Nielson: The definitive market research survey

Recently my household opened our mail to find something addressed from Nielson. Nielson is a global measurement and data analytics company who I have admired for many years. They engage in all types of research from eye tracking studies to entertainment demographics and are very well known to anyone who has done market research for digital content.

Picture isn’t amazing, but it’s mine.

The survey was a great case study in excellent survey design and I would love to share some of the insights I learned from taking this survey.

The package

It all starts with a slightly heavier than normal envelope. The Nielsen envelope comes in first-class mail, which makes it stand out. It is addressed to Boone Area Household.

When you open it, there are a few things enclosed. A survey, a return envelope, and a crisp one dollar bill. I know that one dollar bill is like 7 minutes of work at minimum wage, but damn that catches your attention.

They are spending at least 1.50 per potential survey participant. This method will almost certainly be more successful than a method which relies on a low effort online volunteer survey.

The Survey Note

The survey is printed on high quality card stock and addresses the reader saying:

“Dear Nielson Scarborough Participant,

Have you ever wondered how programming and content are chosen for television, internet, and other media outlets? The feedback you provide helps local media companies make these choices.

Your household has been randomly selected to participate in this important survey. it is only by hearing from people like you that we can be sure that results truly represent consumers in your area.”

Immediately, the Nielson mail marketing team hits you with a value proposition. If you fill out this survey, you will help media companies make more content that you like. Well,

I for one like being represented when they choose what kind of media to make.

The instructions indicate that an adult who has had the most recent birthday should complete the survey. This is to ensure that there is a truly random sample. Asking for the head of the house to take the survey, or any other specification, could influence the results of the survey.

Further they offer an additional five dollars when they receive the survey back. So on top of the small cash gift of one dollar, you can receive an extra five dollars simply for filling out a very short survey. That will definitely improve the number of people who take the time to fill out the survey.

Its not a waste of time, it’s a free five dollar footlong.

The letter finishes with a signature from the Chief Research Officer.

The Survey Questions

The questions are very straight forward. There are both English and Spanish version of the survey included, so you could select either. The questions covered general media landscape and genre preferences. They kep the questions pretty generic, indicating that this survey was more of a broad check on how people consume media, and the very generic aspects of what content they enjoy.

  • The first question was about what types of TV shows I watch.
  • The second question was about access to internet.
  • The third question was about how I listen to music.
  • The fourth question was about what type of phone services I use

The last five questions were about basic demographic information. That’s it.

The survey took less than five minutes to do. The questions were easy to understand and straight forward to answer.

It was just a good survey along with excellent mail marketing.

The survey stayed short and covered essential information to understanding America’s media landscape. As a marketer myself, I am interested in what data they find from this survey.

Concluding remarks

I think there is a lot to learn from good survey’s. Surveys are the foundation of modern content curation and design formation. Through random sampling and the power of statistics, some marketer somewhere is analyzing the way we think. When I see a good survey design I notice, because it was designed to be noticed.

I don’t often notice mail that isn’t explicitly important, much less an envelope not addressed to anyone in my household. This particular envelopes eye catching design stood out. The colors were muted, professional, and noticeable.

Good mail marketing can still make a splash in the modern landscape and advance your survey’s return rate.

Good design might be the difference between capturing the data you need and failing to gain valuable insights. The next time you are trying to design a survey that will get results, remember what Nielson did and maybe you will find more success. Their design certainly worked on me. I took the survey, and felt like all the questions will help Nielson provide insights that are helpful and constructive for broadcasting and public communication.



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Aaron J. Alford

Aaron J. Alford

Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication They/He