Should You Believe That Poll? posted a poll on the 15th of this month asking the dubious question: Who would win in a fight: Nexus One or iPhone 3GS? And from the start, hype ensued.

First and foremost, I think polls have their place. Even though they have a ridiculous margin of error, I believe they have the ability to serve as a gauge (albeit a gauge with a cloudy viewport) of the general impressions/opinions of a specific market group on a particular topic. However, these are scientifically conducted polls, such as the Gallup poll and other similar large polls – usually conducted in the realm of the political arena.

According to the National Council on Public Polls, you should ask yourself at least these questions before believing/reporting a poll:

  • Who did the poll?
  • Who paid for the poll and why was it done?
  • How many people were interviewed?
  • How were those people selected?
  • Who should have been interviewed and who should have not?
  • How recent is the poll?
  • How were the results gathered?
  • What is the sampling error for the results?
  • What other polls have been conducted on this topic? Are the results different? Why?

The poll conducted by is a prime example of a poll that should be ignored entirely. First, the respondents were all volunteers – hardly objective. Second, there was no consideration for whether or not the respondents even had essential knowledge to provide an accurate assessment of their opinion.

I’m convinced that a large portion of the respondents have never even seen a Google Nexus One in person, meaning they responded to the poll based strictly on what they have seen online and in other publications. Essentially, they are passing on their opinion of an opinion.

Polls and Market Research

I don’t want to spend any more time ranting about the silliness of’s poll. I think most people reading have a clear understanding and presumably appreciation for the point I’m making. But the point I want to make extends beyond that.

Polls and surveys can have a profound impact on the success of your marketing programs if they are conducted accurately. Being able to assess what your customers and potential customers think and say about your business and your industry can be an incredibly powerful resource.

For example, if you are a coffee shop, and you want to introduce a new Colombian blend, but it will cost $250,000 to put everything in order to do so, it is in your interest to see if people even like the blend. The solution? A taste test survey. By randomly probing your existing customers by asking them at random to sample the new blend, and tracking the results in an anonymous, and scientific way, you are able to determine whether it is worth the investment going forward.

Before you conduct the survey, though, make sure you have prepared it in the most scientific way possible. Make sure your questions are not leading questions, and make sure you don’t unintentionally (or intentionally for that matter) persuade your respondents by injecting your opinions.

More information on polls and surveys