Importance In Online Surveys: Is it Important?

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Posted Jun 29, 2012
Kathryn Korostoff

You have seen it a hundred times. A survey question that asks you about importance. How important is feature X when shopping for a camera? How important is price when buying a car? You get the idea.Importance seems pretty simple. But is it? Importance can be captured using different approaches. And some will work better for you than others. Let’s look at a few common options to see which one may be best for your online surveys.

For our examples, let’s say you are designing a questionnaire on the subject of natural dog foods. You plan to survey dog owners in order to find out what is most important in a natural product for their pets. For the sake of simplicity, the examples are short and are meant to be illustrative.Version 1. Multiple items are rated, and importance is indicated in the scale. Each item is rated on a 5-pont scale from “Not at all important” to “Very important.” “When selecting food for your pet, how important are the following attributes?”• Gluten-free • Includes free-range meat ingredients• Includes organic vegetable ingredientsVersion 2. Multiple items are rated, and importance is inferred by the respondents’ self-reported behavior. In this case, for each of the three items, the respondent is asked to reply on a five point scale ranging from “Never” to “Always.” “When selecting food for your pet, how often do you look for products that have the following attributes?”• Gluten-free • Includes free-range meat ingredients• Includes organic vegetable ingredientsThis version infers, or derives, importance by asking about actual behaviors. After all, I may say something is important—but what if I never behave that way? I say losing weight is important, but then I order a cheeseburger for lunch; is losing weight really important to me?Version 3. Multiple items are ordered from lowest to highest in importance (in AYTM, this is done using the Reorder Question format). In this case, “When selecting food for your pet, how important are the following attributes? Please rate them in order of importance with the most important item being at the top, and least important at the bottom.”• Gluten-free • Includes free-range meat ingredients• Includes organic vegetable ingredients

Importance in Online Surveys

As we see with these examples, Importance can be captured in different ways. The two key distinctions we see in our examples are:• Perception versus behavior. Sometimes you want to capture the perception. Do your target customers think something is important? And is that important to you whether or not they behave that way? In other cases you need to know if their behavior is consistent with their attitudes. For example, if I am trying to come up with marketing messages that will resonate with a target market, I may want to know about values and aspirations—even though they may not reflect current behaviors. On the other hand, if I am looking to understand what percent of my target market currently buys products with certain attributes, I need to know about behaviors (version 2).• Overall importance versus importance compared to something else. The risk in Version 1 is that you may find that everything is very important. This may be true, but it may not be helpful if you are looking to get a prioritized set of items based on importance. Version 3 forces a prioritized response, which may best suit your needs. However, you have to be careful about how you interpret the results. For example, if an item is usually ranked lowest, does it mean it is a little less important than the others, or a lot? Or maybe not important at all, but since it was on the list, it has a relative position?Capturing importance is often a goal in online surveys, but as I have shown here, there are many ways to approach it. Start with a little clarity about how you plan to use the results, and you will be able to select an approach that will deliver useful data.

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