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Nerd Up! 5 Tips For Better Marketing and Communications Data Collection

Ahhhh, data - who doesn’t love it? Well if you’re anything like me, ‘love’ is a bit of a stretch. After all, many of us went into marketing and communications because we have more of an artistic bent - whether that be a love of writing, or visual design, or storytelling of all shapes and flavours.

I’m no different. I was very much the humanities nerd at school and spent much of my career avoiding anything to do with finance and numbers. However, I had an epiphany five or so years ago, around the same time we all started talking about data driven marketing and communications:

You can only be a really good communicator or marketer if you get right into the data.

Storytelling is nice, but unless it’s based on what your audience is telling you it wants to hear, then it never gets past the realm of fiction. And proper qualitative and quantitative research of your target audience(s) needs to underpin any content strategy if it’s going to be successful.

Read my recent blog here for more on target audience research strategies.

Target audience research aside, there’s another use case for developing your data collection, analysis and presentation skill set.

Top-of-the-funnel artefacts such as white papers, eBooks and research reports are used, typically, to position a company’s solution to an ongoing challenge in a given market. You need data to prove that the problem not only exists, but that it’s causing enough pain for your customers to do something about it (that is - buy your solution!).

Other people’s data (e.g. published surveys) will do, but it’s way more powerful if you can publish your own, original data. Plus, media, analysts and bloggers LOVE original data and research reports. In my experience, you’re pretty much guaranteed some free publicity if you manage things properly.

Sounds great, right? But before you rush off to find your SurveyMonkey login, take a second and read on below. There are a few more things you need to know before you start running surveys and studies.

The data life cycle

There’s more to data than just running a survey or poll of your customers - much more, in fact! There are three basic phases to the data life cycle:

  1. Collection: The phase of work where you collect the raw data, e.g. running a survey or conducting interviews and focus groups.

  2. Analysis and management: Crunching and giving context to the raw data (i.e. turning it into information) and storage of the data - something which is often done poorly.

  3. Presentation: Working with a writer and/or designer to bring the research to life, usually in the form of a white paper, eBook or report.

Today I want to offer some tips for phase one, data collection. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but is a good place to start if you’re new to things.

1. Clearly define the survey or study population

Make sure you’ve clearly defined the target population or audience for your survey beforehand, so you’re collecting data from the right people. This means having a really clear understanding of how the data is going to be used, down the track.

Keep in mind that the survey or study population is not necessarily going to be the same as your target audience. It might be a group of people your target audience is interested in (for example, your customer’s customers).

2. Get a mix of data, and get enough of it

If you have the time and resources, aim to collect a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. This will provide a more rounded view of the topic.

Quantitative data collection usually takes the form of surveys, which you can run through free tools such as SurveyMonkey. The general rule of thumb for a quantitative data set is a minimum of 100 responses, although more is generally better.

Qualitative data collection usually takes the form of interviews and focus groups. These sessions should be loosely structured, rather than being a face-to-face version of your survey data collection. Provide some high-level prompts and then let your participants talk.

Don’t forget to record the session (and get their permission to do so).

If you are dealing with a very specific survey population, which you know consists of a few hundred people in total - e.g. product managers from technology companies in Canberra, Australia - then it may be worthwhile to skip the quantitative data collection and throw your efforts behind qualitative data collection only.

3. Incentivising participation

If you’re having trouble driving survey responses, it’s okay to incentivise participation. Depending on the rules and norms of your organisation or industry, you might want to consider a small gift for completing the survey, or entry into a prize draw.

Always be aware of your organisation’s policies on gifts and benefits, as it may not be appropriate to offer people goods or rewards of any monetary value. In this case, you could offer non-monetary incentives to encourage participation, such as early access to the final survey results or completed study.

However, it’s not okay to use incentives to encourage respondents to answer things a certain way. This may get you towards the outcome you’re looking for, but would be highly unethical.

4. Buying responses

Let’s face it, it’s hard to get people to respond to surveys… really hard. Most people are busy and don’t have time to get through their own to-do list, let alone filling out a survey for you as a favour. Even incentivising responses doesn’t always get you where you need to be.

In this case, you might consider buying responses. This sounds unethical but definitely isn’t.

There are many companies around that maintain pre-existing panels of people who have already opted-in to answer surveys. You can specify who you’re looking for in terms of demographics and professional attributes. These panels vary in quality so always do your research.

You will not and should not deal directly with any individual members of the panel, so please do not ask or expect this. They have not given consent to deal with you, the third party, so the company will do this for you.

Please steer clear of any vendor who offers to sell you email addresses. This is quite simply unethical, and even illegal in some jurisdictions.

5. Make sure your participants give informed consent

This one is easy to overlook because we’re not scientists or ethicists, but I think it’s really important to demonstrate your trustworthiness and values.

Whenever you’re collecting data or inputs for a study or survey, make sure your participants give informed consent. You want them to walk away with an understanding of what they’ve contributed and how their responses will be used. You should also offer some information on how their data will be stored (more on that next week).

As a result, they’ll feel good about the process and about you.

It doesn’t need to be anything laborious. SurveyMonkey has a templated example here.

Conclusion and coming soon

As I said earlier, today’s list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m not a research scientist. However, it pays to put some effort into your data collection efforts. The end result will be superior, and you’ll develop your reputation as someone who cares about authentic and valuable marketing and communications.

Next week I’ll be offering some more tips on the second phase of the data life cycle - analysis and management. See you then!

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