Five alternatives to a survey

Authored by Rachel Ainsworth on 11th April, 2017

We’ve yet to find a PR expert who isn’t enthusiastic about the power of survey data. “We all love a survey story, and we’d happily sell our own granny for a ‘Top 20’ stats-based story that makes the morning Metro and major news sites before spreading like wildfire across social media,” says PR firm 72 Point. And we don’t disagree--having some thought-provoking statistics can make a big difference as to whether content is deemed publishable or not by third parties.

The trouble is that survey data very rarely leads to good thought leadership.  Get beyond the headline data in a survey-driven report, and--assuming you’re looking for more than a few seconds of distraction--it’s very likely that you will be disappointed. Most surveys do little more than skim the surface of the issue and provide little insight on what it takes to successfully address today’s business issues.

So how else could you generate new insights and/or evidence your existing point of view? Here’s five tried-and-tested approaches:

Interviews. Go out and speak to your target audience. Conversations allow you to follow up on interesting ideas, to explore in detail what worked and didn’t work, and to write stories that will engage your readers. And the icing on the cake is that you’re building relationships with clients and target clients while generating useful content for your thought leadership. See Korn Ferry Hay Group’s One definitive guide to engaging through change.

Secondary sources. Most firms, if they even consider looking at what others have written on the topic, do so in a fairly cursory manner. But do it well--be thorough in your search, really analyse what it all means, and make sense of it all for your target audience--and you can create something of real value. Deloitte University Press is the master of this approach. See RxCX: Customer experience as a prescription for improving government performance or, for an example of data and analytics used in the service of thought leadership, Enforcement actions in the banking industry.

Data. There is a lot of data out there already. And a lot of ways in which it could be analysed, ways that others haven’t even thought of, ways that would really challenge your audience’s thinking. This is an approach regularly applied by The Boston Consulting Group. See, for example, The 2016 value creators report.

Mystery customer. Don’t survey people about the experience. Recreate the experience for yourself. BearingPoint’s Upgrade customer services, or risk falling behind is a great example. The team contacted customer support at ten vehicle manufacturers and asked questions that a customer might have. By doing so they proved, far more convincingly than any survey could do, that most customer support functions are way behind their customers when it comes to car connectivity.

Two surveys. One of the best use of surveys we’ve seen is when a firm surveys two parties in a relationship, for example highlighting the gap between customers’ views and what executives believe about their customers. How can digital suppliers accelerate customers’ transformations by The Boston Consulting Group does just this.

Not every survey is unhelpful. A few killer stats can really help to support, and gain PR for, a great piece of thought leadership. But to create great thought leadership, thought leadership that challenges your target audience and demonstrates your value, it’s probably going to take more than asking anonymous strangers to tick a few boxes.