The Tragic Tale of Research Participants

In parallel to the GRIT report, last year Research Now partnered with ESOMAR to conduct a uniquely expansive survey into the public perception of the market research industry.

By Melanie Courtright 

This year, for the first time, the GRIT report explored the elements that come into play when designing and implementing research and it threw up some fascinating, yet slightly worrying, results. In parallel to the GRIT report, last year Research Now partnered with ESOMAR to conduct a uniquely expansive survey into the public perception of the market research industry, surveying over 6,000 people through multiple methodologies, in the US, UK and Germany. Combining some of the data points in these two surveys highlights what should be a significant concern for our industry.

Firstly, the GRIT report indicates that, in the last 3 years, there has been little to no change in the percentage of surveys that are optimized for mobile which stands at an embarrassingly low 15%. What also concerns me significantly is the importance of ensuring that participants have a positive impression of market research after they have contributed to a research project. Only 5% of client-side researchers and 9% of research providers judged this to be of significant importance when designing research studies. Only 4% of client-side and 7% of supplier-side researchers felt it important that participants speak highly of their research experience. And we wonder why respondent rates are falling?

In our public perception survey, we found that CATI participants had the lowest exposure to market research, compared to other methodologies (online panel and social media panel), with almost half of those in all 3 markets taking part in research less than once a year, or never. Because of this, it is clear that the data taken from the CATI sample provides the clearest view of the perception of market research in the broader general public. Data provided by the CATI participants showed that in the US only fewer than half of those surveyed agreed they trust market researchers with their data. And while participants in the US are comfortable sharing information such as their favorite supermarket or their thoughts on advertising, the study indicated they were far less comfortable sharing more personal information. Only 25% were comfortable sharing information about salary and just 30% were comfortable sharing their internet search activity.

When you combine these figures, we start to develop a detrimental story of the industry’s lack of consideration of participants and the public – and what that could mean in the long term for the industry.

The industry needs to do far more to communicate the value of the research to the general public; we should no longer treat them as a commodity but as people that need to be engaged with. The need to foster a human connection with participants is underlined by the degree of distrust and discomfort in sharing more sensitive data. We are proud to have partnered with ESOMAR on this study and we support them and others as they take steps to educate the public on the value of research. But we need to ensure the process of engagement continues when people become our participants. How can we hope for better data quality and healthy databases when many research providers care so little for the participant experience?

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “The Tragic Tale of Research Participants”

  1. Katja Cahoon says:

    March 27th, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Thank you for this insightful article, Melanie! “The need to foster a human connectio” is exactly what we heard when we did a (small, qualitative) study with Millennials about their thoughts and feelings about market research and marketers. Feeling like someone is listening, is genuinely engaging them, and has a sense of empathy for their life circumstances were related topics.

  2. Nicholas Tortorello says:

    March 29th, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks Melanie for writing the article although for someone who has been in the MR/Insights Industry for nearly 50 years there is nothing really new. CASRO and AAPOR both have tried for many years to convey the importance of research and the value of respondents. Do you remember the slogan, “Your Opinion Counts”. In spite of these efforts, response rates continue to decline. I think there are a number of reasons for the decline such as online and cell phone responses are believed by the public to be hackable, and people don’t know exactly where or who are making use of the responses. More importantly, these two techniques demand shorter and easier to do surveys. Plus many research companies do boring surveys, too much repetition on brand image questions, and very in-depth demographic questions. I have maintained for a long time that to get good, thoughtful responses, whether on consumer or business surveys that respondents need to be paid. At least a dollar a minute on public studies and much more for leadership surveys with business executives, doctors, media, etc. In addition, research companies need to be more transparent on the reasons and uses of the survey results. One interesting point in this regard is that I regularly get 85% of respondents to give me their income levels for banking and investment studies. I also regularly respond to all types of surveys using all types of techniques and I can tell you the quality and objectivity of the studies are in many cases horrible! Far worse than when I began in the business and there was Gallup, Harris, Roper, Crossley and Yankelovich. .

  3. Peter Booth says:

    March 29th, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Melanie,
    The reason respondents have a poor survey experience is that clients generally don’t respect them and their opinions. Respondents aren’t getting paid and usually don’t have a direct relationship with the client or their company. I much prefer B2B for these reasons. Even if they aren’t getting paid, they know they can complain about their poor survey experience and the client will listen.

  4. Jaimie Korody says:

    March 30th, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks for this, Melanie. The commodification of respondents may be the single greatest issue the research industry faces. Perhaps this can be partially addressed by adopting standards that advocate research and technology partnerships; co-creating new user interfaces rather than waiting until they are mainstream. If only 15% of surveys in 2017 are accessible through mobile, we’ve got a problem.

  5. Brett Watkins says:

    April 4th, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Melanie, I hope you and others like us will continue to keep saying this…like all advertising, it will take continued focus and singularity of message to get people to recognize this is important…arguably nothing is more important.

    While you can speak more intelligently to quantitative, I can speak to the qualitative, and the answers really aren’t that hard (beyond shorter surveys/screeners):

    1. The industry needs to stop banging the drum of “bad respondents” and how to weed these people out. Those using advanced technology as we do have solved this issue. But the constant drum beat results in an attitude that suggests consumers are the “bad guys” and need to be further tested and proven “real.” More and more questions in surveys and screeners is not the way to go…instead, I challenge researchers to really get to know your suppliers and learn how the “sausage” of recruiting/surveying is done. I think you’ll quickly learn, again to what I can speak to well in terms of the qualitative standpoint, that the leading suppliers eliminated this problem through better tech “fingerprinting.”

    2. We must as an industry begin to work together (read MRA/IA, ESOMAR, QRCA, Quirks, Greenbook), coupled with both clients and suppliers, to share with consumers how their participation truly makes their lives better. There’s been a longtime expression “MR’ers make terrible marketers.” In this case I would agree…an integrated marketing campaign coupled with changing the research process to allow the consumers that participated to see FIRST how their input made a difference…a huge opportunity is being lost to get the public on our side and be more engaged, while also hugely benefiting brands (could a viral marketing campaign get any better than research participants who helped shape the new product be told FIRST how they made a difference, allowing those people to share with their networks?)

    I’ve seen you write on this subject many times…thank you for your continued efforts to raise awareness. If I can ever help on this subject, I’m happy to do so.

  6. Jeffrey Henning’s #MRX Top 10: GRIT, SMEs, and Other Research Stories | GreenBook says:

    April 12th, 2017 at 6:00 am

    […] The Tragic Tale of Research Participants – Melanie Courtright of Research Now discussed past GRIT research on research that found that only 15% of surveys are optimized for Worse, under 10% of researchers considered it to be of significant importance for research participants to have a positive impression of market research after participating, and even fewer felt it was important for participants to speak highly of their research experience. As Melanie writes, “And we wonder why respondent rates are falling?” […]

Leave a Reply

*