When you think of ideas for your con­tent, do you write about what you’re inter­est­ed in or do you struc­ture titles based on the pain points of your audi­ence that can gen­er­ate an emo­tion­al con­nec­tion by under­stand­ing their needs?

Do you cre­ate a con­tent map based on research-backed audi­ence under­stand­ing or do you sketch out a plan for con­tent titles based on, I think this is what they think, I think this is what they want?

You know what isn’t con­tent mar­ket­ing?

Writ­ing an arti­cle on your blog each week about what your com­pa­ny is think­ing or doing.

Nei­ther is writ­ing about what is of inter­est to you.

To begin a con­tent strat­e­gy or to update your con­tent plan with fresh ideas, a sur­vey is the go-to start­ing point.

The respons­es from your audi­ence will pro­vide you with the insights into their:

  • Pain points.
  • Chal­lenges.
  • Needs.

This is the basis to struc­ture your con­tent ideas and plan.

Cre­at­ing your con­tent from a place of know­ing what your audi­ence wants and needs, and being high­ly spe­cif­ic with con­tent that will make them say: That is exact­ly how I feel. That is exact­ly what I have been think­ing. This per­son real­ly gets me.

And, if it couldn’t get any bet­ter, sur­veys have the capac­i­ty to sup­ple­ment your con­tent with unique data and insights that you can use to reach out to jour­nal­ists and for them to say, this is a sto­ry, I want this. Rather than – you seri­ous­ly think I care or have any inter­est to share this?

Oh, and one last thing (as Steve Jobs used to say), mar­ket­ing is a con­tin­u­al con­ver­sa­tion and the means to engage a cus­tomer.

By offer­ing a sur­vey or ques­tion­naire, your audi­ence can have their say, par­tic­i­pate in a two-way dia­logue, and (by exten­sion) feel involved in your brand.


Could sur­veys be the best thing ever since sliced bread? I think so. Let’s get start­ed.

I’ve split this arti­cle into the two main appli­ca­tions of a sur­vey specif­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant to con­tent mar­ket­ing and then fin­ished it off with tips on how to cre­ate a sur­vey and how to write ques­tions.

1. A Survey Helps to Better Understand Your Audience

What Is Your Biggest Challenge?

A sur­vey will give you the insights into what moti­vates your audi­ence.

The main ques­tion you want to answer is: what is their biggest chal­lenge.

If you can iden­ti­fy and answer a pain point that your tar­get audi­ence has, then you will have their atten­tion.

When I cre­ate a con­tent strat­e­gy, I gath­er infor­ma­tion from many sources to under­stand what the audi­ence is doing.

Ana­lyt­ics and social media offer plen­ty of insight into what users do on your site and how they engage with your brand.

But you want to get in their head. The only way to do this is to ask them.

Once you’re aware of what your audience’s pain points and inter­ests are, you then have a sol­id basis to con­struct your con­cepts and con­tent titles from.

Each piece of con­tent should be laser-tar­get­ed on solv­ing or high­light­ing a pain point or chal­lenge. The more niche a title is, the bet­ter.

Set up an Auto-Respond on Email Sign-Ups

A great way to seek under­stand­ing is to ask each indi­vid­ual at their point of con­tact or sale.

As a user com­pletes an email, sign-up or con­tact forms send an auto-respon­der email with one or two ques­tions to answer.

For exam­ple:

  • What is the biggest chal­lenge you face?
  • What one prod­uct would make a major dif­fer­ence to you right now?

The infor­ma­tion gleaned from these insights will then help you to tar­get oth­er peo­ple in sim­i­lar posi­tions that have the same chal­lenges.

The best arti­cles are high­ly spe­cif­ic and offer real infor­ma­tion that makes a reader’s life bet­ter in some way.

Segment Your Audience

To drill down to even more spe­cif­ic con­tent, you can insert a sur­vey into your email sign-up form to seg­ment your audi­ence.

This is easy with MailChimp, as you can use the Groups func­tion which then adds pre­s­e­lect check-box­es to your sign-up form. (Remem­ber that if you’re tar­get­ing an audi­ence in the EU, then you have to com­ply with GDPR).

For exam­ple, if your sign-up form is for a con­tent mar­ket­ing newslet­ter, you can ask:

  • Do you work for a brand in-house?
  • Do you work for a con­tent agency?
  • Do you work at a start­up?
  • Do you have your own busi­ness?

Once your audi­ence is seg­ment­ed, you have the option of send­ing your gen­er­al con­tent mar­ket­ing newslet­ter to all or you can send high­ly spe­cif­ic con­tent to each seg­ment based on the spe­cif­ic chal­lenges which that group faces.

An in-house con­tent man­ag­er faces very dif­fer­ent chal­lenges to a start-up or a small busi­ness own­er.

2. A Survey Will Feed Your Content

To Inform Your Content with Unique Data

When writ­ing a piece of con­tent, a writer will want to link to any ref­er­ences that back up their claims or point of view, or to offer sta­tis­tics.

By offer­ing unique research, data, or sta­tis­tics for your indus­try or niche, then you have a high­ly link­able asset.

One strong set of data and research can be applied to sev­er­al chan­nels of con­tent to gain max­i­mum val­ue:

  • A webi­nar and/or indus­try talk
  • A gat­ed whitepaper/ebook down­load
  • A data visu­al­iza­tion
  • A SlideShare deck
  • An in-depth arti­cle on-site
  • Quotes on social media
  • Pro­mo­tion­al print­ed mar­ket­ing mate­r­i­al

How Do I Generate Data for My Brand?

Con­duct a sur­vey to reflect the cur­rent state of your indus­try – the Con­tent Mar­ket­ing Insti­tute do this on a reg­u­lar basis. Buz­zSumo also reg­u­lar­ly pro­duces in-depth indus­try research.

Review your cus­tomer data and look for insights on buy­ing behav­ior.

Any­thing that shows a region­al bias can be used to con­struct an index or map that is always pop­u­lar for out­reach, espe­cial­ly to local media.

As your start­ing point, brain­storm a series of hypothe­ses or sets of data that would be valu­able or of inter­est to your audi­ence.

For exam­ple:

  • Where in the UK is it easiest/hardest to gain plan­ning per­mis­sion?
  • What are the best/worst restau­rants in the UK when deal­ing with gluten intol­er­ance?
  • What are the job titles that get paid the most in your indus­try?
  • Do the ear­ly birds at the gym earn the most mon­ey?

If your data can answer your ques­tions, then you can con­struct your con­tent based around this and you then have a sig­nif­i­cant sto­ry to approach jour­nal­ists with.

Jour­nal­ists are most like­ly to share a sto­ry that has a unique insight or data with a strong hook that will be of inter­est to their read­ers. This is the key to secur­ing top-tier media links.

Depend­ing on your data, you can cre­ate an inter­ac­tive graph or map, an info­graph­ic, a white paper or a land­ing page with ani­mat­ed ele­ments.

Once you have their atten­tion, hav­ing strong visu­als to sup­port your data is the sec­ondary back-up to get the response you want.

How to Create a Survey

Customer Database

The ide­al sit­u­a­tion is that you have a cus­tomer data­base email list to lever­age, as this offers direct access to your audi­ence for their feed­back, opin­ions, and insights.

My pref­er­ence for run­ning a cus­tomer sur­vey is Sur­vey­Mon­key or Google Sur­veys. Both are easy to set up and both offer free ver­sions with lim­it­ed ques­tions and styling options.

Paid Responses

If I don’t have an exist­ing data­base to tar­get, then I use Poll­fish where I can gain access to an audi­ence and “buy” respons­es. You can laser tar­get and seg­ment who answers your ques­tions to ensure you don’t waste mon­ey on unqual­i­fied respons­es.

A lit­tle trick that works for me to save mon­ey, is to use a pre-qual­i­fy­ing ques­tion. If you ask a ques­tion (e.g., have you applied for plan­ning per­mis­sion in the last 12 months?) then it’s unlike­ly you will get respons­es from any­one under 18. There­fore, you don’t need to pre­clude them in the tar­get audi­ence first screen.

Set­ting a pre-qual­i­fied ques­tion is cheap­er than seg­ment­ing the audi­ence.

Social Media Polls

If you have accounts with enough fol­low­ers, then you can use social media to run polls and ask ques­tions for a wealth of feed­back.

I’ve had great results from polls and ques­tions posed on clients’ Face­book pages/groups and then used that infor­ma­tion to inform con­tent pieces.

Tips for Setting Survey Questions

1. Don’t Ask Yes/No Questions

Instead of ask­ing a direct ques­tion of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ where a respon­dent is psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly biased to answer ‘yes’, struc­ture your ques­tion with options.

2. Keep It Short

In the freemi­um ver­sion, Sur­vey­Mon­key lim­its a sur­vey to 10 ques­tions.

I would always aim to keep your sur­vey to 10 ques­tions or less – unless you have a spe­cif­ic rea­son and offer incen­tives for some­thing more in-depth.

The short­er the bet­ter.

Don’t over­load peo­ple with too many ques­tions and options.

Keep it as to-the-point and as sim­ple as pos­si­ble and avoid ask­ing repet­i­tive ques­tions.

3. Limit the Use of Matrix Questions

Offer­ing too many choic­es is proven to cause deci­sion paral­y­sis.

Respon­dents are most like­ly to skip if they can, or click on any­thing just to move for­ward – ren­der­ing your results inac­cu­rate.

For a com­pli­cat­ed ques­tion that requires a matrix answer, lim­it them to five head­er options and only use one or two matrix ques­tions in a sin­gle sur­vey.

4. Don’t Ask Leading Questions, Keep Them Open

Ask­ing lead­ing ques­tions which influ­ences the respondent’s answer, does not pro­vide results of any author­i­ty and could be dis­missed upon scruti­ny.

Keep your ini­tial ques­tions open.

Then, if you receive the answer you want­ed, offer anoth­er a sec­ondary ques­tion that drills down into more detail with the focus on the answers you real­ly want­ed.

5. Make Sure You Cover Every Option for Respondents

It’s easy to be so focused on the answers that you want and to for­get to include options that cov­er every per­mu­ta­tion.

By adding “don’t know,” “not sure,” “stayed the same” or oth­er alter­na­tives, you can ensure that respons­es are accu­rate and that the respon­dent isn’t just click­ing on an answer because there isn’t an option that is rel­e­vant to them.

6. Make it Obvious

Most impor­tant­ly, use clear and con­cise lan­guage with­out any ambi­gu­i­ty.

Peo­ple mis­read, speed read, and mis­con­strue mean­ing.

Your job is to make sure you com­mu­ni­cate as clear­ly as pos­si­ble what you are ask­ing them.

Review your ques­tions over and over until you can dis­till them to a very clear essence with­out any super­flu­ous lan­guage – a much hard­er job than it sounds.

And don’t for­get to spellcheck – it real­ly does count.

How Many Responses Do You Need to Be Statistically Accurate?

Being able to jus­ti­fy sur­vey results as sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant is essen­tial if you want to approach jour­nal­ists or to have author­i­ty with your pub­lished whitepa­pers. This depends on the pop­u­la­tion group size that you want to rep­re­sent.

If you’re pub­lish­ing data on a nation­wide opin­ion, then you will need many more respons­es than a sur­vey which rep­re­sents con­tent mar­ket­ing agen­cies that have an office in the city of Leeds (yes, me).

Any data that rep­re­sents a nation­wide sur­vey should be based upon 1,000–2,000 respons­es, where­as a more niche sur­vey could be jus­ti­fied based on only 300 respons­es.

There is a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion that can cal­cu­late how many respons­es you need for sta­tis­ti­cal accu­ra­cy (Poll­fish cal­cu­lates this for you as you build your sur­vey).