FEATURE1 March 2010

In their own words


Derek Eccleston, research director at online agency eDigitalResearch, takes a look at how survey respondents really feel about taking part in research.


The way consumers interact with one another and the world in general is changing rapidly. The explosion in social media networks and online forums has provided more channels through which consumers can interact and engage with brands. Consequently CEOs and senior executives are looking at new and faster ways to tap into the consumer consciousness. Some tried and tested survey methods are no longer satisfying these needs and there is now more competition than ever in the market research industry.

But why do some research methods work well where others fail? To answer this we decided to ask the respondents themselves to gauge what motivates them and what would keep them engaged.

Respondents want to influence products and services

“I enjoy doing surveys and I have been very pleased to see the outcome… (seeing a newspaper ad or a DVD cover for example where I saw various suggestions of styling before a choice was made and the designs went ‘public’).”

“I enjoy doing them and feel I might make a difference. I recently did an online one about different websites. One site was very bad and I made this quite clear. I noticed that this company has now got a new website and feel my input helped to change this.”

“I got a real buzz from seeing an advert the other day that I had commented on when it was in development.”

The first thing that becomes clear is that people take part in surveys because they want to influence products and services. Eighty-two per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they are motivated to take part in market research because they want to influence what future products or services look like. Almost nobody disagreed with this - a result that some may find surprising.

The second biggest motive was people wanting their voices to be heard while, interestingly, 74% of people take part because they enjoy the experience of participating. Less than half overall said they only take part for the incentive or reward.

Market research draws in those who want to be listened to and make a difference, but people are creatures of comfort and will only participate if it is quick, easy and convenient to do so. People will not go out of their way to give their opinion. If we do not respect respondents’ time, do not acknowledge their contribution and do not communicate with them on a relevant and interesting subject, we risk discouraging participation. The importance of acknowledgement is confirmed by the 58% who stated that incentives or rewards do make them much more likely to take part in a survey.

Respondents expect to be in control of when and how they communicate

?”I like that I am able to complete them in my own time, in my own home and not have my time taken up by an interviewer calling at my house or telephoning me.”

“(I) can do it at my leisure and not be pressured.”

“It enables me to understand the questions properly and take time to consider my answer.”

“I can take it when it is convenient to me and spend as much time as I like doing it.”

“I am in control! I can do it when I feel like it.”

People like to have control over the survey process and complete surveys in their own time and on their own terms. Respondents were more ready to spend longer doing online surveys – around half said that the appropriate length for an online survey was between five and ten minutes, while for phone surveys the same proportion said the right length was five minutes or less. Twenty-nine per cent said ten to fifteen minutes was OK for online, more than double the number who thought that was an appropriate length for a phone survey. Anything over fifteen minutes was considered too long for either sort of survey by more than 80% of respondents.

Perhaps surprisingly, given what we hear about response rates and survey fatigue, over a fifth of respondents in our survey said they would take part in more market research in the future than they do now. Most said the same and hardly anyone said less. There’s certainly room for that result to be better but, all in all, our industry does appear to be delivering a positive respondent experience.

Respondents are social

?”It is great to meet a diverse number of people and to hear everyone’s opinions and to be able to bounce ideas around.”

“I like the experience of the group discussion with people from all over the country. It is interesting to chat together and a lot of opinions can be expressed quickly.”

“(I like having) the opportunity to discuss a topic with a group of people rather than just putting my own opinion across.”

Respondents like to be in control of when and how they communicate, but other aspects that market researchers need to consider are the fact that people are social and expressive, and want to share views with others without restriction.

They want to enjoy the experience

“I enjoy the interaction between the participants. It is interesting to share views. Sometimes other people’s vides make me see things in a new light.”

The general feeling among respondents was the genuine desire to meet or share their views through group discussions. As evidenced earlier in our survey, people like to express their views, and responses to this question highlight the fact that people find it a more enjoyable experience if they can express themselves publicly, without the veil of anonymity that survey research guidelines generally require.

They don’t want restrictions on how they express themselves

?”(I like it because) we are given more options/ability to answer questions: i.e. not just multiple-choice answers”

Respondents also found it more enjoyable to be given open questions, as opposed to multiple-choice, as this gave them more opportunity to express their views. It’s a finding that points to a bright future for online qual and Web 2.0 techniques that allow interaction.

Having addressed motivations and enjoyment, we can understand why some research approaches are working better than others – respondents vote with their fingers. One thing is clear: building respondent-focused research is about more than just mode, it is about method.

We have witnessed this ourselves in the different response rates that we have got through sending out online surveys to clients. It is much more beneficial to actively manage the client panel as this places the respondents at the heart of a multi-layered engagement plan which sees response rates in the range of 30-50%. Where the panel is not actively managed response rates drop to just 10%.

It is clear that we can achieve higher response rates if we build programmes that encourage a sense of influence, where the process is enjoyable, fun and social, and where the surveys are flexible and convenient.

A great example of this is the success of online communities such as the one we run for New Look, where the traditional question and answer dynamic is disrupted by customers offering insights without being asked. This is achieved by making the content engaging and making consumers feel like they are making a difference to the products and services.

The future
There is a clear and sizeable opportunity for emerging online methodologies, and also for traditional focus groups, with their perceived higher incentive levels.

When we asked which type of survey invitations respondents would accept in the future, almost 50% said online focus groups or mini communities – more than said they would participate over the telephone. This is despite low familiarity with these online methods, with only 16% of the sample having already taken part in online focus groups or communities for research before. There is a similar picture for web chats, with 28% saying they would accept an invitation to take part whereas only 4% have already participated in a web chat. 38% said they would attend a traditional focus group and 98% would complete an online survey.

We need to keep in mind, of course, that an online survey itself has limited scope for judging attitudes to online surveys in comparison with the alternatives. But even within the online sphere, the enthusiasm for new and different approaches, particularly those involving interaction and a social element, is encouraging.

Consumers enjoy a richer and more flexible set of communication options today and this is shaping the expectations, preferences and behaviour we witness in market research. While certain motivations will endure, we expect to see an ongoing evolution of the respondent experience, shaped in part by technologies such as Twitter and Facebook or whatever the next one might be.

?Survey methodology
An online survey was sent to two panels: eGlobalPanel, which is a general consumer panel owned by eDigitalResearch, which is incentivised through a prize draw but is also a recruitment pool for qualitative sessions, and a well known access panel where respondents receive a direct monetary payment equivalent per survey.

Fieldwork was conducted between 15 and 25 January 2010. We collected a total of 1,501 completes, measured as those who reached the end of the survey. These were split fairly evenly between eGlobalPanel ( 721 completes, which was a 49% response rate) and the third party panel ( 780 completes, 14% response rate).

The modal time taken to complete the survey was 6m to 6m 30s. We acknowledge an inherent weakness in the idea of asking for feedback on a range of different research types through a single mode, but we see the findings as informative despite that obvious limitation.