Using Traditional Market Research Techniques? You Should

traditional market research techniques

“Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.” – Joseph Parry

In the research industry, we often talk about new and evolving research techniques. Sometimes, for a casual reader of industry blogs and magazines, and attendees at research industry conferences, it would appear that new techniques are just about the only way that research is getting done any more. It’s not. Though they aren’t as sexy, traditional methods are still alive and well, and they’re evolving just like the new ones.

Most often, when traditional market research techniques are mentioned, industry proponents are discussing three data collection methods that have sort of “fallen out of favor” but are as relevant as ever: namely telephone surveys, in-person surveys, and in-person focus groups. Here are some tips on when it’d make sense to use one of these over the “new” online research methods.

Telephone Surveys

A lot of telephone survey research is still done each year. In fact, it remains one of the largest collection methods in the industry, with millions upon millions of surveys fielded each year. Why is it that so many telephone surveys are still completed?

Sometimes you just don’t have an e-mail list. There are many companies and industries that have telephone numbers for their customers but just don’t have e-mail addresses. A lot of health care research is still done over the phone for this exact reason.

Sampling frames are often more available and can be randomly and demographically selected in ways that e-mail methods cannot. Panels and e-mail lists are more statistically representative than they’ve ever been but they still can’t be randomly generated like a telephone list can be.

Response rates are often higher using telephone-interviewing techniques. The typical online research panel or e-mail list finds a response rate in the single digits. Occasionally you’ll find a company who has a very hot product with a lot of passionate consumers that will see response rates that are much higher, but rarely will you see online surveys reach the response rates you can generate using a telephone survey.

Some of the best survey research that I see is currently being completed using multiple modes; companies will approach their consumers with an online survey and follow up with a phone call to those that don’t participate online.  This process may be worth considering for your next survey. Additionally, the cost of online surveying has increased in the past 5 years as more companies fully embrace the method. The gap in cost between e-mail and telephone surveys has decreased.

In-Person Surveys

A lot of research used to be done in person, especially in malls around the country (and the world). The definition of what a mall is has changed in the last ten years.  Fewer (if any) enclosed malls are being built. The network of mall research facilities has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years as well.  The in-person research networks that are left have done some very innovative things so that the methods and techniques they use are still as viable as ever, and they represent a significant footprint of U.S. cities.

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for standing outside a retail outlet or at an event and interviewing people as they exit. In-person surveys oftentimes can maximize your incidence rates (you just saw them take some action that you’re interested in) and, as a result, the costs of interviewing can be decreased.  These innovative companies have gone online with their methods and are entering in-person surveys directly into online portals that allow quick access to data files, results, and charts and graphs that were not accessible 15 years ago, when everything was done using a hard copy survey on a clipboard.

In-Person Focus Groups

Focus groups are as strong as ever. There are times when it makes sense to use online focus group capabilities (to avoid logistical concerns) but there are also many circumstances where an in-person group is really your best route.

If you plan to demo a product or service, or have a participant complete a detailed task, then there’s no substitute for an in-person focus group. There just isn’t an easy way to show anything, other than digital content, using an online group.

If you have a local company with local products, or want to address local concerns or issues, than in-person groups may be helpful and the advantages of an online group are really minimized, simply because the logistical concerns aren’t too challenging, and it’s nice to see people face to face.

If you want the participants to really interact and engage with each other on fairly complicated topics, than an in-person group might be best. Online groups are great, but the level of interaction isn’t as easy. It takes a really great moderator to get online participants to engage at the same level online as the natural interaction that occurs in an in-person group.

The next time you are designing your research program, I’d encourage you to stay as technically agnostic as possible. The traditional techniques bring a significant value when they are the right fit for the research question being asked. Don’t overlook them simply because the new market research techniques happen to be sexier.

Vaughn Mordecai is president of Discovery Research Group, a market research company established in 1987 that has a reputation for successfully assisting companies in finding solutions to their market research questions and organizational business concerns. He has been involved in all aspects of market research for the entirety of his career, ranging from all areas of methodology, operations and sales, to executive leadership.


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