Today Only: $2,000 in Free Real Time Market Research

How much would you pay to be able to run an instant poll where you get responses to any question from 1,000 diverse people within about an hour?

If you are an entrepreneur or marketer or business owner, you know that knowing what prospective customers think and need and want is essential. You need good, relevant, timely customer feedback in order to develop products and craft marketing campaigns that match what the customer is looking for.

It is very expensive to build a product or launch a marketing campaign without first doing some market research to validate the product or the marketing approach. And yet most small businesses probably never conduct market research studies because they are typically very costly and time consuming. In the past I’ve paid for market research studies that cost tens of thousands of dollars and took months to complete.

But today, my team and I at FamilyLink.com run dozens of surveys every day and we get between 100,000 and 200,000 answers daily from our huge audience. We have nearly 30 million monthly visitors to our network of sites. (See our Quantcast chart here.)

Our focus at FamilyLink.com is building apps and sites for families that help families get connected and stay in touch with their relatives. We generate revenue primarily from advertising and from subscriptions to our massive genealogy databases. But we also believe we can potentially provide real value to businesses and market researchers if they have access to our real-time survey tool and huge panel of customers, primarily from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

I have wondered how many more businesses would use market research if instead of a month or two and $10-20,000, they could conduct a simple survey to a random panel of 1,000 people and get the results in less than an hour.

How much would you pay for that?

I’m guessing that many businesses would pay $199 for such a survey. We have asked hundreds of questions that we have found useful. We use the tool in product marketing to learn:

  • what product features customers want most from a given product category
  • what marketing benefits customers are most likely to respond to
  • what domain name to use when building a promotional or product site
  • which web page design or marketing concept design customers like most

The surveys can be used to determine brand awareness (how many people prefer my brand over my competitors), intent to purchase, pricing sensitivity, and more. They can be used to find out people’s favorite books, songs, hobbies, or to track interest in new trends or fads. They could be used by journalists or political leaders to measure public opinion on anything.

Our survey tool can support up to 10 multiple choice responses. It can also provide a text entry box, so that you can actually get 500 free format answers to any question you ask. These open ended questions are my favorite. I have a list of about 20,000 responses about what famous person people admire most and who they would like to meet in person, if they had a chance. We are using the data we are culling from this crowdsourcing effort to make sure that WorldHistory.com (and games that use its database) contain biographies of all the historical figures that people admire most.

And, it can link to graphics so that you could, for example, show 3 different logos you are considering and ask 500 random people which one they like best.

We are using the survey tool daily for all kinds of questions. Our knowlege of what our customers think and want from us, and from other products and services they use, is really valuable. In nearly every internal discussion about what features we should build next, we are referring to past surveys or designing new ones that can run during our meeting and give us valid data from our customers before the end of the meeting.

We have decided that today only, we will provide a free 1,000 response survey to the first 10 people who contact us. If you are in business, education, journalism, government, non-profit work, or any other field, and you would love to know what people think about anything, please email me at paul AT familylink.com with subject line: SIGN ME UP

My team and I will contact you quickly and get your survey question online so that you can have answers in no time.

Our “consumer panel” consists of more than 50MM Facebook users worldwide who use the “We’re Related” application from FamilyLink to find and connect with relatives.

So, what are you waiting for? Think up that question, and send me that email today.

Does brand loyalty come from family word of mouth?

During nearly 20 years of marriage I think on two or three occasions my wife and I have discussed the laundry detergent that she uses. As a pragmatist, I have often come across less expensive generic detergents, which she refuses to use. I can’t even get her to try anything else, even once! She is a die-hard Tide detergent user and she would never ever consider changing brands. Upon closer investigation I discovered that she inherited that brand loyalty from her mother. I don’t exactly know how, but there is no denying that her mother’s recommendation is stronger than any suggestion that I can ever make. I need to find out if my wife’s 7 sisters also have the same brand loyalties. That would be an interesting question.

My company, FamilyLink.com hopes to become the leading developer of social networking applications for families and for genealogists. My background is in subscription marketing. I co-founded Ancestry.com in 1996 and it approached 1 million subscribers in the next 10 years to its massive genealogy database library. And now WorldVitalRecords.com has passed 25,000 subscribers and our rate of growth is increasing.

But as everyone knows, most social networking sites are free (Ryze.com was an exception, and it claimed to be the first profitable social network, back in like 2003) and rely on advertising revenue to grow. In order to generate advertising revenue from our family apps and widgets, and from our own social network (which have attracted more than 2.3 million users in the past 4 months), it will be useful to understand what brands and products are used based on family recommendations.

So yesterday, we asked some of our customers what brands they are loyal to because of their mother. Here are the top 28 responses:

1. Tide
2. Ivory
3. Clorox
4. Campbell’s
5. Crisco
6. Dove
7. Crest
8. Kraft
9. Comet
10. Quaker
11. Hellman’s
12. Dial
13. Palmolive
14. Colgate
15. Arm and Hammer
16. Heinz
17. Gold Medal (flour)
18. Dawn (dish soap)
19. Oil of Olay
20. Folgers
21. All (laundry detergent)
22. Wisk
23. Kleenex
24. Windex
25. Jello
26. Clabber Girl
27. Cascade
28. Ajax

Tide actually had more than twice as many responses as the next highest, Ivory. So the brand marketers there must have been doing something terribly right all these years.

I heard a projection at CES that 1.2 billion people will be using social networks by 2012. And since so many people try or buy products and services based on word of mouth recommendations, and since we hope to have tens of millions of families using our applications, we will invest a lot of time and energy into understanding how viral marketing (or what we called “genetic marketing” back at MyFamily.com) works within families–both within nuclear families as well as extended families.

I need to make it clear that our survey was not scientific. We got about 1,000 responses in a day. But with our reach growing larger every month, we will use surveys and quizzes to become experts on family word of mouth.

If any of the brand managers of the brands listed above (or any other major brands) want us to do some research for them and discover the genetic marketing quotient for their product, we’d be happy to work something out. We have a Facebook audience of ~2.3 million users and a genealogy audience of more than 500,000 monthly visitors.

What our genealogy customers want

We use Qualtrics survey software (which we really like) and have a panel of customers who have agreed to answer survey questions every month. We appreciate the customers who are willing to take time to give us their opinions. We pay a great deal of attention to the feedback. We adjust our work and investment priorities based on what our customers tell us.

Our last survey had 15 questions. We received answers from 1,041 customers. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Half of our customers like to our full newsletter articles in the emails we send out; but half would prefer to see only a portion and then click through to the web site to see the rest if they are interested. (It’s not easy to decide what to do when our customers are split 50/50!)
  • Half of our customers would like a daily email about our new databases. (We offer databases that are free for 10 days.) Years ago, when I was at Ancestry.com, we had the same response: half of our customers wanted a daily email, and half wanted a weekly.
  • The top six states where our customers want more databases are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois and Massachussetts. These were followed by Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana. The top three Canadian provinces are Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.
  • 84% of our customers feel that genealogical and historical societies are important or very important to their family history research!
  • 64% of our customers already belong to at least one genealogical society. 11% belong to “five or more” societies!
  • 70% of those who do not currently belong to a genealogy society would like to join one.
  • Only 5% of our customers are dissatisfied with our browsable census images collection, even though we don’t have full text searching. (It appears that our customers are satisfied with our ongoing efforts to put more data online, even when it is not exactly what they eventually hope we will provide.)
  • We received hundreds of customer testimonials, with many specific examples of how people have found ancestors in our pedigree collections, newspapers, and other databases.
  • Based on these survey results, our management team met and decided the following:

    1. We want to find and hire a genealogist in each of these states and provinces who are willing to help us to find more local databases for our web site. (If you live in our of our top states or provinces and are interested in earning some part-time income helping us find new databases for your state/region, please call World Vital Records at 888-377-0588 and ask for Amy Rhoads, or send me an email using the “Contact Me” link on my blog.

    2. We would like to help our 325,000 monthly visitors and our 10,000+ new daily users of our Facebook apps to find and join a genealogy society. Societies play a very important role in organizing local information and spreading knowledge about how to properly research genealogical sources. I have been to many society meetings and conferences over the years and I am always impressed by the depth of knowledge that society leaders have. There have been concerns for many years about societies slowly losing membership and trying to find sources of revenue and leadership to keep them around.

    Dave Rencher, from the LDS Church Family History Department, spoke at the 2007 FGS conference about how societies could become more virtual and attract members and leaders from outside their own geographic region. I found a powerpoint Dave used in 2005 to share a similar message.

    At World Vital Records, we would like to help societies by encouraging our customers and site visitors to join and support and get involved with societies.

    We are creating a program that can help societies attract more members by providing them with free traffic and leads (from our social networking sites) and benefits/incentives for their members, such as discounts on genealogy subscriptions and software. We have a separate opportunity to help societies generate revenue from some of the indexes, databases, and publications that they may have created in the past.

    For membership help, please contact Carin Green.
    For content partnerships (a source of revenue), please contact Yvette Arts.

    Both can be reached at our main toll-free number: 888-377-0588
    For societies outside of the U.S., please call 1-801-377-0588

    Soon we will be creating new Customer Panels for our We’re Related App on Facebook (it lets you connect with relatives, build a family tree, and share family photos and news) and also for our FamilyLink.com social network for genealogists.

    If you are a genealogist, please feel free to comment on this blog post and provide whatever feedback you think will help us provide better products and services to you. Please help us design the future of family history research!

Understand Your Customer Better Than Anyone Else

Our top priority at World Vital Records is understanding our customers needs. A VC friend told me recently that if you choose a market and understand your customers’ needs better than anyone else, and meet those needs, that you will be successful.

In addition to monthly usabilty tests of our web sites, we now have a panel of 783 customers who are willing to answer any questions that we ask them. The first question we asked is what kinds of records they want us to add to our web site. Our next question will be what countries they want us to gather these records from.

We are also studying our site analytics regularly, doing A/B testing on our outbound email campaigns, and have begun using Google Website Optimizer so that we can test various landing pages in real time to see which ones perform best.

We have found by analyzing our customer database that 72% of our paying subscribers are women and 28% are men. Using Quantcast, we have a good glimpse of the demographics of our site visitors, what other web sites they tend to visit, and what keywords they are searching for.

Quantcast is an extremely useful tool and it will only get better. The founder of Quantcast emailed me recently and told me how many pixels they are tracking on a monthly basis. Their open system (where webmasters can opt in for validated numbers) will make their system better with time. As more media planners use their site to design interactive marketing campaigns, Quantcast will be able to play a key role in the ad selling process, and take a slice of that pie. To build audience, they’ll continue to make their audience measurement and demographic information free.

I love this service.

Quantcast is extremely valuable to understand all the companies in an industry. We can use Quantcast to learn the demographics of visitors to Ancestry.com or any other genealogy web site. Ancestry’s users tend to be over 45 years old, and more female than male.

I can start to see differences in audience composition and determine who is strong in what area. For example, World Vital Records already has a lot of users from a variety of ethnic groups, whereas Ancestry.com’s audience ranks high on Caucasian but low on most other ethnic groups. As we launch international databases and search engines, perhaps this gap will only widen.

We can use Quantcast to find hundreds of genealogy sites that are potentially good partners, where cross promotion could help us and them.

If you have not yet started using Quantcast, I suggest you set aside a few hours to do so, and write down all the insights you gain about your competitors and your customers, and what other sites they visit and what other interests they have.

In the traditional direct marketing industry you can use a service like Claritas which can provide you with a customer segmentation report if you provide them with the mailing addresses of your customers. They can answer questions like:

* Who are my customers?
* What are they like?
* What do they buy?
* Where can I find them?
* How can I reach them?
* How can I keep them?

They also have Data Enhancement services, which they describe as follows: “Claritas can help you learn all about your customers – their demographics, lifestyles, and consumer behaviors. We can append Claritas data to your customer file of names and addresses to give a richly detailed profile of what your customers are like and why they buy from you.”

Quantcast is providing a combination of Alexa/Hitwise/Comscore-like data along with free Claritas-like data. I’m a little surprised that it’s not getting more buzz than it is. I have found a few good posts on Quantcast, including this post on Rojo.com that says it may be a valuable tool for advertisers, and potentially an acquisition target for Google, but that it has been self-funded and may not have a business model fully figured out.

I suppose if it had venture backing then it would be getting a lot more media coverage than it is. Or maybe the company is lying low and perfecting its service until it is ready for prime time.

I blogged earlier this month about how Quancast is the best free tool for internet marketers in years, and I stand by that claim. The more I use it, the more I like it, and the more potential I see for it.

But back to our topic … understanding your customer. One more practice that we are going to start at World Vital Records is requiring all our executives to have regular phone calls with customers.

I remember when my brother Curt Allen was CEO of MyFamily.com and he asked his executive staff of 12 people how many had spoken to a customer in the past month. If I recall correctly, not a single hand went up. He was making a strong point that when a company is growing fast, it is easy to lose touch with the customer.

So when I ran the marketing department, not only did my staff each visit our call center every week to be involved in customer phone calls, but we also started holding group discussions with our customers to find out what they liked and didn’t like, and what they wanted us to do next.

It is so easy to get busy with housekeeping and putting out fires that you can completely neglect speaking with customers.

We are also planning to attend many, many national, regional, and local family history events. Not only are the people at these conferences the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they are so incredibly knowledgeable–some of them have been doing family history for decades, so they have so many insights and ideas for what would make their job easier.

A consultant friend of mine told me recently that third-party surveys are far more accurate than those conducted by a company itself because customers will be more honest with third parties for some reason. What do you think? I remember we hired Wirthlin Worldwide to do a major customer survey for MyFamily.com back in 1999 and the results were incredible.

Blogging keeps me in touch with internet entrepreneurs, but not with the family history community yet. I think I’m going to keep this blog focused on internet entrepreneurship and marketing (due to popular demand!) and start a new blog that I’ll probably publish at Worldvitalrecords.com that will focus on family history topics.

Bill Marriott claims that his new blog will help him do on a global scale what he has been doing for years: talking to the customer.

What are your topic 3-5 techniques for staying in touch with your customers and really understanding their needs? And how has this helped you achieve success in your business?

Please share….

Note: I have not been involved as an employee of MyFamily.com (now The Generations Network) since February 2002.

Happenings

  • Yesterday was our best FundingUniverse.com board meeting ever, in the wake of another successful speed-pitching event. The team is energized and the company should be profitable soon (maybe October or November). Then, it will have an indefinite runway on which to launch new products and services for entrepreneurs and angel investors. Great job, team!
  • 10Speed Media, our video-based affiliate network led by CEO Erik Johnson (formerly with iBahn), rated very high at the speed-pitching event. Getting good feedback from attendees is a great motivator.
  • This week Evident Marketing had record sales of Childrens Miracle Music as our first email campaigns began hitting. We have some very exciting marketing plans for this product. My philosophy is to always do a split A/B test on email campaigns. Never miss out on a chance to learn something. This time, we tested subject lines. One generated an open rate of about 3.9% while the other was under 3%. It’s very important to learn something every time you invest in an email campaign.
  • LDSAudio.com, an LDS music download site is having an excellent month. It’s home page promotions (daily discounts on certain products) have increased revenue significantly this month.
  • Yesterday I hired an experienced manager to help me finish the build-out and furnishings of the new Provo Lab office space on ninth east in Provo, next to BYU. The entire 1st floor will be occupied by members of the Provo Lab Academy. For as little as $200 per month they get shared office space, equipment, and training on internet marketing and entrepreneurship. I hope this will become the smartest place to start a new company in Utah.
  • But yesterday I also saw the new E-Station at the Davis Applied Technology College. What an incredible facility! FundingUniverse.com has an office there. I am very impressed with the commitment to entrepreneurship that is being demonstrated by this building and those who are there to provide training and services to entrepreneurs.
  • Yesterday I surveyed the nearly 30 applicants to the Provo Labs Academy that have signed up in the last week. We are going to do a random drawing soon (maybe this afternoon) to choose 1 applicant who will get their first month free, a $200 value. I asked the applicants what kind of phone systems and computer systems they want, and what most attracted them to our Academy. Every business owner needs to do regular surveys of customers and potential customers if they want to know how to provide better service and how to make their marketing messages better. Anyway, I was pretty surprised that 36% don’t even want an office phone–they rely on their cell phone for their business. Another 36% want a live receptionist to answer their phone calls. 54% don’t need a computer–they’ll either bring in a desktop or their laptop. 36% want us to supply them with an Intel based desktop. No one asked for a Mac. 45% are ready to move in to the new space in September. 27% in the fourth quarter. The #1 reason for people wanting to join the Academy was to be close to other entrepreneurs! 2nd was internet marketing training. And #3 was the location. I liked the write in votes that said they wanted to be close to me. Made my day!
  • This morning I got up at 2:30, couldn’t sleep. So I worked on my Chamber of Commerce talk today. It will be about the economy, China and India, the need for more entrepreneurship, and some of the most powerful internet tools that modern entrepreneurs need to learn how to use. I’ll definitely be plugging LinkedIn.com and promoting blogging. But there are so many things to talk about.
  • Then I worked out and ran 12 miles at the gym. Did you realize Gold’s Gym also spells "go LDS" gym? Hey, I like to promote my favorite religion whenever I can. :) I’m training for the Las Vegas marathon on November 18th. I really hope I can pull this off. I hope my knees hold up.
  • I’m listening to the Portable MBA audio book from audible. While I was watching the local news, I noticed that LogoWorks, a company founded by Morgan Lynch (who has been kind enough to lecture at my UVSC classes in the past) was ranked the #1 fastest growing company in Utah by Inc. Magazine, and #66 overall nationwide. So now I need to go see what other Utah companies made the list. Usually, we are the top state in terms of companies per capita making the list. Congrats Morgan and team!
  • Now, due to popular demand, I finally need to write a very thoughtful post about the recent changes at Provo Labs.