According to a recent GRIT Sample Report* presented at SampleCon in January, 81% of industry buyers and sellers believe traditional panels are dying. At the same time, over half believe traditional panels are the gold standard. Traditional research panels do bring advantages that yield data quality; perhaps most important, they are not associated with loyalty programs. Rather, panelists are sequestered solely for the purpose of taking surveys which minimizes bias. Other important benefits include validation of people’s identities upon registration as well as extensive profiling that can be used not only for targeting, but also to shorten surveys by appending data. Double opt-in panels also facilitate the integration of behavioral and attitudinal data sets.
Ask any panel provider, and they will tell you it’s harder and harder to maintain traditional research panels. Finding people to join panels isn’t the issue. While it takes a big financial investment, Lightspeed GMI has no trouble recruiting new panelists. It’s not surprising that engaging and ultimately retaining panelists is the challenge, particularly the millennials who have even less time and patience than other generations. Panelists tell us they like giving their opinion and incentives are a token of appreciation; but that value proposition is becoming more difficult to uphold as panelists’ tolerance for burdensome surveys wanes.
A key benefit of traditional panels is that they give us the ability to see what’s happening—we can get a linear or historical view of our panelists’ behavior. We can clearly see the impact of the survey experience and link it to a panelist’s life cycle. Let’s face it--a bad survey is a bad survey, whether taken on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. And that has consequences.
As an industry we seem to be a lot of talk without action. “Mobilizing” a survey can feel like moving a barge. We all know the importance of engaging and mobile friendly surveys. Templates for mobile friendly surveys based on a responsive design are becoming standard. But do endless dynamic grids really engage panelists? While they look better, they are still very repetitive. Shorter surveys help too; in fact, they are critical. But does it really matter if a survey is 12 minutes, 15 minutes or 20 minutes if the person taking it loses interest quickly because it is more of the same? We need to do more.
So is there any good news? I believe the answer is yes. What we really need is innovation. And it’s not just about technology and automation. We need new, innovative ways of asking for people’s opinions in surveys. Some MR companies are all over this; however, we need more companies to join in with a sense of urgency. Any innovation guru or corporate executive will tell you that innovation is everyone’s responsibility.
What’s the risk? It’s bigger than just being a risk to traditional research panels—people will not want to give their opinions regardless of the sample source. If you like social listening as your sole source for opinions, you should not be concerned. But if getting the “why” is important to you, then innovation is your responsibility.
Let’s turn it around.
*GRIT survey conducted in partnership with Greenbook and SampleCon December/January 2015/2016 among 281 market research industry participants.