It’s a question we get a lot here at Lab42, and it’s a good one. After all, where would we market researchers be without them? Well, for one, we’d have samples sizes of zero and a serious lack of consumer insights. Whether we are conducting qualitative or quantitative research, we depend on everyday consumers to participate as respondents in our surveys. But a critical component of any good research study is identifying who the target respondents should be and then finding them. Finding respondents—or “sampling,” in market research lingo—has evolved over the years, and the methods used have changed along with it. With more than 25 years of experience in the market research industry, I’ve certainly seen a variety of methodologies for sampling, as researchers keep up with where potential respondents are spending their time.
For example, quantitative research used to rely heavily on telephone surveys, generally conducted in the evening, because that’s where you could find potential respondents willing to take your survey. People were home in the evenings and near a telephone. Phone surveys were generally considered reliable and acceptable, even if they were an expensive form of market research.
As internet usage gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, more and more people spent time online, and email emerged as a primary means of communication, often displacing the telephone, especially among younger age groups. Around this time, online panels were founded; in other words, respondents were targeted by email invitations to take a survey, because they were already using email. This coincided with a decrease in use of landline telephones, so researchers adapted their approach to reflect these changes.
It’s interesting to note that initially, the validity of online panels was questioned before becoming a widely accepted survey methodology. In the beginning, the concern was that people who were online were somehow different from those who weren’t, but soon everyone was online and those concerns vanished. Today, the online panel survey methodology is widely accepted, but even panels are susceptible to changes in consumer behavior and emerging trends. For example, there is evidence that widespread disengagement with web-based email is growing, particularly among younger age groups. If this trend continues it will become increasingly difficult to engage respondents using email invitations to take surveys. As history has shown us, it may be time for a shift in focus for researchers.
So where are consumers and potential respondents in 2013? They are on Facebook and Twitter; they are blogging and shopping online; they are playing social games such as Angry Birds and FarmVille. Lab42 is on the front lines of this trend, using a methodology that connects with consumers in their discretionary time, as they are engaged online with social media, social networking sites, and social applications. Our respondents are still everyday consumers, much like those who were reached at home via telephone 20 years ago or via email 10 years ago. Today, they are connecting with friends through Facebook, playing a social game or engaged with a blog, and willing to take a survey and give us their opinions.
If you’d like to learn more about our methodology, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us at email@example.com.