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Tracker Transformation

Why is it that the majority of survey research can still be defined as ‘studies which require participants to remain immobile in front of a computer and focused for long periods of time while they undergo an exercise that hasn’t fundamentally changed in years?"


By JD Deitch

Our world of constant, on-the-go connectedness has changed the way consumers participate in survey research. Yes, yes, we all know this.

Why is it, then, that the majority of survey research can still be defined as ‘studies which require participants to remain immobile in front of a computer and focused for long periods of time while they undergo an exercise that hasn’t fundamentally changed its form since the turn of the century when questionnaires were written on multiple sheets of paper?’

What a poor showing the research industry has given for itself! We are, after all, an industry that prides itself on knowing how people feel and act! We’ve let down our clients, who are being driven by these very respondents to existential change, and we’ve let down the respondents themselves, who are indisputably voting with their feet to do something else with their valuable time.

But wait, you say. As an industry we have been signaling this for several years. Everyone knows we need to change. We’ve been telling people to move to mobile, to shorten their studies. We’ve shown them research on research. If only the {sample suppliers, panel suppliers, end clients, client service people} would get their acts together, we’d be fine.

Setting aside the unhelpful finger-pointing (and the visible hypocrisy of many of these companies who continue to allow abusive and biased studies), there is a good deal of truth to this statement. Suppliers have been doing their darnedest to lead the horse to water, but they can’t make it drink. There is a veritable mountain of data, analysis, and guidance calling for change and specifically prescribing the shape of the new world.

Yet the core of the industry’s business—that which provides evergreen revenue streams for suppliers and sensitive KPI for clients— is still foundering. The changes we are seeing in markets, media consumption, behavior, and survey participation are now creating big headaches for tracking brand awareness, market share, competitive positioning, advertising effectiveness, satisfaction, and many other indicators that companies use to evaluate performance over time.

What suppliers have done well is to tell clients what their new research projects should look like. What they haven’t done, though, is help their clients successfully manage the transition. This isn’t easy work, nor is it a common skillset. There are very few people in the industry who have personally managed a change of this magnitude.  Trackers and normed studies will typically have at least six figures’ worth of corporate decisions riding on them. Bigger ones can have an impact two or three orders of magnitude greater. Then there are the personal implications in terms of performance assessments, and thus reputation and remuneration. There’s a lot at stake.

Our e-book on Tracker Transformation

Changing trackers and normed studies is challenging, but it is very do-able with the right preparation and plan. To help corporate researchers and their consultants manage this change so their brands continue to measure their markets and performance accurately, we’ve written an e-book entitled Tracker Transformation: Managing Change in Trackers and Normed Studies.

The book has five chapters:

Chapter 1 digs into the seismic changes in consumer behavior that, in addition to disrupting global markets, have created such turbulence for tracking studies. This chapter also confronts the major organizational obstacles that are preventing research buyers and suppliers from embracing change. We make the case for change by asking four main questions:

  • Are we measuring the right thing?
  • Are we talking to the right people?
  • Are our methods and techniques fit for purpose?
  • Are we managing these studies efficiently?

Chapter 2 serves up a proven project management framework and steps to follow to ensure success. Change is possible, but it requires a plan that is pursued with diligence and care. We explain a five-step plan:

  • Phase 1: Investigation
  • Phase 2: Design
  • Phase 3: Testing
  • Phase 4: Analysis
  • Phase 5: Implementation

Chapter 3 speaks to the methodology issues one must confront when contemplating change for studies where being consistently wrong is sometimes preferable to being right. This chapter explores the questionnaire and sampling issues arising from the mounting evidence indicating that, despite consistent fielding practices, trackers are going off the rails due to changing respondent behavior. In this chapter we provide researchers with four different lenses through which they can contemplate questionnaire or sample changes.

  • Does the tracker need to be shorter?
  • Does it need to better reflect the market?
  • Do respondents understand and complete the survey as expected?
  • What sample size do we need to report at, and how does this impact frequency of tracker waves?

Chapter 4 offers advice for research buyers on preparing their organizations for change. As unsexy as tracking and normed studies are, the prospect of changing them raises anxiety levels and sets off alarms all over the organizational chart. Without empathy and constant attention, all will be lost. Managing the optics is a necessary—and very difficult—condition for success.

Chapter 5 addresses a variety of topics that don’t quite fit elsewhere. These are the big “but what about …?” questions that clients continue to ask, to which suppliers have remained largely silent. The book concludes with a wrap-up and some thoughts on the future of tracking studies and how they fit in the constellation of insights.

One final note: throughout this book we use the terms “tracker” or “tracking study” as a shortcut for all manner of studies which, through unchanged design and consistent execution, ensure comparability against previous periods or norms over time. Put differently, if the prospect of a trend break or shifting norms makes you nervous, this e-book is for you. Thanks for reading.

Download the e-book at AYTM:


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One response to “Tracker Transformation

  1. I’m really interested in reading the e-book, however the link does not seem to be working. Is there any other way I can access this?

    Thanks 🙂

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