Sanders pointed out what everyone in polling has known since polling was invented: “money and gifts aren’t always the most sought-after incentives.” She quotes WPP’s Lightspeed CEO, Anne Hedde, who is experimenting with new incentives like ringtones and iTunes downloads, as well as cellphone data-collection techniques: “The best respondents you’ll find are people who like giving their opinion. To them, the payoff is knowing that they’ve made an impact on new products or advertising. As silly as that may sound, that’s a big hook for some people.”
While there’s nothing inherently new in this AdAge story, one can deduce a few key takeaways:
First, market researchers, particularly pollsters, are suffering the same problems of elusive consumers and attention erosion that their clients are suffering when trying to market to them. This is ironic because market research traditionally is supposed to inform and guide the marketer, but it often risks becoming another scenario of the blind leading the blind. Attention scarcity applies to market research, but few address that fact head on. Instead, the market-research industry tends to treat symptoms and reduce speed of panel erosion.
Second, if attention is the scarcity, then market researchers will need to evolve beyond knick-knack incentives. If they want access to finely segmented stakeholders over the long term – let alone solicit valuable insights – they’re going to need to get a lot more sophisticated in demonstrating value and reciprocity. Market researchers may need to rethink themselves as trusted arbiters or agents, who get to know the people they’re studying very well and act on their behalf as life agents. They need to carefully manage the give and take between soliciting insights and returning value. Ringtones, iTunes downloads and entrances to sweepstakes are great incentives to borrow a few seconds of shallow attention from cash-starved teenagers and few others, but value for a huge variety of population segments will increasingly need to come in other forms, such as goods of far greater monetary value, services of convenience, reassurance, esteem, or even the promise not to be solicited to.
Third, if the best respondents are people who like giving their opinion, because payoff is knowing they’ve made an impact on new products or advertising, then these respondents need to discover blogging and social media, because big marketers are beginning to listen better to these channels – channels which break down otherwise artificial walls between them and their customers. At the same time, market researchers should rediscover the customer-service department and begin reinvesting in relationships among the very people begging to impact not only new products and advertising, but the existing products and services that fail to work as they were promised.
If you haven’t yet, please check out my recent “Ten Trends Transforming Market Research,” to see how panel fatigue fits into the bigger picture of the shifting market-measurement landscape.