How to do Market Research: 3 Ways to Use Surveys for Campaigns that Land Just Right

market research survey
Senior Manager of Product Marketing at SurveyMonkey Audience and resident Market Research Expert
Morgan Molnar

Have you ever seen an ad that made your whole body cringe? Or gotten an email so irrelevant it’s bordering on offensive?

Perhaps this year’s holiday Peloton ad?

Not all ad campaigns are disastrous, but lots of companies have created ads that fell flat and failed to connect to viewers. Email campaigns that don’t resonate, features announcements that don’t make sense, content that isn’t useful can all fall painfully flat if you miscalculate.

Yet just as often, companies create marketing that resonates deeply with people’s pain points and ultimately wins new customers.

In order to do that, you need clear, decisive insights into what your audience cares about. The best way to do that is through market research.

What is Market Research?

Market research clarifies what consumers think and feel, it enables you to test and confirm your marketing strategies, and it gives you tangible benchmarks for success.

Firms that specialize in market research provide valuable insights, but are prohibitively expensive for most teams. With SurveyMonkey’s Ultimate guide to market research, you can do it yourself, with the same level of expertise. 

In the meantime, here’s the high-level structure of a market research program that will help you drive successful marketing campaigns every time.


When’s the best time to do market research? Trick question!

You need a consistent stream of feedback before, during, and after a campaign in order to ensure it hits the mark with your target audience. This breaks down into 3 basic stages: consumer research to inform your campaign themes and messaging, a/b testing to validate ad ideas and creative, and brand tracking to measure your campaign’s performance.

Exploration: What does my target audience care about?

target audience

This type of market research comes long before you find yourself in a brainstorming meeting. The goal is to get a deeper understanding of your customers and potential customers. What motivates them? What are their pain points?

At this stage, you can either survey your existing customer base, or use a consumer panel like SurveyMonkey Audience to sample a specific group of people that fit the demographics you care about (e.g. working moms, Gen Z, dog owners, IT decision makers, etc.).

The exact questions that you ask in your consumer research will vary based on your goal, but here are a few general areas where you could use surveys to make a clearer decision:

  • I’m considering investing in expensive (but engaging) video content. Is that something my target audience will find helpful?
  • What are the most frustrating pain points that my target audience faces? Where do they feel they have the fewest resources?
  • My company has strong corporate values. If we bring those into our marketing, will people be more likely to support our business?

Top tips for a general consumer survey:

  • Keep it short, simple, and focused: In general, the less work it takes to answer a survey, the more survey completions you’ll get. Keep your survey under 20 questions and restrict the number of open-ended questions to just one or two. Our research shows that seeing an open-ended question at the very beginning of a survey may make some respondents drop out, so remember to add those toward the end, when respondents are more invested.
  • Move from general to specific: Surveys should flow just like a conversation. You want to give your respondents enough context to think through their opinions before asking for their perspective. Instead of leading by asking them which type of workout sneakers they’re most likely to buy, start by asking how important fitness is to them and what they like to do for exercise, then move on to how important comfort, style, or price is to them, etc. That gives people time to really think about what they care about and makes them less likely to be thrown off or answer at random.
  • Use screening questions to eliminate respondents who don’t fit your needs: If you get a bunch of responses from people who don’t fit your target demographic, your data will be diluted and much less valuable. Save time for yourself and your respondents by including a screening question at the beginning of your survey that ensures that you get exactly the responses you care about most.

Creative testing: Which of these two campaigns makes a better impression?

Your consumer research should give you a general sense of what your target audience cares about. Next, it’s time to put those learnings into action, get creative, and test your new marketing ideas out. 

Concept and creative testing is a scientific way to isolate the versions of your marketing campaign (or packaging claim, headline, logo, brand name, or…anything) that will have the greatest impact. SurveyMonkey’s Ultimate guide to concept testing covers the process in detail. Here’s the tl;dr:

There are two main kinds of creative testing surveys: a monadic survey design—where you split your respondents into groups and show them only one concept each (like A/B testing)—and a sequential survey design—where you ask about multiple concepts within the same survey.

Here are some pros and cons of each:

Sequential Monadic
ProsRequires less sample and is therefore less expensive and respondents are easier to findFielding time is typically quicker 
Reduces survey fatigue (especially for complex stimuli like videos or wordy ads).Preserves data qualityEliminates order bias to increase statistical rigorAllows you to test for more metrics per survey
ConsLonger surveys might cause survey fatigue and lower data qualityOrder bias might impact validity of results (randomization of stimuli helps this)Requires a larger sample size and is therefore more expensiveFeasibility can be limitedFielding time is typically slower

Your creative testing survey will ask respondents to rank each concept according to a range of potential metrics, like:

  • Appeal
  • Believability
  • Purchase intent
  • Relevance
  • Value for the money
  • Clarity
  • Pronounceability 

Once you’ve decided on the metrics to use, you can convert them into Likert scale questions—a gradient question format that allows you to get a nuanced understanding of respondents’ opinions or attitudes on a topic, while still being able to categorize them clearly. 

Whichever concept comes out on top is your best option to run with in your official campaign—though you might also want to make tweaks based on the feedback you get from any open-ended responses.

If creating your own creative or concept testing survey sounds intimidating, SurveyMonkey also has a suite of automated market research solutions that guide you through the study design and automatically analyze your ideas.

Brand tracking: How has my campaign made an impact on my brand?

brand in action

Brand tracking is your way assess the health of your brand and the impact of your marketing efforts over time. It tends to focus on metrics like: awareness, associations, favorability, purchase consideration, and loyalty. Most brand tracking campaigns are periodic “waves” of market research—or always-on, continuous research—that give you data points over time, so that you can benchmark your success and identify trends.

When you’re launching a new marketing campaign, you’ll want to run at least a round or two of brand tracking research before you launch so you have something to compare your post-launch results with. Also, if you’ve aired your campaign locally in a DMA or region, you’ll want to make sure your brand tracking survey targets that same region.

Brand tracking is the primary way that you’re going to measure your success, so how do you ensure that your brand tracking results are representative and statistically significant?

  • Make sure you have the right sample size. You can use SurveyMonkey’s free sample size calculator to figure out what makes the most sense for you, based on your goals. A typical nationally representative quarterly brand tracker will have no less than 1,000 responses per wave.
  • Account for margin of error. Margin of error is an indicator of how closely the survey results from your sample represent the entire population you’re targeting. Essentially, it tells you how confident you can be in your survey results. Let’s say you surveyed 400 people, and 50% are aware of your brand. With a margin of error of +/- 5%, you can be confident that between 45% and 55% of the target population is aware of your brand. If you want a tighter margin of error, you’ll want to survey a larger sample size.
  • Target a balanced sample. You want the demographic makeup of your sample to match the population as closely as possible. Balancing is a technique that sets quotas on demographic buckets (e.g.: age, gender) so that no group is over- or under- represented. SurveyMonkey Audience has both Census and custom balancing options for key demographics.
  • Stay consistent. In order to confidently assess trends over time, you’ll want to make sure that any changes in survey results could only be the result of a real change in behavior or opinions of the population. Keeping your study design as consistent as possible wave over wave will help you achieve this. This includes survey design (question phrasing, question order), targeting (sample size, balancing, sample source), and fielding (day of the week, time of day).

The more market research you weave into your marketing efforts, the more certain you can be of a data-driven, popular, and successful marketing strategy. Create compelling, business-driving marketing creative and campaigns that you know are going to work—because you’ve tested them.

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