When Words Count Retreat, a startup in the writer services market, wanted to gain deep, timely market insight prior to launching a new writers’ retreat in Vermont and finalizing its plans for a unique, new type of advanced writers’ workshop. “As experienced former advertising and marketing executives and published authors, we had a strong, intuitive sense about the nature of unmet market needs, valid price points and much more,” says Jon Reisfeld, who led the firm’s market-research effort. “But when you are fast-tracking business development and introducing new concepts and programming, particularly in tough economic times like these, you want early feedback from potential customers and a clear confirmation of demand.”
Immediate Need for Data
Unfortunately, the one thing When Words Count Retreat lacked was time. In early April, the company had purchased a former working farm and country inn, located in the breathtaking east north-central region of Vermont and immediately began turning it into a one-of-a-kind retreat for serious and aspiring authors. “We were wrestling with a great many unknowns,” Reisfeld says, “yet timely, specific, industry data on writers’ retreat and workshop attendees simply did not exist. If we wanted to test our assumptions, we were going to have to do the original research ourselves.”
When Words Count Retreat’s Unique Innovations
What made the need for valid research findings all the more urgent was the degree to which When Words Count Retreat planned to revamp the writer’s retreat and workshop concepts. “When Words Count Retreat wants to ‘completely free’ writers to focus on their work,” Reisfeld says. “Many retreats talk a good game but then leave all aspects of such things as meal preparation, for instance, including grocery shopping and clean up, to the writers! We will have our own 4-star chef on hand to prepare sit-down communal breakfasts and dinners for our writers each day, and to pack boxed lunches that they can take and eat at their desks.” The When Words Count Retreat also seeks to balance the need for solitude to write with planned daily interaction between writers. The communal breakfasts and dinners, along with twilight cocktail hours, create multiple occasions for light socializing and discussion. These activities not only promote an overall esprit des corps, Reisfeld says, but they sharpen minds and lift creative spirits. Voluntary late-night hash sessions, devoted to sharing and critiquing each other’s work, provide writers with an additional outlet for constructive criticism and encouragement.
The retreat also will introduce a new, limited-enrollment writers’ workshop that operates in stark contrast to traditional classroom-based programs. The new workshop replaces classroom instruction with highly focused, and personalized, two-on-one collaborative coaching sessions. These sessions are designed to accelerate book development. The coaches team up to provide in-depth manuscript evaluations and to identify major and minor issues inhibiting progress. Then, they help the author brainstorm, and implement, effective solutions.
A Need for On-Demand Niche-Market Data
When Words Count Retreat needed fast, reliable niche-market intelligence that it could use to guide it through to a successful launch. That meant ready access to a pool of consumers that could be filtered to match specific demographic criteria. In When Words Count Retreat’s case, “qualified” participants needed to live within 750 miles of the retreat; to have completed “at least some college”; to be split, fairly evenly, between men and women; to use the Internet on a regular basis; and to belong to specific age and income groups. The company determined that SurveyMonkey Audience offered the right set of capabilities to accomplish their goal. “We wanted to be able to quickly deploy and analyze our findings as our business was still in the formative stages,” Reisfeld says. “What we learned potentially could impact everything from our selection of marketing channels to our choice of segment messaging, website copy, program features, pricing and much more.”
Identifying the Right Consumer Niche
With assistance from his SurveyMonkey account representative, Reisfeld created a single qualifying question that would allow the “right” respondents to select themselves for participation in the survey. It read: “Are you a serious writer/aspiring author who either has written, or currently is writing, a book?” This filtered out any potential respondents who did not meet When Words Count Retreat’s demographic criteria, and then distributed the survey. “We were looking to create a panel of 100 people,” Reisfeld says. “Instead, the survey successfully fielded 182 qualified respondents out of a possible pool of 3,179. We had the sample we needed.”
The company prepared and posted a detailed survey that relied, heavily, on the use of quick, easy-to-fillout groupings of multiple choice ‘range of preference’ questions. These yielded an enormous amount of specific, yet quantifiable, feedback from potential customers on a wide range of topics. The startup team was able to test most of its assumptions by asking prospects to identify the most and least appealing aspects of program offerings, pricing strategies, seasonal and travel preferences and their overall demand for the retreat’s offerings. “SurveyMonkey’s Audience product surprised us with its diversity and flexibility and the survey software’s powerful analytic capabilities allowed us to rather quickly segment our market, examine cross segment distinctions and gain a better feel for our key markets’ needs and composition.”
The survey confirmed some of the startup team’s assumptions and happily overturned others. When Words Count Retreat learned that it had priced its Breakthrough Book Immersion workshop spot-on, hitting a virtual bull’s eye. The survey also offered a number of pleasant surprises. One, in particular: the distance writers would travel to attend a top retreat or to participate in the retreat’s advanced writer’s workshop was far greater than anticipated. “We thought 500 to 750 miles was the limit,” Reisfeld says, “but we learned, in the case of the workshop, especially, that for those most interested in attending, distance did not matter.”
How to Participate (and Win!)
If you’re a writer interested in attending in the inaugural season of the When Words Count Retreats, you can learn more here, or call, toll-free at: 866-644-7868. Additionally, if you’re a published author with a second book in development, you could win one of 50 free 3-day stays at the retreat this October—the height of the annual fall foliage display. Register here before Friday, August 31, for your chance to win this grand opening giveaway.
Need feedback from a specific group of respondents? Curious about how When Words Count Retreat used SurveyMonkey Audience to get reach their desired demographic? Let us know in the comments section below.