The Art of Listening: How to Craft Questions for Your Audience
July 9, 2015 | Dan Trefethen
Imagine you’re on a first date. You connect over delightful, engaging conversation. The words flow naturally — it’s not too serious, but not too silly, either.
In an ideal situation, interactive content offers a parallel experience to a dream date: an honest and warm conversation between two people looking for a match. As is the case with any relationship, asking the right questions can make (or break) your chances for success.
As marketing shifts towards personalization, questions are an even more integral part of building awareness of your market. You use them in quizzes, assessments and interactive infographics to help you to discover your customer’s needs.
Here’s how to craft questions that prompt meaningful dialogues and yield powerful answers.
Create Strategic Content
Believe it or not, only 27% of content marketers work with a documented content strategy. This startling statistic means that companies offer questions to audiences without grounding them in a game plan. Without a unifying focus, data from questions lacks the power to transform your brand.
Maybe you need to ask about buying habits, or explore your client’s knowledge base through assessments? Only by delving into larger, strategic goals can your dialogue serve a higher purpose. In the end, your questions should compliment your strategy like peanut butter and jelly.
Bring it Back to the Five “Ws”
If you’re not sure how to write clear questions, go back to the basics. Think about the five “ws” you learned in elementary school:
Journalists like Evan Ratliff recommend starting there, and even adding “how” to your list. These introductions are the building blocks of good questions; they offer you insight and give your audience a clearer picture of their own needs.
Make it Easy to Understand
One word or phrase can alter the responses you get to any question. If you’re looking for unbiased marketing data, embrace clarity. Here are the best practices for creating easy-to-understand questions, based on research from the
- Follow simple grammar guidelines: no passive voice, no unclear pronouns, no double negatives.
- Keep the questions as specific as possible.
- Make sure that the potential answers are exhaustive and mutually exclusive.
- Limit multiple choice questions to 4 or 5 potential answers, when possible.
- Randomize the order of multiple choice questions, unless there is clear natural order.
- Beware of jargon and offensive language!
Pro tip: If you ask “agree-disagree” questions, individuals are more likely to acquiesce toward agreement than they would in a multiple choice question on the same topic.
An easy way to double check your questions is to send them to a few coworkers, friends, and family members. Look at their answers and ask if they had any feedback. A few pairs of fresh eyes can do wonders.
Infuse Your Content with Personality
Have you ever seen website copy that looks like it was pulled from an instruction manual? Infuse your questions with personality. You can use very simple language and exhibit a unique tone. For example, BuzzFeed’s trademark quizzes are simple – but definitely snarky. And that’s intentional.
No matter your tone, the questions should make readers feel like there is a person behind them. You may not be able to refer to your audience by their first name, but you can use second person to enrich the human connection.
Keep It Short and Sweet
When you write a quiz or assessment, make the questions short and sweet. With 55% of readers staying on a web page for 15 seconds or less, short formats help you break through the noise. Brief questions are also more palatable across social channels, increasing traction and offering value in small bites.
While you’re at it, make sure that you optimize your question and answer functions for mobile use, as assessments and quizzes translate well to touch screens!
Add Context and Relevance
When you meet someone for the first time, you always give the conversation a quick context, sharing your name, interests and why you are there. Marketers can take this tack, too. Introduce a body of questions within the broader narrative of a blog post, or even layered over an interactive video.
The New York Times placed their “Take the Habit Personality Quiz” after two introductory paragraphs with information about the writer, her book release, and a call to join their wellness book club. The introduction increases urgency by tying the quiz to a specific date and event. A sense of timeliness can bolster the buzz around content.
Bolster Mutual Engagement
The law of reciprocality means that you’re much more likely to get good data if you give good information, too. In an article about homegrown data, Contently brought attention to Groove, a start-up that shares detailed content about its financial journey. By offering transparency to it’s audience, Groove fosters a culture of reciprocal sharing. Imagine the kinds of data they could pull from their audience after spilling the beans on their own finances?
Even if transparency blogging is not for you, you can still create a reciprocal experience. Try sharing your and your co-workers’ results from your own personality quiz, with a link to the quiz at the bottom. Always engage with your own content!
For many of us, asking questions may seem easy — we do it every day. But asking questions that yield powerful results will always be a challenge. Integrating these best practices can help you to craft the most impactful questions, enriching your data, deepening relationships, and offering audience meaningful feedback, too.
What could be better?