Why human-centric research should be your priority

Covid-19 Technology

If the last few months have shown us anything, it’s that brands which are human-centric will be the ones to survive and prosper. And to become a human-centric brand, you must conduct research in a way that puts people first.  Technology was meant to empower this process, but instead it seems to have deteriorated it. More than ever, brands need to revisit how they gather primary research, so that it enables them to understand what people really want. 


The evolution of primary research

Brands and marketers who want to be human-centric need to understand the humans they serve, and really well, which falls to the research and insights professionals in businesses.  However, one of the key methods of doing so, collecting primary research, has become a victim of its own innovation.

At its core, primary research is talking with a human, to understand the nuances of not just what they like, but why some things are better than others, and what their concerns are.  In the early days of research, in-person interviews were bolstered by telephone interviews and physical surveys, but as the world evolved, response rates and willingness to participate in this type of research plummeted. Innovation and new technologies kicked in, and much of the primary research collection shifted online.  

Online ‘panels’ of people were recruited as a way to continue to keep the survey taking process relevant to people.  This would ideally be less intrusive and rushed since people could do it on their own time and increasing response rates, therefore increasing the scale of possible people to interview.  

However, the unintended consequence of this innovation has been the exact opposite of what’s needed to develop a human-centric brand - a crumbling connection between companies and consumers’ wants and needs.  This means that businesses aren’t getting quality feedback they need, leading to millions in wasted budget and reduced ROI.

What’s driving the problem? Ironically, they’re very ‘human’ factors.

First, we’ve ignored the online respondent’s experience, with little or no empathy to the actual survey taker beyond what order their questions are in.  We deliver long and poorly formatted surveys to people who are uninterested in the subject, provide un-optimised formatting on mobile phones and try to boost response rates with interrupting and intrusive experiences.   Why should a respondent care enough to answer thoughtfully when it’s obvious from the invitation, introduction, or the first question that the person asking it didn’t care to craft it in relation to them?  People want to share their opinions but will hesitate when their experience is neglected while trying to do so.

Second, there’s a lack of accountability for who’s actually answering surveys that are sent out. Surveys are easily filled with bots, survey farms, and fraud, and quotas can be easily met with misinformation on respondents.  There is an inherent problem when often 20-30% of open-ends need to be removed from datasets, or if open ends aren’t allowed at all.   ‘Sample’ doesn’t give feedback. People (like your mother and your friends) should. 

Third, there is a heavy reliance on ‘that’s just the way it’s done’ and unbalanced weight on traditional scientific principles in dictating research method choice and design.  This is not to say statistical significance or margins of error are irrelevant, but, due to the previous two points, meeting certain quotas or ‘statistical rigour’ does not mean the research and findings are right, valid, or will move the business forward.  “Our panel gives you access to millions of consumers” becomes much less relevant when you have response rates to survey invitations in the single digit percentages.

So it seems that the move to online primary data collection has only really served one party’s needs in the process – those conducting the research. These scaled online panels were tailored to make the insight and research team’s lives easier, to get more data more quickly to internal management and stakeholders, and to meet smaller budgets and shorter timescales.   The person answering the survey has been neglected, ultimately leading businesses to make decisions on poor intelligence. 

So how do we start making our research human-centric? 

Here are 7 ways to start making your research and insight more human-centric.

  1. Avoid intercepting and interrupting.  Look for methods that utilise technology to present surveys in a more welcome way. If they are, people will feel wanted and valued and more likely to help.  Additionally, more ‘middle of the road’ people (i.e. not those who take surveys just for some vouchers or cash) will be likely to respond.
  2. Watch your tone. Respondents are ‘real people’, so when possible try to ensure your messages are written in a non-robotic and understandable way, rather than a canned question template.  For example, at OnePulse, we encourage clients to be conversational and candid when they put together surveys, which creates a more enjoyable experience and elicits better responses.
  3. Adopt agile methods.  Agile research is a more and more popular way of doing research which allows for a more flexible and iterative approach to research.  It allows for room to follow up, re-asses, and dig deeper into the “what do you suppose was meant by THAT?” Here is a free virtual summit at the end of June that you should sign up for as an introduction to some different aspects of agile.  
  4. Think respondent-experience first. Be more thoughtful and curious about how to create a better experience for the person on the other end of your survey.  Find tools that enable you to get closer to the conversation while still getting you the outputs you need. Utilise shorter surveys, and be better than the joyless survey experience. 
  5. Really try to understand who your ‘sample’ is.  Why are they answering your survey in the first place? What’s their motivation to give you quality feedback?
  6. Promote the feedback that you get. When it makes sense, make people know that their opinion really is heard.  This could be by you as a business, or by a partner to continue to engage your/their community of people you’d like to get ongoing feedback from.  Remind people of the reason they are contributing to research. 
  7. Get the entire business closer to the data. The whole business should be getting closer to the consumer feedback- not just certain teams. Find tools and approaches that are accessible and relatable for different types of job roles.

In the current climate, never before have people wanted to share their thoughts, opinions, and feelings more (at OnePulse, we’ve seen organic growth of our mobile app community spike by 40% over the past 2 months, and time spent has increased by 30%).  Now is the time for research, insights, and marketing teams to take a step back and better humanise their approach to primary research- because it’s first step in building a human-centric brand.

About OnePulse

OnePulse provides an innovative, agile way for brands and agencies to instantly communicate with a targeted audience of consumers to gain key business and marketing data, allowing them to make better decisions all in a matter of minutes. By facilitating conversation with consumers on their terms via an engaging mobile app, OnePulse attracts genuine insight from people going about their daily lives. Drop us a line at to learn more or for a trial of the platform.  

Visit us at

Erica Kurowski, Managing Director – OnePulse