How Not To Fall Off a Cliff: Surveys In Today’s World

In 1997, when Diana, Princess of Wales suddenly died as the result of an automobile accident in Paris, millions of people across the world were overwrought with grief. It was a huge sorrow for people from all walks of life. And yet for the previous eleven years, her failing and disreputable marriage to Prince Charles had been marched in all its ugliness through the public forums, she had been portrayed in the media as a neurotic, and vilified for going public about her illicit sex life and a jet-setter playgirl lifestyle that was quite at odds with the expected behavior of someone of royal stature.

The Chief Marketing Officer at Coca-Cola, Sergio Zyman, had to know why people reacted that way to her death. He immediately launched a multi-million dollar research project to find out.

What? Coca-Cola? Why would the marketing executive of a soda pop, even an iconic one, care?

He knew that people do things for reasons. They are driven by emotions, opinions and personal circumstances, and it’s the job of marketing to find out what those reasons are and how they can be applied to business to get a desired response.

It’s not enough to follow along with the needs and wants of your public, you must lead the market and to do that you have to understand the environment in which people live. To do any less runs the risk of falling off a cliff when public opinion shifts and your product or service, good as it is, just isn’t needed anymore.

L. Ron Hubbard saw the underlying principle in this and in an article entitled “PROMOTION”, he noted:

“In order to get response you’ve got to first find out what people want. You’ve got to find out what people consider valuable. When you know what people want and what they consider valuable you know what they will respond to.”

He added: “It takes surveys. It’s no good flying blind or trying to guess at it. You won’t KNOW until you survey.”

In today’s markets, the full engagement of a public’s reality is not simply a game, it is becoming the only game and it depends completely on surveys. Google’s true power is in being able to track billions of searches and map out what people want, word for word. Facebook and Twitter take careful note of what’s trending and what people like. Amazon is dismantling an entire retail link across many enterprises because they are delivering what the public wants. eBay changed the character of shopping globally.

Surveying is gathering intelligence so that what you offer is accepted. Understanding the “why” of customer behavior enables you to not only understand the relationship of your business to their world but you can apply it to other situations. What Zyman found out was that Princess Diana’s life demonstrated resilience and goodwill despite crushing set backs and she represented hope to millions.

He said, ”We didn’t run big ads that said, ‘Drown your sorrows in Coca-Cola.’ ” Instead, he wrote: ”We adjusted our mix of ads to send a balance of basic messages, ones that celebrated life and ones that suggested comfort and dependability. The changes we made were subtle, but the important thing was that we were looking, and listening, and learning, and acting. And it worked.” (1)

A good example of knowing your public through surveys is the one-of-a-kind grocery chain known as Trader Joe’s, one of the hottest retailers in the U.S. with 457 stores and an annual revenue of over $9 billion. Trader Joe’s offers a carefully curated stock of about 4,000 items of which 80 percent are their own label. While their management is intensely secretive about what makes them successful, it is generally understood that they survey everything. (2)

Their publics’ demographic profile is well known and they place stores in areas where they congregate. They chose foods that are trending in popularity by survey with a health and economy minded public. They know their public would rather buy food under a single, trusted brand, instead of being forced to cruise shelves of big corporation products of dubious ingredients. They know you’d rather select from 10 different types of peanut butter than the 40 available in a supermarket. Why? They survey. In order to expand as an enterprise without losing their successful small-store brand, they continually survey what people are buying, what’s popular and what isn’t and keep the best-selling 4,000 items on the shelves.

The other side of the coin is what has been practically a national pastime of throwing money at promo without really establishing a relevant communication with the right public. You see this every time you come upon an ad and wonder how or why it ever got created. In the article SURVEYS ARE THE KEY TO STATS, Mr. Hubbard remarks that you could miss completely.

“It’s pathetic to realize that you might be within an eighth of an inch of the right offering without making it. Sort of like digging two feet away from the gold vein and getting an empty hole when you could have a million dollar mine.

“Working without surveys you could spend thousands a month on promotion and lose it all.”



  1. Zyman, Sergio. “Five.” The End of Marketing as We Know It. New York: HarperBusiness, 1999. N. pag. Print.
  2.  Kowitt, Beth. “Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s – Full Version.” Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s. Fortune, 23 Aug. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.


Translate »
Share This