The day research stopped feeling like research

By Bianca Vucescu

In both quantitative and qualitative studies, quality is a hot topic. Fraud prevention is a first step in increasing the quality of research, yet how can we know beforehand if a real participant will offer us the insights we are looking for? We keep talking about data health and data cleaning. And while it’s still a mandatory practice, what if we didn’t have to dedicate any time and energy on this? What if participants would continuously provide high-quality data in research studies? What if we could attract and engage consumers for the long term?

I hear a lot about so-called ’professional participants‘, those who aim to qualify for as many surveys as possible, are driven by extrinsic motivation and give the ’correct‘ answers rather than to provide honest feedback. This affects our industry but also our clients, who take decisions based on this ‘dishonest’ feedback. But then again, aren’t we the ones who reap this behavior based on what we sowed? Aren’t we the ones who offer points, vouchers or other monetary rewards and as such encourage the ‘professional participant’? I am not saying that (monetary) incentives cannot be a part of ‘sustainable’ research, but we should strongly consider what else is valuable to people. It’s not always about money; who can put a price on experience, knowledge, entertainment, involvement or impact?

Our world is becoming increasingly fast and snappy and when conducting research, brands need to align with this reality. We cannot longer conduct endless surveys and expect people to pay attention, when we all know that the attention span is decreasing, especially amongst the younger generation. Looking at the social media landscape, we see that visual apps (like Instagram, Snapchat) have the most rapid usage growth. Isn’t that a clear indication that surveys have to follow the same path? We have to realize that what is considered as boring in ’real life’ will also be perceived as boring in research studies. Let’s not forget about how we can use technology to improve research results, get better insights and shorten the length of surveys. Neuro-marketing tools for research like facial coding, passive meters, implicit measurements, virtual reality, gamification tools can be integrated in research to achieve better and richer insights without overwhelming participants with explicit questions.

What if brands had a dedicated network, built and managed differently than today’s panels, which they could access for research as often as needed?

That’s exactly what a ’Sustainable Consumer Connection’ is: a network of relevant people who are intrinsically motivated to interact and express opinions about specific topics or brands.

The way we sample influences the human experience, so one goal while moving forward is to do so based on the people’s interests. If I feel strongly about a topic or product, I will be more likely to participate, pay more attention during the research and give my honest opinion. This will result in quality insights for the researcher. Research studies should be a positive brand touch point experience for participants. There is nothing worse than asking someone for a drink and while they are waiting to send them a message saying ’Thank you for your interest, but I would rather have a drink with someone else; so no more screen-outs and quota-fulls. Technically, one could argue that studying intrinsically motivated people does not generate random samples. That’s correct, but at least their responses are valid internally and reflect reality. In all honesty, most of the research we conduct is not as representative as we think.

Looking at the young generation, our future participants, they want to be involved more than ever, make an impact and be treated like the intelligent humans that they are. They don’t want to participate in surveys which contain questions that sometimes seem pointless to them. We encourage them to participate in research in order to shape the future of brands and products but they rarely actually know what the impact is of their contribution. Youngsters are curious and we need to feed that curiosity. So why not share with them how their input effectively impacted the future? Isn’t that an incentive which will motivate them to participate in future research?

To sum up, market research should no longer feel like market research! It should be an experience that everyone would like to take part in because it is fun and interactive, they learn something new and can help with the creation of new products.

Future research has to be in line with the traits we see in the future generation: use top-of-the-line technology and be short, snappy, visual, entertaining, relevant to the consumer. This will lead to a win-win situation, where a research activity is not only engaging but also results in fresher and more powerful insights for us researchers.

Rather than trying to keep up with the present, market research should be ahead of times. We need to accept that the old way of gathering sample is not sustainable, so let’s put the consumer at the heart of our business, empowering them and giving them the level of importance that they deserve.

Bianca Vucescu is Senior Media Buyer at InSites Consulting and one of the participants in ESOMAR’s Corporate Youth Programme.