How to Write Thought-Provoking Market Research Survey Questions That Result in Creative Answers

Good market research starts with asking good market research survey questions. Regardless of whether it’s a traditional survey, a focus group discussion guide, or a research session like those we run at Invoke, the foundation of a successful market research project is often only as good as the questions researchers choose to ask. Fundamentally, the most useful market research survey questions are designed with a direct connection to established project objectives in mind.

But beyond that fundamental design, there are known rules within the market research industry researchers must keep in mind when constructing surveys, guides, and questionnaires (even if they may choose to ignore them from time-to-time.) Avoid creating bias or leading respondents. Steer clear of double-barreled questions. Use familiar words. Don’t force a choice where it’s not applicable.

And following those rules – and only those rules – should help researchers create a good set of questions. But putting together questions that not only seek to achieve objectives but also capture true insight? That may take a little more.

Let’s dive into what it takes to write these thought-provoking questions to hit key goals and obtain valuable insight.

Creative market research survey questions elevate research to a search for insight

Sure, sometimes all research teams care about is the test and measurement side of research. Sometimes simply knowing which concept, which advertisement, which trailer, or which candidate scores the highest or has the highest reach is enough. Asking closed-end market research survey questions to determine metrics such as appeal and purchase intent is rarely all project teams need.

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But when researchers need to get beyond the numbers and gain true insight, they need open-end lines of questioning. To get to the “why” behind the “what,” researchers often use direct open-end questions  – such as “What do you like?” “What would you change?” “What is the main message?” While valuable, these direct open-ends may just scratch the surface. In the real world, consumers, customers, and viewers often make cognitive decisions in their subconscious.

So to better project findings from a market research project towards real-world behaviors, emotions, and decisions, researchers often need to think creatively or “outside the box” to tap into this subconscious.

One way to do this is by asking more indirect, creative types of questions. Questions that work through the use of techniques such as metaphor, visualization, and replacement. These more creative lines of inquiry have a place in both stimuli-driven research projects and more exploratory research.

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Some creative market research survey question examples

These creative questions are limited only by the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity of the researcher creating them. But for researchers searching for inspiration, below are some examples of creative questions that researchers can use in their projects:

Expressive technique

Expose respondents to situation-based visual stimuli (or verbal/textual descriptions if visual stimuli is not possible) that features or focuses on the subject of the research at hand and ask them to relate the feelings/attitudes/thoughts of other people to the situation being shown or described. For example, if the researchers focus research efforts on a new soda, show an image of friends enjoying this soda together. If you’re testing a new movie trailer, ask respondents to imagine viewers walking out of this movie after watching and ask what they might be thinking or feeling. Taking respondents out of their own mind and having them focus on others may help to release inhibitions and insecurities.

Story completion

Start a story for respondents and ask them to finish it. For example: if you are testing a pilot for a new series, tell respondents the beginning of the story being told in this series and ask respondents to finish it. This can work outside of the entertainment world and be applied to other categories such as consumer packaged goods. Sticking with the soda example, a researcher may start a story where someone has just purchased a can of this soda and then ask respondents to finish the story. Where did this consumer go? What was this consumer feeling as they drank this soda? This exercise can help to understand viewer or consumer expectations.

Superhero story

Especially helpful in concept or brand testing, this exercise has respondents imagine what is being tested as a superhero. Depending on objectives, researchers can ask respondents to describe this concept or brand’s superpower (which can help to understand what it does well), origin story (which could uncover emotions associated with this concept/brand), nemesis (to potentially get at the competition in the market or potential negatives/issues), etc.  Having respondents think about this concept or brand as something else could open up their subconscious attitudes towards it.

Association technique

Researchers often use an association exercise, one of the most common types of creative questions, at the beginning of a session, group, or survey. This technique has respondents look at an image or hear the name of a concept, product, film, series, etc. and say the first thing that comes to mind. While this may not uncover the deep insights the more involved creative exercises might, getting respondents’ top-of-mind associations is important to really understand what respondents are thinking or feeling without bias.

Creative questioning: Some tips

There are many ways to incorporate creative questioning into one’s research process. And one blog post won’t cover every way to use these as they depend on research method, project objectives, and researcher comfort.

However, teams looking to involve more creative market research survey questions should consider these tips for success:

  • Recruit creative respondents. To get the most useful responses, teams may want to look specifically for creative individuals when recruiting. In addition to the normal course of recruiting respondents to pre-determined specifications and demographics, researchers should consider asking more open-ended creative questions in the screening process. This will help to gauge respondent articulation and thoughtfulness. Conversation-starter types of questions (“Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life and why?” “If you could speak to everyone in the world at the same time, what would you say?” “If you could live in a book, TV show, or movie, what would it be and why?”) work well in this capacity.
  • Set expectations. During the research experience, respondents should be prepped to get creative. Inform them upfront they will participate in more creative exercises and must think “outside the box.” Ask them to be thoughtful, honest, and creative and assure them there are no wrong answers.
  • Don’t overdo it. Once a researcher starts to create and use these types of questions more, it may inspire them to include as many creative questions as possible in their research. These questions can yield a lot. They can help a researcher really get to know their respondents. These questions are, let’s face it, fun… and interesting. But researchers need to be measured in balancing more traditional, direct questions with these more creative endeavors. Just as with any other survey, guide, or session question, researchers must maintain a connection to the project’s objective. Those connections may be harder to immediately see. It takes foresight.

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