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Will Smartphones Save the Survey?

by Andrew Jeavons

At Survey Analytics, we’ve been a bit smart phone focused recently, due primarily to our recent State of the Union dial test study. As I was testing the SurveySwipe software on which our study was based, …

by Andrew Jeavons

At Survey Analytics, we’ve been a bit smart phone focused recently, due primarily to our recent State of the Union dial test study. As I was testing the SurveySwipe software on which our study was based, it started me thinking about the whole idea of surveys on smartphones.

One thing that is clear is that the smartphone screen has some limitations. Obviously it is not a laptop or desktop monitor sized screen! You have a screen, but it is small. You can’t do anything really complex on the screen with a question in a survey without running out of room pretty quickly.

But this smartphone limitation is a tremendous opportunity for the market research industry. It may mean that the smartphone saves the survey as a way of collecting data in MR.

Do surveys need saving ? Yes, they do. Surveys have become long and complex, and really, the truth is that they have always tended to be long and complex. The reason for this was simply that they could be. When telephone interviewing was predominant, there were huge 45 minute or longer surveys, and they placed a substantial – yet tolerable, given the medium – burden on both the respondents and the interviewer.  As surveys moved to the web, that complexity followed for the simple reason that it could.

It is hard to find anyone in MR who doesn’t think long complex surveys are a bad thing, yet they continue to be used. We all have tales of huge grid questions we have seen in surveys. In 1998 (last century !) I wrote a paper for an ESOMAR conference (www.esomar.org) that showed that respondents tended to quit the survey once they happened upon long grid questions. That was 12 years ago. I don’t expect people to follow my every word, but I did sort of expect that after 12 years other people would have realized this and stopped using long complex grids. But that hasn’t happened…

The clients are blamed for the complex surveys; continuity of data is blamed, too. The fact is: long complex surveys continue to be written because they can be written. The debate about the effects of long complex surveys continues, and still they are written.

Yet with smartphones you can’t have long complex grids or anything similarly complex on the screen. They just become unusable. Long questionnaires don’t make sense as people who fill out surveys on smartphones may not be sitting at a desk with 30 minutes to spend on that 40 item grid the client wanted. The respondent may just have a minute or two as they get coffee, or ride back to the office in an elevator. The environment the respondent takes the survey within has changed; we have moments perhaps, not minutes. So long complex surveys on a smartphone makes no sense.

This is why smartphones may save the survey. Surveys might become fun interludes again, instead of an exercise in endurance. Surveys on smartphones might just be what breaks the addiction to complex surveys that the MR industry has battled for decades.

Smartphones mean smart surveys!

About Andrew Jeavons – With over 25 years in the market research industry, Andrew is a frequent writer and speaker for various publications and events around the country. He has a background in psychology and statistics, and currently focuses on innovation within survey research.

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