FEATURE1 September 2010

Hear me out: Don't exclude market researchers from surveys

Ever had an idea that you know is genius, but everyone else thinks is crazy? Here is your chance to share it with the world of research. This month we hear from Rachel SImmons, senior client consultant at Nunwood.

What’s the big idea?
We in the research industry are at times in the habit of screening out plausible respondents who work in market research, PR, advertising or journalism from recruitment questionnaires and questionnaire screeners, but we never really ask ourselves why. It is my belief that researchers and those from a marketing background would make better respondents than the layman.

“I’d like to think researchers would be able to answer in a more effective, articulate and educated way, as we are already engaged in the process”

Isn’t that’s a big no-no?
I’m not so sure. I understand the argument that we’re effectively more biased than the layman as we know how the industry works and what is often required of respondents, but the MRS doesn’t say anything in its Code of Conduct about not interviewing researchers. So where has this myth come from and why do we think using researchers is a bad thing?

What advantages would it bring?
A huge new pool of respondents for us to tap, for starters. The MRS currently estimates that employment in the UK market and social research industry stands at about 15,000 full-time employees, with a similar number of casual or part-time workers, and the Marketing and Sales Standards Setting Body estimates that there are over 600,000 marketing professionals.

What can these people bring to the table that others can’t?
We’d certainly be much more accurate with our responses because we’d know the differences our answers can make to future campaigns, branding and advertising spend. I’d like to think that we’d be able to answer in a more effective, articulate and educated way, as we are already engaged in the process. We may have a useful understanding of the topic in question, making us more discerning, so our input may be more valuable than that of a layman.

When answering surveys we’d actually read the introductions and instructions properly, and in a focus group we’d be more warmed up than general respondents, so there would be no need for the psychological techniques used to elicit information and to relax participants. Interviewing researchers could actually get straight to the point without using the normal ‘cotton wool’ techniques. We certainly wouldn’t be the quiet wallflowers who just turn up for the free tea and cream buns. Rather we would be capable of starting a debate and challenging a theory in a more effective way. Also, we’re more likely to complete the survey as we have a vested interest, which would mean a lower drop-out rate. As a matter of competitive advantage wouldn’t we want to carry on and see how the survey progresses anyway?

But surely researchers would be very biased?
Yes, clearly if you work within a particular sector you are more likely to be biased in your answers as you will have predisposed ideas about that category and be privy to non-public information. But how does this differ from any consumer who will have their own predisposed ideas based on whatever marketing literature they have already read or heard? Surely you have a more valid opinion if your ‘bias’ is based on fact rather than supposition? And if we at least understand what that bias is, it shouldn’t have to be a big deal.

There are obvious issues with client confidentiality and clearly if you work on a competitor account then you might answer in a different way and influence the results. But I’d be surprised if this isn’t happening already – we might as well be honest about it. Aren’t we all looking at ways to find out what our client’s competitors are up to? Aren’t market researchers already filling in surveys to see what others are up to?

What’s that on your computer screen?
Oh, nothing.


Share your vision with us: robertb@researchmagazine.co.uk

6 Comments

10 years ago

Hurrah, sense. I've given up on telling people what idiocy this is in a modern service based economy. If you take the standard exclusions..especially the 'marketing' one, in somewhere like London, you are probably screening out about 30% of the Population, especially among certain subogroups, try 'working' and 'under 30' as reasonable examples! No-one can ever make much of a decent case for defending this. ......and yet they remain, prisoner of some MRS guideline thought up in the 14th century that no-one ever challenges...no wonder we're called conservative and dinosaur-like by our critics in the modern world

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10 years ago

As a general rule, as Rachel argues, the exclusion of people involved in marketing, unless they are inappropriate for other reasons, seems unnecessary. If the excludees are in the hundreds of thousands as she notes, then one could reasonably question the representativeness of the sample and so the findings and conclusions. In general, it would seem simpler to say if you are eligible for a particular study's sample, then you are in. If you fail to qualify for a sample, then you are out. However, there are some times when you may want to exclude anyone who could potentially be or work for a competitor and who could take the knowledge they gain from the research process back to their organisations, perhaps lessening or negating the advantages your client seeks by undertaking the research. So a general rule to exclude those involved in marketing be inappropriate, there are occasions when it may be a valid and necessary project requirement. Again, the overall thrust seems reasonable but iit seems a case by case assessment should sensibly apply.

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10 years ago

Doesn't this argument completely miss the inevitable effect of group dominance? If we invited a Research Manager with experience in marcomms research, or a Marketing Manager, to a literature testing group they would most likely take over the discussion (whether intentionally or unintentionally). The effect of this is that anyone else in the group would be totally deterred from contributing - because of the very argument you put forward, they know (or think they know) what they are talking about! Therefore we would completely lose the richness of data generated by the "general public"... irrational arguments can sometimes have validity. Would you really invite a baker to a bread tasting group or an actuary to a new financial product group? It could be argued that an entire group of marcomms specilalists would be worth considering, but that would most likely degenerate into a competitive buzz-word-fest! I also disagree strongly that researchers are more likely to read instructions... in fact I would argue the complete opposite on the basis of survey complacency. In fact, any researcher worthy of their position would actually get side tracked assessing the quality of the software and presentation of the survey than the questions itself...

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10 years ago

This of course relies on researchers telling the truth at that point in a recruitment survey. I'd imagine there are hundreds of research and marketing professionals who are supplementing their income with panelist rewards!! I am one and know of several others. As researchers, but more importantly consumers, our opinions on products/brands/service are as important as anyone elses.

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10 years ago

Of course researchers should be included in surveys. By actually participating we might understand what damage overly long and poorly written questionnaires are doing to our response rates.

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10 years ago

The security screening question is wasted space. I tell my clients not to bother because those they are trying to exclude are savvy enough to know the intent of the question. It may actually spark their interest more! Confidentiality is so important that it overrides any other consideration. To the extent possible (and it's pretty much impossible), I want to keep market researchers out of my survey.

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