SurveyMonkey's Key To Startup Success? "Prioritize Ruthlessly"
Frances Sun

For anyone who has ever grappled with a difficult decision, SurveyMonkey, at one point or another has probably been your salvation. A nearly unrivaled leader in polling and surveys, SurveyMonkey has grown to be synonymous with the industry itself.

Frances Sun, SurveyMonkey’s Head of Content is a prominent figure in pushing the company forward and reinforcing its dominant position. Sun chatted with TechDay and revealed her insights into SurveyMonkey’s widespread visibility and offered her advice to startup founders eager to follow suit.

SurveyMonkey is undeniably the go-to destination for surveys and polling. What marketing tactics has the company employed to maintain this momentum and dominance within this sector?

One of the primary things I’d say we’ve done to be successful is heavily engage PR and our media partnerships. That’s definitely been fruitful for us so far. We’ve had really great success pitching stories to publications like FiveThirtyEight and NBC news and that’s certainly helped increase our visibility. In addition to that, I would say another big thing for us is utilizing SEO. SurveyMonkey is very much SEO-informed in terms of all the content that we produce. And we completely understand that good content performs when it’s discoverable. But at the same time, I think it’s important to note the difference between being SEO-informed and SEO-driven. As a company, we aspire to really resonate with people and not bots. Right now we’re actually looking at ways to improve and further refine our content ecosystem. And as you can imagine given our sixteen year existence as an internet company, we have quite a vast ecosystem. So we’re always striving to deliver content that can drive deeper engagement with customers beyond their initial search results.

How has SurveyMonkey been able to partake in the modern discourse surrounding the current Presidential election and how has this fostered the brand as a whole?

I would say that we’ve been really, really fortunate to have in-house experts who truly understand polling and are pioneering online polling today. Just to name a few, we have our Chief Research Officer, Jon Cohen, Sarah Cho, Mark Blumenthal, along with a full team behind those people who have helped us crack the new world of polling. Between them collectively we’ve got experience from the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Pew Reasearch Center so it’s an extremely dynamic and experienced team.

In terms of how we got into the polling and election space, it really began with the success we had during the 2012 election. At that time there was a fundamental lack of trust in that polling data, and as leaders within this space, we felt we had a responsibility to take a crack at it. Basically we wanted to take the best of the old gold standard, which is the traditional live voting polls, and then apply that to the new technology which we were holding a leadership position in – online polls.

So in 2016 with our massive scale and solid trust amongst our customer base, we realized we could be major players. For instance, we now even have our Election Tracking products which you can subscribe to and get weekly updates on the race and our key issues. So that’s been a pretty interesting adventure for us, and I think going into this particular election, we’re excited because we feel like we’re well positioned to provide pollsters and consumers alike with real-time data.

If it had to be defined, who would you say is SurveyMonkey’s primary demographic and how are they primarily targeted?

Though pollsters are a big target right now with the impending November election, in general, I think SurveyMonkey’s primary target is probably to put it simply, professionals. Professionals who seek data to backup decisions or want data and feedback to inspire new ideas or new thinking. And so what's really interesting is that the bulk of our customers rely on SurveyMonkey for their work and a lot of them discover SurveyMonkey through their work. There’s this ongoing demand for people to have the right data on hand whether it’s customer feedback, employee engagement or just general evaluations about products and services.

Are there any key partnerships or larger conversations SurveyMonkey partakes in that have helped foster visibility?

As I’ve mentioned, we have a great partner in NBC News, and we've primarily focused a lot of that partnership on the election, but in general they’ve been wonderful in increasing visibility as a whole. Other news agencies we’ve worked with include the Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, and we’re also going to be working with Time Magazine on a piece. So there have certainly been a few we feel like have been great in terms of either providing us with additional coverage or getting us reach that we otherwise may have not gotten just through our blog and social.

What general insights could you provide early stage startup founders looking to drive their own visibility and develop a strong brand?

I would say, if you can, prioritize ruthlessly. And what I mean by that is that, more often than not it's more effective and also more challenging to say “no” to things than to say “yes” to things. Being in that startup mode, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and be tempted by lot of different opportunities in trying avoid that feeling of FOMO, you know, “Fear of Missing Out”. But it’s important to experiment while at the same time having really strong focus. So I would remind people who are in that situation, remember what your goals are as a business and constantly think about whom you’re really serving.

Anything new we can expect to see from SurveyMonkey in the near future?

I’m not sure if I can divulge too much, but I can say that it is going to be likely that you’ll see more and more consumable data stories from us. We’re already kind of dabbling into this subscription content product space with elections, but we’re potentially looking into doing more and more of that. We’re trying to take what we’ve learned from polling and translate that into some more tangible benefits for all of our customers and not just pollsters.

I think it’s also safe for me to say, we’re looking at producing and delivering new business packages as well. As I mentioned earlier, if our demographic is the professional, we’re seeing more demand from them in terms wanting more sophisticated bundled solutions for solving everyday problems. For example, we’re working on a customer experience solution right now to help companies track and measure loyalty and satisfaction. We’re trying to build something similar for employers to understand employee engagement. So in general we’re continuing in trying to help people harness the power of surveys and data and help them make really, really great decisions.