What can participants tell us about the state of market research?

As published on ClouToday on May 5, 2014. In order to let our members share their opinion, we realized a large-scale research where we asked them – both quantitatively and qualitatively – about their experiences, remarks, suggestions etc. In a first stage we invited more than 3,000 members from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the US, the UK and Romania to take part in an extensive survey. In a next stage, 150 of them participated in a 3-week community (or Consumer Consulting Board, as we like to call them): the ‘Future Talkers’ community.
A combination of these methods resulted in clear responses as to what is important to our members and it also allowed us to even discuss these results with them afterwards. Discover some of the most interesting panel management trends we discovered.

Becoming – and remaining – a member

A remark which is heard frequently is that people participate in a survey ‘simply for the reward’. After curiosity, the promise of a reward is indeed the main reason for a very first participation in research. To use the words of one of the participants: ‘I started participating in online research years ago as a way to fill my time and to earn a bit of cash.’ But it only gets really interesting when we check out the reasons why people continue to participate. And this is where reward turns out to lose and intrinsic motives to gain in importance.
Reasons to participate in research
Many loyal participants see participating in research as a type of relaxation. Trends such as gamification of research capitalize on this. They entail better research and also play a crucial part in keeping our panel eco system active (source). As research becomes more fun, participants will automatically start looking for new opportunities to participate.
A second important motivation is learning something. While we learn from the participants’ answers, they also learn from our questions. In this context you can clearly see that consumers become more selective in the types of surveys they are willing to participate in: if they survey is about a subject they are interested in or about one of their favorite brands, this immediately results in an increased and improved participation. In a recent experiment, we sent out two different invitations to the participants – one where we asked to help the research agency and one asking to help the brand. The latter generated to ten times more response than the first one!
Finally we also notice a clear need among consumers to be heard and to have an impact – on companies, brands and society. Participants expect survey to no longer be one-way. They are willing to answer questions but even in quantitative research they want to be able to add subjects to the table. Only too often is research still a copy of the parent/child relationship, whereas we should consider each other as partners. One of the methods we used in this survey was a research ’Village’. After having completed all the questions, the respondents could opt in, voluntarily, to give their opinion in a second dimension of the survey. This would give them the opportunity not only to talk to the other participants, but also to post additional subjects. In our panel survey, 40% of the participants opted in for the ‘Village’, which generated 337 additional posts; that is how we obtained additional answers to questions we did not even know we had!

Research helps build your brand

Participants see a survey as a means to learn something and are interested in the brands they ‘work’ for. Combine the two and you understand why 42% of the branded survey participants indicated learning more about the brand in the survey. This goes beyond merely the new products or services that the brand is showing them. The questions that we ask on behalf of a brand also reveal a lot about the brand itself as well as about its attitude towards consumers.
This effect is not limited to getting to know brands better: after having participated in a survey about a brand, 27% of the participants indicate that they like the brand better. 33% of the participants are even inclined to start using the brand more frequently.
Unknown means unloved, but the opposite is true as well: by getting to know a brand better, participants have more faith in it. This effect is even stronger when one can test a product or service. A more intense and longer participation in a survey, such as during a Consumer Consulting Board, has yet another consequence: as the participants are working so hard for a brand, they feel a real connection with ‘their’ brand. The time invested turns into an emotional investment: the brand’s success also becomes their success and they spontaneously turn into ‘brand ambassadors’.

Research is more than merely asking questions. It is also a type of communication towards the participants and can also be used to transfer a message about the brand and what it represents: marketing and market research in one.

The ‘lost sheep’

We learned why our members participate in surveys and how the surveys can have an impact on them. But what do we do with the ones we think we have lost, the previously active members who have become inactive? The survey teaches us that ‘inactive’ panel members are generally still interested in participating in surveys in the future. So how can we shift them from being interested to participating?
One of the main issues appears to be the survey invitation. Marketing on market research turns out to be the required solution here as well, making us consider the invitation as an important touch point with consumers. Another main factor is the invitation channel. In line with their motivation to participate lies the participants’ expectation of being able to choose the surveys they wish to participate in if they feel like it.
The growing popularity of social media would make us expect that panel members also like to be invited through this channel, but nothing is less true: panel members are not waiting at all for our invitations on social networks. This does not automatically imply that Facebook, for example, cannot play any part in spreading the invitations, as our members are open to becoming co-recruiters by sharing our invitations with their friends, family and acquaintances and to inviting people who fit in the research profile through social media. This allows us to exponentially widen the reach of our panel: even if one of our members does not fit in a given project’s profile, they possibly know someone else who does.
The research itself is also up for a certain level of improvement. One of the main reasons for not participating in a survey still is its length (Sahlqvist et al, 2011). These days, there is a competition between online research and new competitors (such as Google surveys, Facebook polls and short questionnaires on mobile devices) to conquer the consumer’s attention. The mini-survey is winning ground. Less is more!

Finally, another one of the participants’ frustrations are the frequent screen-outs. When a participant gets the message that he/she does not fit with the survey profile, it means that all the time they already invested is wasted. In an era where consumers wish to help build their favorite brand or subject, it becomes less and less acceptable not to allow someone to participate in a survey. If you invite a consumer to contribute, they expect their opinion to be relevant for the survey.
The latter proves yet again that we, the research industry, should urgently discover new ways to address the new consumer. Participants expect a more fun and shorter survey that fits with them. In exchange we would have panel members who are more engaged than before and who would like to build brands together with us.
Want to discover more on our proprietary consumer research panel? Then meet (y)our Future Talkers here.

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