is the delivered brand. This is the one you find out about when you survey stakeholders and ask them to characterize their experience with and perceptions of your school. In organizations that really have their branding act together (think Apple, Whole Foods), the two are aligned. In most organizations, there are going to be differences between the promised brand and the delivered brand and those differences are the branding gaps.

There are many sources of branding gaps. Most of them can and should be considered proactively. Here are some ideas for where those gaps maybe lurking in your school and what to do about them.

Teachers – There is no one more important to delivering your school’s brand than teachers. For most families, they are the most common point of communication. It’s critical that teachers know and understand the school’s brand. Clearly it should be reflected in all their communication with students and parents and that includes classroom websites and email blasts. I would contend that the brand should also be evident in the classroom. I know a Head of School that challenges teachers to consider the changes they would make to classroom content if the mission of the school changed. If mission and curriculum are married, then brand must also be part of the educational product.

Everyday Communication – Parents are recipients of what sometimes seems like an endless stream of communication from the school. While this often deals with day-to-day issues like early closings, lunch programs and upcoming events, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t reflect the school’s brand. The danger is that much of this type of communication is often written hastily by people other than marketing and communications staff. There are a number of solutions. Many of these communications can be anticipated and templates can be prepared in advance. Everyone in the organization should be brand-trained and understand how that affects even the most mundane messaging. Finally, a review system that gives the communications staff the final say could help maintain the brand.

Office staff – We all know the adage about having one chance to make a first impression and office staff are the front line of most interaction with stakeholders – whether in person, by phone or by email. Like everyone else, they need to understand the school’s brand promise but more importantly they need to know how to incorporate that into daily activity. Front-line staff in a school that emphasizes inclusivity and diversity should communicate differently than those in an elite IB school.

Board members – Lay people are often represent the greatest brand challenge. Their implicit contract with the school is not employment based and requires more refined management measures. Yet they wield tremendous influence –within the school community and the community at large. Brand training for board members is essential. What’s more is that lay people are often not aware of the ways in which they subtly make brand impressions in their everyday conversation.

Mission/Marketing Misalignment – Finally, it’s possible that everyone in the organization is delivering the brand experience dictated by its mission or even brand strategy and the real problem is that marketing efforts have missed the mark. What’s being promised isn’t what’s being delivered. Assuming that most people are satisfied with their interaction with the organization, the fix is to re-tool the marketing effort.

The real solution is the 3 M’s - You can only fix branding gaps that you are aware of. The key to brand management is to measure, monitor and modify. You have to survey stakeholders on a regular basis to determine if you are delivering your intended brand. Likewise, it’s critical to be monitoring social media including the parking lot that, in a school, is often the most potent social media channel. Final, you have to be prepared to act based on what you discover.

Branding gaps can undo the most masterful marketing efforts and create enrolment crises. Knowing how to find them – and bridge them – will undoubtedly improve results.

What do you think? What branding gaps have you uncovered in your organization and what are you doing about them?