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Customer Feedback: That’s Why It’s Called Interactive

Words by 3p Contributor
Data & Technology
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By Chet Van Wert

Several years ago, I took part in a project that put the online content of a leading fashion industry publication behind a paid subscription “paywall.” As we built the new user experience in stages, we took the opportunity to interact with readers hitting the new wall: When we told them they had to “subscribe to read more,” we also asked for feedback in a series of short surveys. We were able to capture exactly the information we needed to help maximize conversion.

The one-two punch that let us put this knowledge to work was our ability to capture feedback, formulate a test and implement it quickly – leading to a formula that maximized subscriptions and revenue.

Revenue up, mission accomplished. But this tactical, low-tech effort delivered insights that influenced strategy on a higher level. Our understanding of how various customer segments used our content differently -- for example, Macy’s corporate employees versus thousands of small designers and retailers -- provided enormously valuable direction for marketing and content strategy well beyond pricing.

It's commonplace these days to acknowledge that the customer is in control, especially in the digital, interactive world. So, why don't companies ask for direct customer feedback and run small tactical marketing tests more often? It’s virtually free, simple to execute and, in an important way, what the Internet is all about. That’s why we call it “interactive media,” but it seems that I hear that phrase less often these days.

Digital media give us the ability to iterate marketing concepts, ask consumers questions and get their responses in a rapid-fire rhythm:


  1. Gather feedback to a quickly-deployed survey

  2. Create marketing hypotheses and concepts

  3. Execute marketing test (don’t forget to ask the consumer why they responded the way they did, or didn’t)

Then rinse and repeat:

  1. Analyze consumer responses

  2. Create revised hypothesis(es)

  3. Execute test(s)

Each response-hypothesis-retest cycle can be completed inexpensively in a matter of days or weeks. There are pitfalls, but for the most part they involve your thought process, not the technology or the (negligible) cost. For example:

Pitfall: You gather information that is interesting but isn’t actionable (this happens so much more often than you’d expect).

Antidote: Work backward from information that would have the greatest impact on a specific marketing campaign – value proposition, media choice, messaging or offer – and construct a program that will provide the information you need unambiguously.

Pitfall: You construct your survey so that it will inevitably confirm what you already believe.

Antidote: Instead, try to prove that what you believe is wrong. If you can’t, great! Otherwise, great food for thought.

Pitfall: You ask too many questions, resulting in incomplete answers and losing the consumer’s willingness to respond.

Antidote: Take a disciplined approach to answering one impactful question at a time, or a couple of related questions, and make it easy for the consumer to respond in a few seconds.

Tactical? Yes. Trivial? No way. Do efforts like these take the place of the comprehensive, statistically-validated research we learned about in business school? No, but … traditional research is backward-facing. It assumes you are studying a stable world. In a rapidly changing marketplace, we aren’t trying to paint an exact picture of the status quo. We’re trying to change it, to shape the future.

The one-two punch is the combination of qualitative feedback with quantitative test results. Maybe we’re better off calling this experimentation, not research, but in the haze of battle, what we’re really after is what works. A little thought about the results can often tell us a lot about the “why” that Big Research is after. Is this Truth with a capital T? I don’t know, but I’ll take it.

Image credit: Pixabay

Chet Van Wert is a long-time digital marketer, entrepreneur and intrapreneur. He can be reached at chet@vanwertpartners.com.

3p Contributor

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