FEATURE29 March 2017

Laying the foundation

Data analytics Features Trends

A survey of public perceptions of market research reveals that those with a better understanding of research are more trusting when it comes to sharing data. Promoting the industry is vital, says Luke Sehmer of Research Now.

Trusting crop

We in the research and insights industry tend to be rather inward looking. And one of our favourite topics is the fact that, in spite of research being a fascinating and multi-faceted career, when we meet people outside the industry and tell them what we do, they refer to unsolicited phone calls or being paid 50 quid to pretend they have a Zanussi fridge-freezer and attend a focus group to talk about frozen food.

We all have annoying apocryphal stories about it. But that’s the point – they are apocryphal, and at Research Now we were not aware of any research ever being conducted to find out the truth behind these public perceptions.

This lack of real knowledge of what the public understands about market research has tangible and potentially serious consequences. We totally rely on people to engage with us and what we do, simply in order to do our day to day job. Probably more than any other industry it is vital to reach out, communicate and engage with the wider public for us to thrive.

With a shrinking pool of respondents – I use this term lightly as it can dehumanise the real human being behind the survey – it’s crucial we communicate with them in a powerful and effective way, and underpinning every successful communication strategy is a rigorous insight study.

Additionally, a good grounding of knowledge in the research industry by the public could potentially have a far-reaching impact in recruitment and research budgets, as the value of our work is more understood.

So, Research Now joined forces with Esomar to find out what the public in the UK, the US and Germany understands about, and thinks of, market research.

Questioning over 4,500 participants, the study was one of the biggest of its kind looking into the public perception of market research.

To ensure data quality and to compare perceptions across methodologies, three data collection techniques were used; an online panel, a social media panel, and a computer aided telephone interview (CATI) sample. Although it was reassuring to find that there was a broad understanding of market research, old perceptions die hard – particularly in the UK where 71% of CATI respondents associated market research with street interviewers with clipboards, compared to 52% in the US and 56% in Germany.

Only 43% of the public in all three markets trust researchers with the information they provide. On the other hand, those who take part in surveys regularly have a good understanding of research and are more trustful of the industry, although the strong code of ethics and guidelines that researchers subscribe to is not widely known. Ultimately, what the study shows us is that those with a better understanding of market research are more trustful of the industry, and more comfortable in sharing information.

Those with little contact with the industry (CATI respondents) are more liable to speed through their answers, find research an inconvenience and are less willing to provide certain information: only 20% were comfortable sharing their salary information, and only 26% of CATI respondents were willing to share their internet search history.

The degree of distrust and discomfort in the industry and the sharing of personal data shows we need to do more to foster human connections with our participants. The industry operates with a strong code of ethics; however, this is not appreciated by the wider public.

We must tackle this and promote the true value of research – addressing the public criticism recently faced through failures in polling and mainstream media data interpretation. Market research has a lot to ask, limited opportunity to ask it, and we need to engage sufficiently to get a thoughtful, attentive response. Full details on the survey findings are available here.