Online Surveys: Helping Your Research Spend Stretch Further

I was meeting with Maria Jones, Senior Product Development Manager at Savencia Fromage & Dairy last week, when we decided to look through an example of an online survey. It was one of those super-flashy questionnaires that are designed to show off everything that can be done with online surveys.  


As we clicked through the pages we found ourselves sparking off with ideas for research projects whilst discussing the existing problems that could be solved using the different question types. As someone who deals with digital methodologies on a daily basis it is sometimes easy to forget how eye-opening these sessions can be. Certain question types can open up the possibility of entirely new kinds of research and online methodologies can allow for traditional methodologies to be conducted more quickly, at a lower price.

This is really important for all of us, as we all want to conduct better research and get more for our money. So, in the spirit of sharing and inspiration, I’d like to share with you some of the question types we discussed and some of our ideas for what they could be used for. Hopefully this will inspire some of your own thinking about how you could come up with better and potentially cheaper research projects. I’d be really interested to hear your ideas on what you think can be done.



Heat mapping involves taking an image, or other visual piece of stimuli and figuring out what areas draw the most attention. You might for example, show research participants a billboard advert, and ask them to point out or talk about areas on the advert that stand out to them. If you are feeling more technically minded and want to test implicit reactions, you might combine this with eye-tracking to see exactly what areas of the advert are looked at first, how long the different aspects hold attention and what areas are returned to.

With an online methodology we can swap out eye tracking for clicking, meaning that heat maps can be very useful in concept testing new website designs. Before you have put the time and effort into actually building your new web page you could create a simple mock-up – e.g. how your new website checkout is going to look – then assign participants with tasks, such as “click on the screen to get information on credit card security codes”. By recording mouse movements and click times, as well as accuracy, you can get a clear indication of how intuitive your new design concepts are.

Heat maps can be massively useful, for example our pack team at Marketing Sciences use them to assess how well different pack designs stand out on shelves, but they can also be very versatile. Some of the more “out-there” ideas that we have discussed are:

  • Assessing the difficulty of Where’s Wally cartoons
  • Calculating success rates for “spot-the-ball” competitions
  • Figuring out the effectiveness of different camouflage patterns

Obviously these are silly examples but this should give you an idea of the scope of stimuli that can be tested using a heat map set-up.



Any situation where limited resources could be spent in any number of ways can benefit from a token allocation question. These questions give the respondent a limited number of points (these could be percentage points, currency, or any relevant unit) and ask them to allocate as many or as few as they like to different categories.

Here are some examples:

  • Time spent in the lead up to purchasing a book

Please use the boxes below to indicate how long you spend on the following activities, when researching a book purchase:

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  • Proportion of a budget spent on different parts of a meal

If you had £10 to spend on a meal for two from your local supermarket, what would you spend it on? Please drag and drop the pound coins to the different categories

SS blog nov 2 

By using more real-world limitations and concepts (such as pound coins in the meal example) you can get a better idea of the trade-offs that your potential customers will be making. Often a purchase decision is not simply based on liking a product, or thinking well of the product under consideration; it is instead a process of weighing up the opportunity cost of buying a completely different product or keeping their money in their pocket. Token allocation questions can be designed to help you test out your products in this more real-world situation.



It can be difficult to pull apart communication, messages and slogans in a robust and quantifiable way. Qualitative research is great at assessing this kind of material, but if you need to get a robust base size it can be costly.

This is where online highlighter tools can come in. They allow survey participants to study a piece of text, then select key phrases and words that connect with them or turn them away. These selections can be quantified and followed with open-text questions to help you understand the reasons behind those feelings.

With the benefits of an online methodology you can quickly analyse the results and with comparatively cheap sample it can be cost-effective to try out several different concepts. Most businesses will be writing communication on a constant basis so a quick feedback loop to road-test comms can be very useful to make sure that your brand is saying what it thinks it is saying.

SS blog nov 3



I have only mentioned three question types in this post, but there are many more out there, and we are creating new types all the time. If you are interested in seeing some examples of what can be done, or if you want to discuss how you might want to convert some of your traditional market research to an online methodology, then get in touch with me – I can gladly send you some examples and talk through the options with you.

Shaun Smith is Associate Director in the Product team at Marketing Sciences Unlimited

Maria Jones, Senior Product Development Manager at Savencia Fromage & Dairy, adds:

Maria Jones Savencia

“The ability to challenge and question Shaun as he demonstrated online research methodologies, which to me was an areas I had little awareness and no experience of, proved extremely fruitful.  First hand demonstration of this powerful tool highlighted the deep delve, speed and extent to which online quantitative research can answer the many questions facing both branded and own label manufacturers alike. Thank you Shaun and all behind the scenes at Marketing Sciences….I look forward to our well established relationship continuing for many years to come!” 

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Richard Snoxell
01962 842211
Article date - 26/11/2015
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