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Fieldwork Tips: Is the traditional survey dead? [Clue: no]

By Ben Marks, Managing Director, OpinionPanel

Ben Marks
Ben Marks

Ben is YouthSight's founder and CEO. He's a well-renowned personality in the market research industry and has great connections with the MRS and HEPI.

By Ben Marks, Managing Director, OpinionPanel

The traditional survey is dead.  We’ve reached ‘peak panel’...  That’s what orthodoxy suggests and it’s the contention behind many presentations at research conferences and discussion in market research magazines and journals.  But before we all jump ship, let’s reflect on the last five years and why 'online quant' and the panel industry has moved from ‘heroes to zeros’ (in some peoples' books, anyway).

Well, the web has clearly come of age; people now handle vastly more information online, but no fundamental changes to human nature have occurred.  That should all be grist to the mill for managers of online panels.  Yet some in our industry frequently contend that the ‘asking of questions’ is passé.

That's clearly nonsense.  Listening to conversations on social media can only take you so far.  Often you just need to ask questions (normally to targeted or representative samples).

Asking is not the problem.  But there are real problems in our industry.  However, many of the problems lie squarely with researchers and the panel industry.  NOT with respondents.  The survey is not dead and it shouldn’t even be ‘losing its flavour’; but it has, over the last few years, been served up very poorly by many panel companies.

Respondents are rational and as such they will sometimes provide stupid answers, but normally to stupid questions.  They will act like naughty monkeys, but normally when they’re paid peanuts.  The real challenge is for the industry to face its responsibilities rather than give up ‘asking’.  This means we need to engage with participants with maturity and respect.  And to stop referring to people as ‘sample’.

We need to accept that we are generally now appealing to respondents’ extrinsic motivation, so have to incentivise accordingly.  We need to make surveys faster and more interesting so that probably means formally abandoning the ‘answer grid’, understanding the impact and consequences of screeners, integrating cutting-edge survey tools, formally committing to short surveys and reading and acting on verbatim comments.  No company is perfect.  No solutions are absolute panaceas. But many aren't even trying.

The industry needs to start building a bond of trust with respondents.  If bad practice continues (we discuss 5 pitfalls of annoying survey respondents here ) then online quant is doomed.  If we can build bonds of trust the MR industry will be able to continue to ask and analyse the responses to meaningful, tough and insightful questions for years to come.

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