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Market research is changing – it's time to shift your outlook

by Lorna Keane

23 February 2021 11:01am

We’ve learned a lot from 2020 – like to be more grateful for things like family, friends, and our health, to care more for the environment (though our latest research says cynicism is making a comeback), to better support local businesses...

So what have we learned in the world of market research?

Through lockdowns and strict measures, we saw market research come to a complete standstill for those still relying solely on traditional methods.

For marketers desperately seeking consumer insights to shape their strategies, this is a big problem.

The big problem with relying only on traditional research

Mail, phone and in-person surveying has been around forever – and yes, these methods still have their uses.

Focus groups can be conducted online, but no amount of digital proficiency can match the natural and spontaneous conversations that flow in person.

There are also countries where internet penetration is still at levels that mean face-to-face or CATI approaches are key to capture the views of the total population, instead of digital only.

That said, a huge amount of market research can and should be conducted online, because dated methods pose a number of challenges:

1. They’re difficult to maintain

As we witnessed this year, in a world grappling with lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing, in-person interviewing simply can’t take place at the same scale it used to. Those who have relied on this until now (or combinations of in-person and mailed surveys) are finding completion rates have plummeted.

2. There’s room for error and unconscious bias

What brands do you favor? Who do you follow on social media? How long do you spend gaming? It’s not hard to see how you might respond differently to questions like these with a person standing in front of you, versus an online survey.

Whether face-to-face or over the phone, answers given to a person will inevitably contain some degree of conscious or unconscious framing. The inability to survey people in the exact same way, at the exact same time, with exact same questions also means there’s room for error:

You can’t be sure other factors haven’t shaped their responses.

3. They’re random and time-consuming

In mailed surveys, respondents are forced to read every single page to understand whether or not something is relevant to them. This means there’s no intuitive way of “skipping to the good bits”, so to speak. With unengaging formats and experiences like these, fatigue and boredom set in, resulting in poorer quality responses.

Despite these challenges, last year’s ESOMAR report revealed 27% of market research spend was still being captured by face-to-face, phone and mailed surveys. That’s not far off the figure for online surveys which sits at 35%.

With many vendors having to make the quick transition to online research right now, they’ve uncovered a lot of their questions simply aren’t compatible with online formats. That has caused a massive headache, as it means even more disruption to the data and trends; they’ve had to manipulate and ascribe the data like never before.

So why, if online proves so much more effective as the foundation of your research? In short, this comes down to a lack of innovation and modernization on the part of many organizations – they’re not talking to consumers in the ways they want to be talked to.

Better research is possible, and it needs more focus

Since 2009, we’ve been trying to bridge that gap by bringing much more reliable and consumer-centric surveys to market.

Our research is conducted 100% online – because it’s by far the quickest way to take the pulse of consumers at scale.

But that’s not the only reason:

  • It leaves no room for error. It gives you certainty you’re surveying the right people in the same way, at the same time, with the same questions.
  • It works around consumers. They can complete research when, where and how they choose: on their laptops on the couch, on their tablets in bed, on their mobiles during their commute… More in tune with the way we live and work today, it fits their schedules, rather than interrupting them.
  • It’s intuitive, engaging and relevant. In online surveys, the questions update, filter and route so that people only answer questions that are applicable to them. Their order can also be automatically rotated and randomized, removing the biases and skews you often see when questions appear in the same place (as they inevitably do in printed surveys).
  • It’s reliable, even in times of crisis. Online surveying has been able to operate at full-scale throughout the pandemic. With total freedom over when and how respondents complete them, it has found its place within their new normal lives.

Getting true facts means constant innovation

The fact we could continue upscaling our research has meant being able to stay as close to consumers around the world as possible;

We’ve been tracking exactly how they’ve been feeling, changing and adapting to their new realities – and getting those answers in a matter of days.

In these extraordinary times, it’s more crucial than ever to be able to do that, because behaviors, opinions and perceptions are changing at a much faster rate. Our dedicated coronavirus research has proven that.

With more than 10 years’ experience in evolving and refining techniques in market research, we’re proud that we’ve been able to innovate relentlessly to bring much-needed change here.

  • We’ve banished grids from our syndicated surveys (which can be tiring and boring for respondents).
  • We’ve never used ascription, instead developing taxonomies that allow all respondents to answer all questions. There’s no modeling or guessing in our data – it’s direct from consumers.
  • We’ve developed a harmonized approach to surveying that allows us to capture exactly the same data in all 45+ markets where we publish our syndicated data.
  • We’ve invested heavily in mobile surveying – developing our own proprietary survey platform which is device agnostic, and optimized first and foremost for mobile.

This last point is key, as to really capture the views of today’s consumers, you simply must take a mobile-first.

Globally, 96% of consumers now own a smartphone. The average Gen Z spends 4.5 hours a day on this device; that’s nearly 2,000 hours a year, or just over 80 days.

In our newly launched GWI USA data set, 43% of respondents completed every single question on mobile. For a country where so many still rely on mailed surveys or complex, grid-style online surveys, that figure shows how hungry consumers are for a newer, more innovative approach.

In the coming months, we’ll be releasing more data sets to market, including GWI Kids, GWI Sports, and GWI Gaming. All of these are being built with that focus in mind – because when it comes to keeping up with your consumers, innovation is everything.


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