Four Tips to Translate Your Survey Results into Strategic Public Affairs Messages

Feb 24, 2018

You know what they say about assuming – it makes an a… I’ll let you fill in the rest. But it’s true, especially when it comes to messaging. Assuming you know what messages will best resonate with your intended audience(s) is a huge risk, and one you can avoid by doing your due diligence and conducting public opinion research.

Granted, a public opinion poll is a considerable investment. They say that a failure to plan is a plan for failure. But I’d take it one step further. Even the best plan can only get you so far if it isn’t based on research and data, but I’d argue it’s one that almost always pays off. Let me help you give you a little insight – here are a few tips for how you can take that research and effectively apply it to your messaging:

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1. Choose Your Words Wisely
A good research program helps establish overarching message themes; a great program dives deeper into specific words and phrases. Is your project environmentally responsible or sustainable? Will it create jobs or employment opportunities? To answer these questions, consider a split sample survey that tests variations of the same message theme. You can also follow up with focus groups to gauge reactions and determine which words work and which ones fall flat.

2. Remember Your Audience(s)
The top line results come in, and your messages test through the roof. But it isn’t time for a victory lap quite yet. Your audience is not homogenous, and the findings often reveal different opinions among various demographics. Reviewing cross-tabulations and taking this data into account is critical to ensuring your communications resonate with everyone. If your messages flop with any subset of the population, additional research or modifications may be needed.

3. Consider the Intensity of Opinions
Let’s say you test two messages with slightly different wording, and both receive the same level of overall favorability. How do you identify the most persuasive message? Looking at the strength of opinions can help. Surveys typically measure favorability on a spectrum ranging from intensely positive to intensely negative. Making a strong impression on the positive side and minimizing intensely negative reactions will help bolster your communications.

4. Keep the Opposition in Mind
Strategic messaging sets a positive tone for communications and positions your project for success. But with controversial projects, opponents often attempt to influence the public dialogue with their own claims. That’s where a well-crafted public opinion survey can help. Testing both positive and negative messages allows you to anticipate and offset opponents’ claims, helping to neutralize and refute negative messaging that might otherwise persuade your audience.

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