3 reasons why the market research industry desperately needs shorter surveys

By Brian Cooper | 03 April 2020
3 reasons why the market research industry desperately needs shorter surveys

Over the past few years, we’ve started to see a real disconnect between what clients want from their surveys and what respondents need to remain engaged and to complete them.

Clients want to script longer surveys because it’s more cost-effective for them to do so - however as peoples’ lives are getting busier and more hectic, they simply don’t have the time nor the inclination to complete a clunky 25-minute survey.

As a result, we’re finding that respondent rates are dropping - and whereas once a 30-minute survey would be commonplace, now as an industry we are struggling to maintain the attention of panel respondents for a 15-20 minute survey. But why?

1. Peoples’ lives are getting progressively busier

One of the main factors that has been driving the need for shorter surveys is a simple one - people simply don’t have the free time to complete longer surveys anymore.

It’s no secret that people's lives have been getting busier and busier over the years. As technology has progressed, so has the workplace and we now find ourselves in a society that is expected to be always switched on.

Often, both parents within a household are working full-time and people in general work much longer hours than they used to. This means that in order to keep respondents engaged, surveys need to be short, concise and not boring, badly designed or repetitive.

When you’re already testing the limits of someone’s attention span with a long survey, something as simple as a bad design can be enough for them to just abandon it completely.

Since 2000 the average human attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds - shockingly, that’s at least 3 seconds less than Omnisis MD Brian’s big, silly Labrador Hugo (see below) - and the constant bombardment of content that we are exposed to on a daily basis means that this figure is likely to only get shorter as time goes on.

The challenge we face as market researchers is making our surveys beautiful to look at, responsive and user-intuitive to complete - something that we pride ourselves on here at Omnisis.

2. We’re losing data quality - but the industry refuses to learn

Every few years we see numerous columns and articles written that complain we’re losing data quality and that response rates are falling - yet as an industry, the fundamental problem is that we refuse to learn.

The reason that data quality is decreasing and response rates are falling is because we continue to insist that respondents fill out 15-20+ minute interviews when these could easily be condensed to be much shorter and more engaging surveys.

This is down to a combination of things. For one, agencies struggle to get end clients to listen to their advice regarding the benefits of running shorter surveys.

They may also be scared to tell clients they can’t do a longer survey incase they go to another agency who will allow them to do one without asking any questions.

At the end of the day, the issue we face as an industry is that longer surveys will always be more popular with clients because they save money - but ultimately, they run the risk of bad data as a result.

And sometimes, market research is almost a box-ticking exercise as part of an overall marketing plan therefore as long as the client gets what they want, they’re not that worried about the overall quality of the data.

3. Clients are risking bad data by making surveys longer than they need to be

From a clients’ perspective, it makes more financial sense to script a longer survey than a shorter one.

Online samples are very cheap and there isn’t much of a price difference between a 5 minute survey and a 20 minute one. For example, a 5 minute survey might cost £1.50 but a 20 minute survey will only cost £2.50.

Therefore the client will often add more questions into their survey to make it longer and cheaper to run - despite the fact that they’re risking bad quality data and respondent rates falling as a result.

Similarly, a survey that may have started out life as a short survey will often go through different departments who want to add their questions to save costs which can quickly take the survey from 5-10 minutes to 20 minutes plus.

Research companies and online panels need to start championing shorter surveys

We feel strongly that it’s our role as researchers, online panels and agencies to advise clients against this approach - and that getting a more cost-effective survey at the risk of bad data is not best practice when it comes to gathering quality data and survey results.

As market researchers, we need to be advocates for quality data - even when it means we might lose out on potential income as a result - else we run the risk of undermining the industry and all we should stand for.

Peoples’ lives are only going to get busier - and as we compete further for peoples’ time and attention, the industry must react else we run the risk of alienating respondents further and damaging data as a result.

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