Given time pressures among respondents and clients, long and involved surveys are dead or dying. Today’s respondents need concise and slick instruments that eliminate the ‘need to knows’ and cut to the heart of the matter being surveyed, says Peter Searll.
The marketing research industry has been struggling to keep pace with technology…in many instances. While traditional face-to-face and telephonic interviews still occur, more modern approaches to data collection have been proliferating. Everyone knows that mobile is the key to reaching African consumers and there are a variety of techniques and approaches around. While delivering insight is the primary function of research providers, we need to examine the broader implications of different methods and scrutinise their potential impact.
There is an old adage that outlines a trade-off between three key parts: cost, time and quality. The client could ask for any two of these, as long as the supplier could control the third. For example, if the client wanted top quality work and quickly, it would be costly.
If the requirement was cost effective and speed, the quality may be questionable. Excitingly, new tech enables lower cost, faster timing and the potential of better quality data. Why only the potential? Without proper research controls (like the supreme importance of sampling), the resultant data has no way of being properly representative of the target market. This makes the interpretation dubious at best and any strategic decisions could be based on misleading data.
So our first major caveat is to not entirely reject solid research fundamentals like sampling and sample control. This is one of the key factors that distinguishes researchers from data providers. Without sample control, we don’t know what the data truly signifies.
This leads us to another new-ish research methodology that is the current flavour of the month – research communities (aka panels). While panels per se are not new, the proliferation of internet enabled mobile devices makes it much easier and cheaper to reach a broader spectrum of people (but not all, especially lower income groups). Many players have entered this space with the hope of being a supplier to many clients, and it is not surprising to see a few companies dropping out of this space already.
The main reasons are that panels need to be fed to survive, and members need surveys and incentives to sustain their involvement. So without continuous client purchase and usage of these panels, they swiftly become a black hole for cash. It’s easy to establish a panel, but to ensure that it embodies your target market and is well managed for sustainability is an entirely different affair. Misuse can lead members to become disillusioned with panel/ community feedback and make them a lot less likely to participate in future.
A deep concern
Another practice that concerns me deeply, and should in fact be a worry for all researchers, is the ‘burn and churn’ approach. Here the researchers send out vast amounts of messages and e-mails (think spam on steroids) and hope to catch enough data in return to generate some output.
Apart from the serious problems mentioned earlier like lack of sample control, this has the capacity to gravely damage research in Africa. If we spam and squeeze respondents, they are less liable to become willing participants in research and the waters get muddied for all research suppliers and clients.
Just because you have bought your ticket on the boat, this doesn’t give you the right to drill a hole under your seat – we will all go down together! Responsible, respectful and reciprocal relationships with respondents are required for research to be healthy in the long run.
In conclusion, we should embrace the potential and the advantages that new technology brings, and at the same time be cautious not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We must avoid the traps that threaten the sustainability of the industry when we abandon traditional quality controls.
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