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Surveys a Century From Now

In a post entitled “No more surveys in 16 years?” Ray Poynter writes:

Back in March 2010, I caused quite a stir with a prediction, at the UK’s MRS Conference, when I said that in 20 years we would not be conducting market research surveys. I followed my conference contribution with a more nuanced description of my prediction on my blog…

The first thing I did was clarify what I meant by market research surveys:

  • I was talking about questionnaires that lasted ten minutes or more.
  • I excluded large parts of social research; some parts of which I think will continue to use questionnaires.

I’m personally committed to proving Ray’s prediction wrong, as this screenshot of my calendar for March 4, 2030, demonstrates:

March 4 2013 appointment

Setting Ray’s sensationalism aside, his post goes on to confound usage of a research technique with revenue associated from that technique: he forecasts that survey revenue will decline, and therefore surveys will decline.

I would counter that lower and lower prices will drive greater and greater usage: you can survey 100 consumers for $500 or less from a range of vendors today, something that was unheard of a decade ago. And there are plenty of free survey systems, or free-for-limited-use systems, that lower the barriers to survey research even further, if you have a group to survey (and everyone on Facebook now has a group to survey and a way to reach them).

Everywhere I look I see people doing surveys who would never have done them in the past.

I’m sure there will be vibrant and healthy usage of survey research in 2030, in 2040, and a century from now in 2114. Research clients love them, and there are enough respondents who will take them, whether they love them or simply endure them or just want to be paid for them, to guarantee the method will survive.

My clients love survey research and are doing more of it than ever (much of it DIY without my help!). They’re comfortable with longer surveys, and uncomfortable still with microsurveys. (I’m trying to win them over to this technique.)

There will always be research topics best addressed by asking questions, and if the topic is engaging or important enough to the respondent, they will happily take the survey for 11 minutes or an hour and 11 minutes:

  • I have been thanked by IT managers, for instance, for conducting hour-long telephone and face-to-face surveys with them about emerging technologies, because the topic was important to them. Of course, they appreciated the incentives as well (in one case, a hand-delivered bottle of scotch).
  • I just fielded, over my own protests, a 100-question survey, with no incentive offered. The customers who took it were happy to – 1,000 of them care that much about the brand doing the research that they each spent a median time of 33 minutes taking this survey.

In a post this week, Annie Pettit reminds us that people take surveys for many reasons:

  1. 60% Incentives
  2. 53% Sharing opinions
  3. 36% Learning about products and services
  4. 27% They help pass the time
  5. 26% Tie between 1) Shaping new products and services, and 2) They’re fun

Members of my own panel also mention appreciating the mental challenge and the introspection required.

While other techniques may become more popular than surveys a century from now, and while online surveys in 2114 may be no more glamorous a technology than electricity is today, surveys will continue to grow, thrive, and even badger people for 11+ minutes a time for many years to come.

 

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