Cue The Future


"I'm living in the future, so the present is my past" -Kayne West

Sending Customer Development Surveys

A friend of mine just asked me for some advice on sending surveys. This is the list I came up with.

Sending surveys is an important part of early customer development; it helps you test a hypothesis and delivers you “perception” data. You can track how a user interacts with your service, it’s harder to track how they perceive it without surveys.

Early on in development of a consumer facing product, I’d recommend sending out simple surveys at short intervals (1-4 weeks) to a subset of your userbase. Below is the advice I gave my friend, if I’m missing anything, please leave it in the comments (Hattip to Hiten Shah, Leonard Speiser, and Sean Ellis who heavily influenced my thinking on this through tweets, posts, and conversations on this topic).


First thing is too check out this: (not shocking that Venture Hacks has the go to resource, is it?)

Then check out the tool that video is about:

But here’s my advice:

– Order your survey intentionally. Use early questions as eventual filters. If your second question is “how bad would you feel if you couldn’t use this product” that helps you sort later questions (i.e. my power users think this is the key feature, everyone else thinks it’s something else).

– When evaluating the data, you don’t want to optimize for the largest segment, you want to optimize for the segment that’s most engaged.

– Don’t ask any questions without understanding how you’d apply the data you’re collecting.

– Ask some open ended questions. The open-ended everything survey recommended in the post is a great way to start. But I like to have less than half my questions require typing — and it’s usually just an “anything else you think we should know?”. You get much higher response rates. But, there’s definitely a time and a place: open-ended questions are really useful for messaging questions and for early “discovery” surveys. Those questions also allow you to learn a lot more about the user (and how committed they are — you can tell a lot from the length and quality of their response).

– Ask for the ability to followup by phone, and do phone followups with every person who says yes. You’ll learn a lot in that conversation — and you’ll develop deep relationships with potential customers.

– On the subejct of developing relationships, provide an option for opting-in to the “elites” club — let them self select into beta testing groups. These elites can often become marketing assets. Yelp did a great job of this. David Barrett at Expensify is also doing this well right now. Survey’s aren’t just data, build a marketing asset.

– Ask for their reactions to the product, optional and freeform (limit text length if you would like to use in materials or on twitter). Ask “can we use this for marketing purposes?”  Another idea: followup and get a small photo, name, link, etc. — use these assets to personalize the testimonials when you put them online.

– Don’t put explanatory text in front of questions. It’s tempting to try and put people in the right “frame” — it hurts you in the long run. Don’t alter the answers they want to give you.

– Short surveys win.  <10 questions. <5 mins to complete.  half that is much better. Don’t write an SAT test.

Godin: a good product, but a bad launch

There’s a pretty big kerfuffle going on about marketing guru Seth Godin’s recent launch of Squidoo brand communities.

Godin launched a service that aggregated the conversation occuring about companies in the social space and provided the brands a sidebar next to the content to address the various statements made.

Someone tweets badly about your brand? Just write next to the entry on squidoo that you’re working on the issue, or that this individual is a looney tune.

Pretty good idea, if you ignore that you are responding in a different medium than the complaint was filed in, on a site that has no third party validity, and that is an excercise in futility. But I will ignore that, primarily because Godin probably could have pulled it off and created a site third parties used to validate information.

Godin launched this program with a business model (companies pay $400 to own the sidebar next to all of this content and be able to respond to issues), and that was his fundamental problem. He realized the validity of his value prop and created the project, but missed the fact that we would view this fully baked idea as exploitation rather than participation in the community.

To see how Squidoo brand communities could have been a massive success, one just has to look at Get Satisfaction. Here’s the model:  1) find a massive need that consumers of companies have, 2) build an amazing application for it and get consumers to use and like the solution, and 3) charge companies for it.

Do all three, in order, and you are a hero of the next web, ushering in the future — skip number 2 and you are a brandjacker, preying on the fears that large companies have of not being able to control the conversation. Sad, but this is the case, even if you know what your business model is likely to be, it still pays to release your MVP early, for free, and get customers used to the service while learning from their interactions.

Godin should have published the brand communities feature with an ad-supported sidebard and then rolled out the solution for companies to buy that sidebar from advertisers. He would have had a much bigger winner on his hands had he done that.

Seth’s backed off, and that’s a bummer, because aggregating comments and sentiment about brands is a valuable service. I wish him the best of luck in continuing to innovate in this space and hope that through direct outreach he’s able to get many brands involved, because this service is only massively interesting if it can serve as the consumer’s one stop shop to get information about all brands it is thinking about doing business with.

Social Media 101

This is a great program for social media introduction moderated by Sarah Lacy. Sarah does a fantastic job.

I moderated a panel on this two weeks ago and I WISH it was this good. I give myself a B, this gets an A. If it had less emphasis on search, it would be an A+.  Anyone who was at my panel and now reads my blog, consider this a good followup!

Here’s the description (which I’ve edited):
Social media and online marketing tools are fast becoming the most efficient tools to market and communicate with constituents/customers/members. But it’s not as easy as it seems. Learn the most common mistakes and prime opportunities in the social media world. How can your company use networks like Facebook, Google and Twitter? Come hear the leaders in this contemporary marketplace reveal the secrets of small-business success.

It’s worth the hour, go listen.

disclosure: it features a friend who really rocks that panel. You’ll figure that out in the first 5 minutes, after 30 minutes you’ll really be glad he’s there. That friend is Jeremy Toeman, and I didn’t know he could speak that well. Fantastic!

Twitter+SXSW, Still Killing It!

There’s been some speculation about what would be the Twitter of SXSW 2009. What breakout app would everyone begin to know and love. And while your answer might be foursquare, the real answer is Twitter. There was no more powerful tool for communication and sharing than good old twitter. Actually, the breakout app this year might be Tweetdeck, many here were using it and I personally converted at least 3 people to use it.

So what does tweeting your experience at SXSW result in?

I added well over 100 followers in the last 7 days:

Graph from

Creating Brand Ambassadorship; Don’t Miss the Obvious!

I’m developing a great relationship with my friends over at MediaPost, I’ve really enjoyed the contribution process, and the editors there are really great people!

My second article came out in Video Insider last week, it’s titled: “Partnering with Your Employees: Creating Brand Ambassadorship Within Your Organization” and I think it’s worth the estimated 3-minute read. Here’s an excerpt to help you decide:

More often than not, a key to building better relationships with your audiences requires that you connect them to a real person who can serve as a sincere face for – a more humanized angle to — your brand identity . Here, empowering your own employees to promote your viral campaigns can lower your acquisition/marketing costs, create a tangible brand experience for your audiences, and boost morale within your organization.

 If you’re running viral campaigns (using video and/or social methods), you should read the article. Check it out.

About the Author

Tyler Willis is the Vice President of Business Development at Unified, which builds enterprise marketing technology for brands and agencies.

This blog is about how the future will affect technology, marketing, and the things we care about most. Learn more about Tyler.


Tyler is a featured speaker and instructor for The American Marketing Association, and is a popular speaker on topics related to social marketing and how technology is changing our lives.

Recent engagements:
- South by Southwest
- American Marketing Association
- TMP Directional Marketing Client Summit

Email for Speaking Requests.

Lightweight Update

I write infrequent (quarterly at most), semi-formal updates of what I'm doing and thinking.