Want to know what World Cup fans really think? Use these 3 lessons we’ve learned from running 50,000+ person surveys


The World Cup has come and gone. There’s no doubt that throughout the last several weeks—companies all over the world have been capturing as much data as they can to better understand soccer fans. Knowing the real reasons behind people’s decisions can serve many business needs. Solid data about what fans truly think is a starting point that fundamentally affects the clarity, precision, and confidence of your strategic initiatives. We’ve helped many organizations get solid data from tens of thousands of people. We’ve learned a few things we want to share from this experience.

“Survey” is a four-letter word.

You may have to run surveys—but “people hate surveys”! Using that word in front of your target audience (including anyone with World Cup fever) is like you and your friends chanting “Allez Les Bleus!” in England. Odds are it won’t be well received and can drive many fans away.

Along with your survey audience, you should reduce using the word “survey” with your internal project stakeholders. Instead, be strategic and be direct. Frame your thoughts as well as your project team’s efforts around the intended business priority. For example, if you are running a survey to better understand what matters most to fans to inform your brand engagement strategy, then call your project “Fan Engagement Strategy” instead of “Fan Feedback Survey”. If you are doing a donor feedback survey to understand donor satisfaction, call your project “Donor Profile Analytics”. If you are collecting public opinions about your $600M urban development initiative, how about calling the project “Public Input Analytics”?

Following this approach will challenge your entire team to think holistically about the data collection instrument you are using, including: content, packaging & branding, distribution logistics, usage & support, etc.

Real opinions, like real fans, aren’t for sale.

This next part may surprise you, but you need to avoid using survey incentives. Survey incentives like “a chance to win 2 tickets to the World Cup final” are so common that many see using them as accepted practice. However, based on our observations, if you want to kill all of your KPIs, then go ahead and use incentives.

It’s true that people respond to incentives. But their use will draw in people who don’t care about providing honest feedback. Those people race through a survey, often flatlining their responses in order to hit that last page and qualify for the prize. Why pay for incentives when they return a mix of bogus responses that can mislead your strategy? Trust that your audience wants to be heard and will participate for the sake of contributing to positive change.

Don’t target the whole goal. Focus on the open corners.

At this point you might be thinking I can’t say “survey” and I shouldn’t use “incentives”, so how am I going to get enough responses to make accurate decisions? This may come as another surprise but not all strategy development decisions require thousands of data points. While we love seeing big heroic-scale surveys on our platform, when our users architect their campaigns we always help them think through whether their opinion analytics really require running a large-scale project.

It’s important to remember that the law of diminishing returns applies here. You don’t necessarily need feedback from your entire audience to get meaningful insights. Survey targeting and data overlays can help you hit the goal with clinical precision. Consider the following:

  • Let’s say a corporate executive wants to not only look at data about World Cup fanatics, but also drill down to how fans watch the games and which teams they cheer on. We might suggest using existing fan data that they already have in hand and “overlaying” that with the new survey data to deliver more depth and accuracy to the results.
  • While companies have general, overarching goals for everyone, each department is also given specific priorities. Because of this, surveys can have many different use cases—Product Development may care about what World Cup fans want to eat during the games while Marketing cares about how their brand is perceived. If you have data that already identifies various groups of fans, you can “pre-target” those groups, removing the need to identify them with survey questions. It’s a proven technique to ensure that all decision makers (e.g. design, ops, sales, marketing) can get statistically powerful data individually.

Many of the 2018 World Cup matches had unexpected outcomes. Our suggestions above may seem unexpected too, but we’ve reached a point in our data-hungry society where we have to think smarter about managing and running survey based feedback campaigns. Survey fatigue is real and the expectations of feedback data is only growing. It’s necessary to rethink how we address audiences, why they respond, and how we utilize the data we capture. After all, the reason surveys exist is so humans can better understand humans. While you may be trying to figure out why so many people are enthralled by the World Cup, decision makers are wanting to better understand how people really feel so they can deliver meaningful value to their customers.

Jian Huang is the Chief Executive Officer at Survature providing the vision for reinventing the way the world experiences surveys. He is a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee (UT) researching data analysis, visualization, and human-computer interaction. His research has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Interior, Intel, NASA, and UT-Battelle. Jian received his PhD from the Ohio State University.