Radical Data Collection Practices for the “Smart” World

change ahead signFor some time now Kinesis has been recommending the “quick and easy” survey design modifications that market researchers should be making to better accommodate and support mobile respondents.  These include detecting for online device type to either terminate mobile respondents in instances where the survey cannot be made mobile-friendly, or to request that they change devices before proceeding to respond to the survey questions. Also, limiting use of Flash in survey design since the majority of mobile devices do not support it, and avoiding the use of long answer sets since they cannot be displayed on mobile phones without having to advance the screen.

These survey design modifications should be in place by now given that mobile device usage is prevalent among survey respondents.  Unfortunately – or fortunately (depending on how you look at it) – these modifications are no longer sufficient on their own. Strategy Analytics recently reported that global smartphones in use have now surpassed 1 billion, and will reach 2 billion by 2015. While some argue that smartphone penetration is still relatively low worldwide, it does represent approximately half of the mobile phone market in both the U.S. and Western Europe, and continues to grow.  Mobile respondents already expect shorter surveys (and today they drop out of surveys at a higher rate than desktop respondents). Combined with the emergence of the “microsurvey” from companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the expectations of all survey respondents are radically changing. It is time for the market research industry to get radical as well and alter its online data collection practices to support this substantial segment of research participants.

Often we encounter a lot of pushback on this issue. Statements such as “It’s too difficult to change our trackers, so we are just going to terminate mobile respondents from them,” or “There is just no way you can ask a respondent to take a conjoint exercise on a mobile device because of the length.”  Today’s reality is that researchers must make the necessary methodological changes, despite any difficulties mobile support entails, because otherwise the survey results are pretty meaningless anyway. The data excludes a percentage of the population that is already significant and rapidly increasing in size.

Below are some more “radical” process modifications to consider:

  • Utilize larger sampling frameworks, while displaying shorter question sets to each respondent.  This process may entail presenting questions or question blocks randomly or in rotation to a subset of respondents.
  • Leverage prepopulation as much as possible.  Any fields that can be prepopulated eliminate the requirement to display another screen to respondents, thereby shortening the survey.
  • For concept testing, two to three concepts are more than likely the maximum quantity that will yield a respectable response rate in any one survey, in combination with the larger sampling framework that has already been described.
  • Trim project objectives and conduct more projects, rather than attempting to apply multiple objectives to a single project.  The data set may need to be married across projects on the basis of behavioral or other sampling methodologies, and not tied to individual respondents.

These suggestions do not encompass all process changes that are going to be necessary, but they will go a long way to enabling truly device-agnostic survey research. Ensuring a positive respondent experience for all survey participants is the goal that every market research company must be moving toward. Skeptics argue that “Our clients will never go for it,” and this may be true in some cases, but unless researchers help clients transition to new paradigms, we as an industry have totally lost to the DIY world and are on the fast track toward irrelevance. Market researchers cannot afford to neglect the full support of mobile respondents – for they will outnumber our desktop respondents in the not too distant future.

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