The one constant in a sea of change

calsssvinIt recently struck me that, amidst all of the seismic changes affecting my industry, one thing has remained constant: PR’s love affair with surveys.

We used surveys when I joined Hill & Knowlton in 1493 (note: John W. Hill was a personal publicist for Christopher Columbus, and conducted the very first survey in the New World. Some 78 percent of Native-Americans said the arrival of Europeans would have no impact on the future).

Two surveys just washed up on my personal shores this past week. Neither told me anything new. Both reinforced the obvious. But, both will undoubtedly generate ink (which is why this antediluvian tactic survives flourishes despite the flummox caused by social media).

The first survey was conducted by The Link Agency, and found that women hold the purse strings in most households! Indeed, Link’s CEO, Tracy LeRoux, says: “It’s wise for businesses to realize just how influential the woman of the house can be in making any purchases.” This constitutes news? I think even Adam knew that Eve called the shots in the bible’s first family.

And, get this, The Link Agency also suggests marketers use social media to reach moms with kids under 18 since 90 percent of moms with kids under 18, drum roll please, use social media!

But, wait, there’s more breaking news from another new survey. This one found that companies can build brand loyalty by sending simple birthday greetings to customers. Wow.

That stat rocked my world. I now need to re-think every strategic recommendation I’ve ever given to clients: “In addition to the program elements we just discussed, please don’t forget to wish your customers a happy birthday!”

The Fulcrum survey says 87 percent of consumers report increased brand loyalty for a company that sends a note saying, ‘Happy birthday, big fella!’ To which, I respond, big deal.

Birthday greetings WILL NOT impact customer consideration one iota. Just because the Brooks Brothers database has a prompt to send me a note on June 29th, it does NOT mean I’ll choose them when I make my next purchase.

But, hey, that’s not Fulcrum’s problem. They just conducted the survey. And the survey will generate publicity for Fulcrum.

And, so it goes. The survey is like PR’s North Star. It’s a constant in a sea of change. No matter how banal the findings, surveys WILL generate buzz. And, that’s the name of that tune.

So, before I sign-off for today, how about one more survey? I’d like to invite YOU to nominate the dumbest survey of 2013. I guarantee you’ll receive publicity. Let me know.

6 thoughts on “The one constant in a sea of change

  1. Love this piece…and your point. Surveys can be useful to illustrate just how widespread something has become…But often they are used just to have something people will find authoritative, because we worship numbers. Considering the degree to which surveys are shaped by the way the content is gathered and by what those asking the questions know to ask…I’m skeptical of most of what comes out. If it’s Pew, for instance, I’ll take note…but I think survey stats should always be looked at critically rather than just accepted. Case in point: read Darrell Huff’s wonderful How to Lie with Statistics, from the 1950s. On another note, I think companies have fallen so in love with the ability to survey their customers that they now survey people to death (a frequent sticking point for our friend Emily Yellin…). Come to think of it, I want to see a survey about how annoyed customers are at the overabundance of surveys…

  2. I’ve often thought about the usefulness of these types of surveys whenever I have to fill out a quick questionnaire to get access to free stuff. Clearly, my only motivation in this scenario is to get the free stuff. I could care less about the survey and typically don’t put any thought into it. I’d like to thing that most consumers that are bombarded by surveys react in the same way.

    However, I think there’s a big difference between mass-consumer surveys and industry surveys. When a big bank such as Goldman Sachs does a survey, they only invite people with a specific set of qualifications to participate. Sure, you always have to take any survey results with a grain of salt. But industry participants have a (typically) vested interest in being honest about their industry.

  3. I agree that Btob surveys are far more rigorous and meaningful, Dmitriy. For example, I still cite an IBM Global Consulting survey of CMOs on the subject of big data. Sadly, meaningful surveys are few and far between nowadays, just like a good image and reputation.

    And, Sam, i agree with you. I’d love to see a survey of consumers asking how annoyed they are by surveys.

  4. A former employer of mine conducted a survey with a cable TV network targeted to men. The findings? Men like to watch sports, look at naked women, and drink alcohol. Stop the presses!

  5. Priceless, Julie. And, then of course there are all the surveys from the pharma companies confirming an illness that, magically, they’ve just created a new pill to treat. There ought to be a law.

    • Seriously. Who ever heard of “restless leg syndrome” before a drug was announced to “cure” it?