What is the Process for a Mail Survey?

I know, I know... I recently discussed why my favorite research methodology is online surveys, but that does not mean I don't appreciate the benefits of mail surveys. Albeit, mail surveys may seem like an archaic methodology, but they do offer some intriguing benefits.

For starters, mail surveys are great when reaching the target audience(s) via social media, email, or other online methods are not feasible.

Second, mail surveys can offer a credibility factor. For example, if the survey is being sent on behalf of a financial institution or another type of organization that typically communicates via mail and only mail. Receiving an email or phone call from this type of organization as a member or customer may seem out of place.

Third, mail surveys offer in-the-moment feedback. When it's in black and white (literally), right in front of you, you opened it, and you're holding the survey, a lot of people will opt to reply. Sometimes it's too easy to click delete on email.

It's true the response rates for mail surveys can be lower than other research methodologies, but if the survey is short and offers an incentive, users will get the return needed to address objectives and drive strategy.

Now that I've sold you on the benefits of mail surveys, learn more about the process below!

What is the Process for a Mail Survey?

Accurate depiction of what our desks look like when mail survey responses are delivered.

Step 1: Draft the Mail Survey

The two important factors to keep in mind when drafting a mail survey are clear and concise writing. The survey should take respondents less than 3 minutes to complete and should fit on 1 page (using the front and back of the page if absolutely necessary). If a recipient opens up a survey that's 4 or 8 pages long or a booklet, your response rates will drop.

In this piece of the mail survey process, other factors like information about the incentive and a cover letter should be discussed. A cover letter introduces who is managing the survey, why a response is important, and what will be done with the feedback. Also, it will include details like how long the survey will take to complete, the incentive offered (if provided), and the deadline to respond by.

Incentives can range from a sweepstakes to win 1 of 5 $50 gift cards to offering $5 to the first 100 people who respond to the survey. The type of incentive used will hinge on how large the sample size is, how many completes are needed, and your budget.

Step 2: Clean Database

I always say, "A clean database is a happy database." It's much easier to start a project by checking for duplicates and errors in the sample before fieldwork beings. If you notice duplicates or errors are in the sample after fieldwork has begun you will have much more cleaning to do once fieldwork is complete.

Tips from market research pros include checking for duplicate contact information, ensuring all information has been included (i.e., name, address line 1, address line 2, city, state, and ZIP code), and ensuring all information is in the correct format.

Step 3: Create Unique ID Codes

Unique ID codes on mail surveys are used for tracking responses. Oftentimes, these codes are used to tie back known information (such as age, gender, etc.) to respondents while keeping the names of respondents anonymous.

If an incentive is being used, ID codes could also be used to draw or identify who should be sent the reward. Unique ID codes also come in handy if the research team would like to provide the option for respondents to take the survey online. When respondents go to the online survey link, they will be prompted to enter their unique code before continuing the survey.

By knowing who and who has not completed the survey it also allows for additional flexibility for reminder phone calls to targeted households.

Step 4: Mail Survey Proof

Once the survey is drafted, the database is cleaned, and unique ID codes have been created it's time to pass all of this information to the mail house. Before the mail house prints all of the documents and prepares the mailing, be sure to ask for a proof. This helps identify last minute issues and will give time to run final checks before fieldwork begins.

It's almost time to mail surveys!

Step 5: Mail Survey Printing

When it's time for the mail survey to be printed and sent out, consider ways to use less paper and be more cost effective. A few tips from market research pros include using a window envelope and business reply mail (BRE). By using a window envelope, you will save some time and cost of printing respondents name on the cover letter as well as the envelope.

The pros of using a BRE is that while it's more expensive, businesses only get charged when a reply is returned. This is typically less expensive than taking the time to stamp envelopes and run the risk of paying for stamps that are not used.

Step 6: Data Entry

If you have made it this far and have completed the mail survey process accordingly, you should have returned surveys in your mailbox! Mail survey data entry is the most time intensive part of the mail survey process. Once completed, you will want to run data quality checks to look for errors and ensure responses have been entered correctly.

You'll get large batches of returns in the first week and then smaller batches until it eventually winds down after week 2 or 3. Then come the stragglers, even post-deadline. We still receive some survey returns from projects completed over 3 months ago!

Step 7: Reporting

This is my favorite part of every market research project. Here is when market research pros will analyze the mail survey data and deliver findings to help clients create future strategy. Reports may include key findings, respondent personas, recommendations, and question-by-question results.

For more about the mail survey process and report, check out this case study.

Want To Learn More About Mail Surveys?

Contact the Drive Research team. We are based in Syracuse, NY but serve organizations across the county. Our team can handle and guide the entire market research process from start to finish, which also means we're great at giving tips on best practices.

Other than mail surveys, our team also specializes in market research services such as Voice of Customer (VoC), intercept surveys, focus groups, online surveys, and more.

We know, we know... you're looking for the best way to contact us.

Contact us via email at [email protected], call us at 315-303-2040, or contact us on our website here.

Mail Surveys