With marketing research response rates declining across world markets and methodologies, respondents' experience of research, a factor that is often overlooked, becomes increasingly significant. It is more important than ever before to create engaging research experiences in order to ensure the sustainability of the industry.
The state of affairs
Research into why respondents take part in surveys has found that the main reasons are curiosity and the opportunity to express an opinion (Poynter, 2006). Despite this, these factors are rarely considered when designing and planning research, resulting in a marked decline in response rates. Poynter (2006) cites examples of respondents becoming wise to the traditional survey process. Such respondents mention fewer brands in recall and usage statements because they know they will be routed to long and tedious questions based on these answers. Potential respondents' initial feelings of curiosity and their willingness to express an opinion have, in many instances, become feelings of frustration or irritation. This state of affairs has been around for quite a while now, with estimates from the US, as far back as 2004, pointing to over 75% of people who were contacted for phone surveys refusing to participate (Patrick & Wallach, 2004). South African estimates are harder to come by, but a general feature in the data collection sphere globally is that response rates have been declining for some time (Cooke, 2008; Kelly, 2007).
Various reasons have been given as to why people are becoming less willing to take part in research, including the effects of long and tedious surveys, poor research practice, commercial activities that are often confused with market research, busy lifestyles and consequent decreased attention spans, information overload and the "command and control" approach to research that respondents have traditionally been subjected to (Pan, 2009; Poynter, 2006). Improving the respondent experience is the first step in altering these perceptions and ensuring a sustainable supply of willing respondents.
Engaging the research respondent
Engaging the research respondent requires researchers to think differently about the manner in which research is presented and how researchers expect respondents to form part of - or even co-create - the research process. Some suggestions for improving the respondent experience are listed below:
Shorter, more "flexible", more engaging questionnaires: Allow consumers to challenge the content of questionnaires. Create ways to gauge consumer opinions in short and enjoyable surveys - so think twice about including those 50 statement grids!
Evaluate the engagement: A few simple questions at the end of the research process can ask respondents whether or not they enjoyed being part of the process and what could be changed for future projects.
Online Insight Communities: Another avenue that is synonymous with the participatory nature of the web is the use of Online Insight Communities to not only engage research respondents but to make them active participants and co-creators in the research process. In his 2009 SAMRA paper, Henk Pretorius referred to 'Research 2.5', a process of ceding control to consumers that allows them to set the agenda for the research problem under investigation. Online Insight Communities encourage 'bottom-up' responses by creating a dialogue between researchers and participants for in-depth feedback that goes beyond the fixed boundaries of traditional research. This creates an environment where participants' curiosity and the need to express their opinions are both satisfied on their own terms. Columinate specialises in creating and managing Online Insight Communities for a wide range of clients, and the general consensus from respondents is that the ability to co-create in these communities is more pleasant than responding to a traditional survey.
Remembering respondents' needs is key in providing research results that are relevant and robust. By creating an environment where respondents are free to challenge and co-create the research process, more value can be extracted from the outcome of the research process whilst ensuring a more positive response to future research requests.
Columinate is South Africa's specialist online marketing research company that specialises in creating and facilitating online communities for market research purposes. Contact Columinate ( or ) to request an obligation-free demonstration of the platform, presentation or brochure.
References: Cooke, M. (2008), The New World of Web 2.0 Research, International Journal of Market Research, 2008. Kelly, J. (2007), Data Collection: Key Stone and Cornerstones. In Van Hamersveld, M., & De Bont, C (Eds.) (2007), Market Research Handbook, 5th Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: West Sussex. Patrick, Q., and Bob Wallach (2004), Online Market Research: Trends and Technologies, American Marketing Association Seminar presented via WebEx Event Center, http://amaseminars.webex.com/. Poynter, R. (2006), Research 2.0 - The Market Research Response to Web 2.0, Research Magazine, December 2006. Pretorius, H. (2009), Research 2.5: Ceding control to consumers as co-researchers, SAMRA Conference, May 2009.