Congress 2016 Day 1: Designing Research with Respondents in Mind

By Rebecca Heaney

The key takeaways from Day #1 of Congress are conveniently aligned with the highlights of yesterday’s sessions, which impressed on me the importance of remembering that respondents are people – a thought that is completely obvious and at the same time easily and quickly forgotten in our zeal to collect data and deliver insights. In fact, it is commonplace to go through the stages of an entire research project without once ever acknowledging the people that participated in it – focusing instead on sample sizes and representativeness, KPIs and indexes, trends and outliers in the data, insights and implications for business.

It’s easy to forget that, as Luke Sehmer pointedly reminded us in one of today’s sessions, the entire market research industry is completely reliant on real people participating in, or at the very least giving us permission to, conduct research. It’s a humbling realization to admit that the participants we so often complain about for not paying enough attention to surveys or not giving us complex enough answers are, in fact, the people we are indebted to.

Without them, market research would not exist, so how can we conduct research keeping participants in mind?

Shorter Surveys, Less Repetition, and Mobile Optimization

As already touched on in yesterday’s blog, mindfully designing shorter surveys and reducing repetition is one approach. In the session titled “Taste the Feeling of a New Brand Tracking Ecosystem”, Clare-Marie Hulsey (of the Coca-Cola Company) presented a case study showing how drastic changes (including asking some questions some of the time, instead of all KPIs all of the time) were made to their large, multi-market brand tracker to make the tracker more respondent friendly with many positive outcomes. Martin Dimov (GemSeek) and Steve Wigmore (Lightspeed) were also challenged with reducing survey length in a large scale project. In their talk “A Quantum Leap for the Research Industry”, Dimov and Wigmore described how they were able to cut LOI significantly by asking respondents to complete subsets of questions (rather than the whole list, resulting in a lot of missing data at the respondent level) and using “Ascription” – a solution that uses data science to predict what the answers for would be and merging those predictions with actual data.

Making Surveys More Interesting and Engaging

While a shorter survey is better than a longer one, we all know that short survey does not equal a good survey. Another approach to designing research with the respondent experience in mind is to make the surveys themselves more engaging. Gamification has been mentioned multiple times today as one way of engaging participants while the use of photos, voice, and videos were discussed in Jason Morris (Millward Brown), Sherri Stevens (Millward Brown), and Stefan Kuegler’s (Lightspeed) presentation, “Respondent Engagement: Investing in Stickiness”. With the variety of technological solutions and platforms available today that make collecting and analyzing digital content relatively easy (many of which are being presented at the Exhibition), these options are becoming increasingly more viable for regular use.

Motivations for Participating in Research

Luke Sehmer and Melanie Courtright (Research Now) and Nikki Lavoie (MindSpark Research International) took a step back from thinking about engaging research design to think about why people are motivated to participate in market research in the first place. In the session, “Clipboards, Calls and Focus Groupies: The public perception of market research and the implications for the future”, Sehmer and Courtright claim that people participate in market research for three reasons: to give back, to get something back, and to give yourself a pat on the back. Drawing on social psychology research, Lavoie explained in her presentation, “Connecting with Consumers: A New Way of Plugging In”, how offering financial incentives (inducing a “to get something back” motivation) can undermine intrinsic motivation for participation and has negative implications for engagement.

The Relationship Between Market Researchers and Research Participants

The theme of one of today’s sessions was “Wow! We’re raising the game: When status quo is not an option”. I think this phrase perfectly describes where we are at when it comes to participant engagement and experience. While there are many compelling reasons to care about the respondent experience and participant engagement (e.g., lengthy, repetitive surveys cost more, take longer to field, and elicit less accurate, and less rich, data), we shouldn’t care only about how these issues affect our bottom line. We need to think about the implications of poor respondent experience on the market research industry as a whole – how each study is one touchpoint that influences how people see the industry and respond to us. The consequences of neglecting the needs of our participants are too important to ignore. We need to start thinking of participants as partners instead of subjects, seeing them as people with context and concerns and lives outside of research, making their needs just (if not more) important as those of our clients, because we, as an industry, can’t survive without them.

Rebecca Heaney, Northstar Research, is one of the official RWC bloggers for ESOMAR Congress 2016.