Editor’s Intro: We use many words to describe those who answer our sometimes-tedious surveys: “respondents”, “participants”, “subjects”, etc. As some have noted, how about using “people”? Then maybe we’d empathize better with them for what we are asking them to do, as Rudley Raphael very eloquently argues in his article. It’s the right thing to do – give them a better experience, and we’ll get better information back.
The passing of Aretha Franklin last month got me back to her glorious music. Many of her songs informed my youth as they did culture, for the better.
Of course, the liberation-anthem “Respect” received the repeat button treatment on my streaming device, even at work. It’s such a transcendent song about how we often marginalize and take for granted those who bring positive results to our lives.
Happens all the time. Happens in market research. In my view, there is a lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for online participants from many market researchers. Annie Petit, a well-respected research practitioner and a strong advocate for research participants said to me recently, “It’s very easy for researchers to have unrealistic expectations of participants.”
To Annie, between a lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T and a lack of understanding of online audiences, a somewhat sneering attitude continues to grow. This had led to a wide range of criticisms — from online participant dependability to their capabilities for valuable information to any need for incentives.
With just a bit more appreciation and knowledge of online research participants, we can leverage their insights for more accurate data in studies. And be more professional.
The expertise of online research panelists
In short, an online panel is a community of research participants who share specific characteristics in common; e.g., general consumers, IT decision-makers, beer-drinkers, etc. They provide their opinion to research questions that fall into their area of knowledge.
Without a doubt, online research panelists are experts in their field or interest — and experts should be consulted for their expertise, right? They are thought-leaders, in essence, audiences that might understand your products or industry better than anyone. What’s critical is creating a well-chosen, well-developed, and highly-engaged community of these experts for online research purposes.
The process of developing an online research panel involves collecting and storing critical profile data from each member of the panel. This includes demographic, psychographic, lifestyle, employment, and household decision-making responsibilities — information that is critical when targeting and qualifying panelists to participate in a survey.
As an illustration, if Whole Foods is looking for a reaction from mothers, ages 20-25, on a new product for toddlers, they’re going into the proverbial “belly of the beast.” These moms are the real experts for specific market research, their feedback above that of pediatricians, food executives, or internet influencers.
The reality is this: whether it’s young moms in a study or Bill Gates at a tech conference, thought leaders typically provide quality data because they have skin in the game.
But what about those dang incentives?
Critics have disparaged the effectiveness of rewards for online panels. They should offer some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Recent studies have shown that incentives do improve survey data quality. What’s more, Market Research Association presented these benefits of survey incentives:
- Overall enhancement of response rates
- Improved response rates from hard-to-reach groups
- Increase efficiency, especially when it comes to non-response follow-ups
It’s important to know that incentives are not bribes. They are based on the social exchange model, which states that positive social behavior is the result of an exchange process, and this maximize benefits and minimize costs. Also, time is the most valuable commodity in many demographics, so incentives help reduce bias or hurried responses.
As Annie said concerning this issue:
“Market researchers need to switch places with research participants and remember what it’s like to be a consumer with a career, family, and personal responsibilities. The token gifts we offer do not compensate for the 30 minutes they can’t spend with their kids or watching Netflix, and those gifts certainly don’t match the hourly rates people earn at their jobs. We need to respect the fact that people freely offer us the best possible information they can within the limits of the quality of the questionnaire we give them and the attention they are able to make available to us. We need to be grateful for the time and expertise they shared with us. It is a gift.”
Many research practitioners agree with this comment, including Jump Associates VP of Strategy and Insights Kathleen Boyse, who contends that empathy is essential for research departments to gain quality data.
Show, don’t tell
Words are just words, and the proof should be in the pudding… the data pudding.
Take Home Depot, for example. The company generated more than $100 billion in revenue in 2017. One-third of this revenue comes from equipment rentals and other purchases made by building professionals. To remain competitive and continue growing revenue, the company continually relies on incentivizing online participants.
A recent study revealed that most of Home Depot’s audience are building professionals and small contractors — with no more than five employees and less than $500,000 in annual revenue. This demographic finds product availability and price as its top concerns. By continually tapping into its online building professionals and general contractor panels — specifically the sample that makes daily decisions on tools and building materials — Home Depot is continuously able to gain fresh insights. Keen research has been a part of the company’s incredible growth in recent years.
What’s more, brands like Home Depot gain other benefits of online participants:
- Ability to reach demographics across a broader geography
- Faster data recovery
- Features that permit customization of the respondent experience
Again, these experts or thought-leaders that need to be well-developed and engaged (and this may include some reward).
For this type of effective online sample, it takes the right online sample provider— one with its own expertise, empathy, and plenty of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T. When the right provider meets the right experts, the results are better data that leads to improved services and superior products, whether it’s for toddlers or general contractors, or anyone in between.