Low Response Rates? The Answer Lurks in The Shadows

Every market research study has two objectives.

That’s right. Two.

There’s the stated research objective. Perhaps something likes, “Determine current levels of brand awareness in 5 key market areas,” or “Test 6 potential new marketing messages for alignment with emerging customer needs.”

Then there’s the other, assumed objective: getting engaged respondent participation. This is an implicit objective that too often gets minimized. Yes, we all know we have to do everything we can to maximize response rates, but the choice of methodology is too often driven by the research objective—not the respondents’ needs.

As researchers, we talk a lot about matching the methodology to the first objective. But given low response rates and the preciousness of qualified respondents, we need to focus a lot more on matching the methodology to the audience.

An Example

A researcher I know from a software company was upset after working with a market research agency on a huge study of IT executives. They collected over a thousand responses to an online survey, but data collection was brutally slow due to low response rates. When she finally got the data, she had a lot of important items to which there were a surprising percent of neutral or even “don’t know” responses. Putting aside that this issue should have been caught during the pre-test phase of the project, this was hugely disappointing.

I looked over the screening criteria myself, just to see what the scoop was, and it was obvious that the audience they were targeting was too senior for the 25-minute, very technical, online survey. The topic was about a fairly new technology, so chances are they were interested in the topic—but the methodology choice and level of detail was wrong.

The Shadow Objective

It’s always there. The need to match the project’s methodology with the target respondents’ preferences and behaviors. Maybe you want quantitative data, but the target group gets too many similar requests as is. Maybe you want to do focus groups, but your target population works in a field where scheduling is too uncertain for them to commit to 2 hours of time. Maybe you want to do a phone survey, but your audience has a low penetration of landlines.

Bottom line

Choosing the best methodology for any research study requires considering the project’s objective and the shadow objective. The good news? These days there are so many methods and tools that can make the research experience engaging, there is no need to be constricted by the choice of survey versus focus group.

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  1. Ed Erickson
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  2. Kathryn Korostoff Kathryn
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