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Poll vs. Survey: What’s the Difference?

Want to improve your market understanding? Learn how poll vs. survey research methods offer insightful and accurate data about customer needs and preferences.

You know what the trick is to creating truly irresistible offerings people cannot wait to get their hands on? Get inside the heads of new and existing customers to figure out what makes them tick. What they like, what bothers them, and what they wish existed are all critical pieces of information.

But how do you unlock these insights? You have 2 powerful tools to choose from: polls and surveys. Polls can provide quick glimpses into consumer perspectives while surveys offer rich data on preferences and needs. The key is choosing the right tool to match what you need to discover about your target audience.  

If you’re eager to learn about choosing between polls and surveys, this guide is your roadmap. It’ll show you how to pick the right research method for your needs and master data gathering that drives decisions.

What’s the difference between a poll and a survey?  

Surveys and polls may seem similar, but there are some important differences between the 2.

  • Surveys are long questionnaires with a series of open- and closed-ended questions. Each query gathers in-depth insights about audience preferences, needs, and behaviors from a specific market segment.
  • Polls involve asking a single query or a very limited set of questions. Poll questions are quick, to the point, and allow you to draw conclusions about the opinions and attitudes of a larger population.

In essence, polls offer a simple snapshot of overall perspectives, while surveys enable you to dive deeper into consumers’ underlying motivations. Choosing the right method depends on your market research goals and needs.

Common types of polls and surveys for gathering feedback    

Polls and surveys come in various styles to collect just the right kind of feedback for your goals. Whether you’re aiming to get quick opinions or deep insights, there’s a poll or survey that’s perfect for the job. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular types and how they might fit into your strategy for understanding your audience.

Popular survey options

The most popular survey options businesses use for market research include: 

  • General market research surveys cover a range of topics from brand perception to purchasing habits to reveal market trends and consumer needs.
  • Net promoter score surveys measure customer loyalty and satisfaction by asking how likely people are to recommend your product or services to others.
  • Customer satisfaction score surveys reveal how pleased your customers are with your brand using multiple questions with rating scales.  
  • Product feedback surveys gather observations about your products or services to guide improvements and future offerings.  

Different survey formats offer flexibility in how you gather this information. Online surveys are fast and can reach lots of people easily. In-person surveys take more effort but give you detailed, personal responses. Phone surveys are a mix of both, personal yet convenient. Picking the right survey type and format can uncover the details needed to keep customers happy with your brand.

Effective poll types

Just like surveys, polls come in various forms, such as:

  • Product rating polls ask respondents to score offerings on a simple scale to provide a general sense of how well your product is doing.
  • Multiple choice polls offer a selection of answers for a single question, making it easy to gauge opinions on specific topics, like brand awareness.
  • Concept ranking polls ask people to order several options based on preference to help you identify the most popular ideas or features.
  • Market trend analysis polls track changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors by asking timely questions about current preferences and outlooks. 

Remember, the way you do your poll can make a big difference. Online polls seamlessly integrate into your website and social media channels, making them a top choice for market researchers. In-person and phone polls are not as common, although they do add a personal touch. No matter what type and format you choose, the right poll can reveal what your customers think and want.  

Choosing when to use polls and surveys to conduct market research

Deciding between polls and surveys comes down to speed versus depth. While a poll focuses on quick, concise feedback, surveys exist to provide an in-depth understanding of your customers. Here are the factors to consider. 

When to survey your audience:

  • For detailed insights: Surveys are the way to go when you need more than just surface-level answers. They allow you to ask complex questions for more in-depth responses from each participant.
  • For holistic understanding: Choose surveys when you want a full picture of a situation or topic. The series of questions can cover various angles, providing a broad and detailed understanding.
  • For long-term planning: Surveys work well for scenarios requiring long-term thinking and planning. They give you the in-depth data needed to make business decisions that will impact the future.

When polls are the smarter choice:

  • For quick responses: Polls are your best bet for fast and easy feedback. They don’t take long to fill out, making them ideal for capturing split-second opinions.
  • For simple choices: A poll lets respondents pick from just a few options. This is good when you want a clear answer to a simple question. 
  • For checking preferences: Polls quickly reveal what your audience prefers. They’re perfect for seeing which option out of a few is the most popular.

Best practices when using surveys and polls to collect valuable insights

When collecting valuable insights, following the best practices ensures data accuracy and an overall positive poll and survey experience. It’s how to collect data that’s both reliable and actionable without losing the interest of your respondents. Ready to get started? Use these 6 key practices for creating stellar polls and surveys.

Set clear goals for your market research

Polls and surveys provide the most value when you make questions laser focused. To do that, clearly define the exact problem you aim to solve. This might be understanding what your customers think about your brand, seeing if they like a new product idea, or pinpointing their ideal price point.

Knowing your goals is the first step to good research. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s much easier to write questions that get useful answers. Plus, it saves time because you’re not asking about things that aren’t helpful.

Craft concise poll and survey questions

How you ask a question is as important as what you ask. Your approach will vary depending on what types of questions you’re asking, such as:

  • Demographic questions: Ask about demographics up front to filter response data by age, location, and other attributes used to organize and analyze data. Keep categories simple and respectful to protect privacy.
  • Ranking questions: Only showcase 3-5 items for people to rank in order of relevance. Any more leads to survey fatigue. Allow a None option in case nothing resonates.
  • Matrix questions: Carefully pair row and column headers so the grid format makes sense when filled out. Also, limit the matrix to 3-5 rows and columns to save space and avoid overwhelming participants.
  • Sliding scale questions: Use clear polar anchors on sliding scales like Not at all satisfied = 0 to Extremely satisfied = 10. Add 7-10 options between these anchors to ensure respondents can tell you how they really feel.
  • Multiple choice questions: Ensure multiple choice question options are brief, distinct from one another, and cover all possibilities. Add a Not applicable choice for people who may not have a definite opinion on the matter.

Always aim to avoid leading questions when crafting your polls and surveys. Otherwise, your questions might steer respondents toward a particular answer, potentially skewing your results.

Segment your target audience

Whether you’re using polls or surveys, divide your audience into groups to get feedback from the right people. With this approach, you’re more likely to get answers that align with your goals.  

For example, it’s possible to learn about a larger population by polling or surveying a smaller group that represents everyone. This representative sample reflects all the ages, locations, incomes, and other characteristics within your total target audience.

To properly segment your audience, define clear criteria like age, gender, where they live, and how much they earn. Also, check what they’ve done before, like what they bought or did on your website. Group the respondents based on these criteria to create each segment.  

Select a strategic distribution time

Timing is everything when it comes to getting accurate results from your research. Sending your poll or survey when people have time to answer boosts response rates and gets more thoughtful responses.    

Consider factors like your audience’s time zones, work schedules, and online activity patterns to find your ideal timing. For instance, morning email blasts might engage office workers, while late evening posts reach night owl college students. If you’re not 100% sure of the ideal timing, experiment with different strategies to see what gets the best results.  

Offer incentives and rewards

Adding incentives and rewards can get more people to complete your polls and surveys. By adding something extra, you give your audience a reason to take part and show your appreciation for their time and input.  

To find a strong motivator, think about what your audience would love most. This could include discounts on purchases from your brand, gift cards, or the chance to win prizes. Be sure to deliver the reward promptly after survey or poll completion to maintain engagement.

Protect the survey and poll data   

Keeping participants’ personal information safe is a must when running market research. It not only complies with data protection laws, like the GDPR in the European Union, but it’s also the right thing to do. Guarding privacy shows respect for those sharing opinions with you and builds trust in your brand.

To protect survey and poll data:

  1. Encrypt all the digital data behind passwords and locks.
  2. Be clear on why you’re gathering info and get participants’ informed consent.
  3. Only use the responses for the intended research purposes.
  4. Anonymize identities connected to the data before looking for patterns in a detailed analysis.

Start each data-gathering session by explaining privacy rules. This reassures people that it’s safe to provide honest opinions while filling out your polls and surveys.

Settle on your poll vs. survey method to get deeper insights

Choosing between polls and surveys means matching your method to your mission. Need quick insights? Polls are your go-to. Prefer in-depth customer intel? Surveys won’t let you down. Each has its unique edge and using them wisely can turbocharge your market research. So, if you want to deeply understand your audience, select the best method for your data collection needs and start asking questions.

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