Two of the biggest trends in the market research industry are working against each other.

First is the ever-increasing demand for high-quality consumer insights that can be turned around quickly. Second is a concerning lack of respect for the people who offer their time and attention to actually take surveys to provide the insight.

These trends are not new—they go back at least a decade—but are alarming to anyone who cares about where our industry is headed.


But how can we change things?

Let’s start with how most surveys are created. Someone (or a team) at a brand marketer identifies everything they want to know about a particular product, service, competitor, etc. Many times, the working assumption is that lots of questions in a voluminous questionnaire will yield lots of valuable information. When the survey results are delivered, it’s the well-designed pie charts or other infographics that get all the attention.

Mostly forgotten throughout the whole process are the other human beings involved. The survey participants. Far too often, they’ve been taken for granted.

Who wants to slog through a 20-minute survey only to be disqualified after spending 10 minutes on the process? Or complete a 30-minute survey and maybe get $1 in return?

It is easy for a potential client to want to ask high-income respondents 50 questions and offer them next to nothing for participating. The reality is that some company will accept the assignment, putting the quality of data at risk.

This impacts all of us. While it’s not fun turning down business, you can if you stay focused on the bigger picture. That is, by mistreating potential survey participants we are shrinking the pool of those willing to work with us to help make their lives better—not to mention helping to pay our salaries.

It’s this member-first philosophy that is the key to being able delivering high-quality, representative data from our families, friends and neighbors. It’s not as though we don’t have the technology to make this happen. Our systems are designed specifically with the goal of mitigating bias, reducing the opportunities for human error and improving the overall quality of online research.

It’s time to turn things around by considering the priorities of survey participants first. These people need to be treated fairly and with respect, thanked and compensated appropriately for their time. After all, the burden is on them. Trying to reach 1,000 moms with kids under the age of three who are in the near-term car market is a huge task. Trouble is, they’re routinely perceived as merely a sample size and not individual humans.

We certainly can do a whole lot better as an industry. While not every person in the world will agree to take surveys, it’s time to place more value on those who will. Everyone will benefit because being able to attract high-quality survey participants when you need them lowers the cost of having to find them again and again.

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