Obtaining Deep Consumer Insights from Surveys Takes Some Creativity

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Last week I attended a webinar about keeping online qualitative respondents engaged by using projective techniques.  There is quite a bit of art that goes along with the science of qualitative research, so it seems creativity and qualitative insights naturally fit together.  Quantitative methodologies, on the other hand, require rigor to ensure validity and reliability.  Proper survey design is imperative when it comes to delivering the correct information, so very early in my career as a researcher, I became familiar with the term GIGO (“Garbage In, Garbage Out”).  This means that if the survey is poorly designed, the data output is no good.

As market research professionals, it is our job to know the right way to ask questions in order to get the best data possible, and there are plenty of training courses and seminars teaching researchers the proper structure for creating survey tools.  However, today’s consumers are busier and more distracted than ever, and respondent engagement is becoming more of a challenge even for the most seasoned researchers.  Even if the survey is designed from a technically correct standpoint, data may still not be optimal if respondents are bored. To get respondents to open up and provide the most valuable information, you want them to be happy and interested. Aside from keeping surveys and question wording simple, another way to improve respondent engagement is by utilizing creative techniques.  It’s very possible to get creative with survey design without ruining the integrity of your questionnaire.  The key is being able to place yourself in your respondent’s shoes and ask whether or not you would enjoy taking the survey yourself.

Of course, when getting creative with your survey, it’s always important to keep your audience in mind.  What works for one target group might not work a tall for another.  Here are some of my favorite creative survey techniques:

  • Make sure there a variety of question types. Varying between single punch, multi-select, girds, open ends, and ranking exercises will keep respondents from falling into a rhythm of simply repeating the same response process.
  • Try utilizing interactive techniques where possible. Instead of a simple rating scale, consider using a sliding scale instead.  If you’re asking a ranking a question, try a drag and drop exercise instead of a typed response format.  Show a scale or list horizontally instead of vertically where it makes sense.
  • Question wording should be conversational whenever possible. This is when knowing the audience becomes especially important, because respondents are more likely to open up if they feel they are interacting with someone like themselves.
  • Include interesting and encouraging transitions between different sections of the survey. Adding a phrase such as, “You’re doing great!  Just a few more questions to go” helps to personalize the experience for the respondent.
  • Projective techniques don’t have to be limited to qualitative research. Open ends add a qualitative element into quantitative surveys, so consider applying qualitative principles to open end questions to get respondents to answer questions in a more thoughtful and engaged manner.

Market research is not the same industry it was 20 years ago, because the consumer world is very different than it was 20 years ago.  The approach to quantitative research must evolve to stay connected with the consumer mindset.  There are plenty of ways to obtain the correct data without sacrificing reliability and validity.  It just takes a little creativity.


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