Innovation in Engaging SME Respondents, Emma Mozley-Allen, Kantar TNS & Alex Wheatley, Lightspeed.

BIG Forum Review – 28th November 2017

Most of the survey research we carry out is highly prescriptive.  The client sends out a brief and we design a questionnaire to obtain the information required to meet the brief.  Often, the questionnaires end up being rigid and repetitive, simply designed to collect a long list of things that the client wants to know.

But what if we put the survey participants at the centre of the questionnaire design process, asking questions that they want to answer in a way that fits with how people want to talk?  That is the question posed by Emma Mozley-Allen of Kantar TNS and Alex Wheatley of Lightspeed in a fascinating BIG Forum session on November 28.

In 2015, Lightspeed and Kantar TNS gave a Forum presentation about their Business Personality Survey among SMEs which aimed at developing a typology of SME businesspeople based on attitudes to their businesses and their lives.  The survey was made more appealing to respondents by having a strong narrative content based around a single compelling question (“How would you invest £1 million pounds in your business?”).

Since then, this SME research has progressed further and has evolved into a longitudinal research programme based around a ‘survey magazine’, called Business Minds, that is a cross between a survey and a magazine.  Each issue of the magazine is based on a particular theme – maybe cars, movies etc. – and contains editorial content alongside survey questions.  The questions are a mix of serious business issues (e.g. the impact of Brexit on small businesses) and less serious ones (eg. recommendations for a good staff night out)

The objective of this approach is to get people who are time-poor to do repeat surveys, simply because they enjoy doing them.  To do this the survey must have the look and feel of a magazine.  The cover is important: it must look professional and change with each issue.  The magazine has a table of contents, enabling readers to flick through the issue, choosing content of interest and voluntarily selecting the questions they want to answer. Readers can go in and out of the magazine at will and take as long as they like to answer questions.  Participants also get feedback on results: for example, readers may be asked for predictions in one issue and then told the results of those predictions in the next.  Above all, the magazine should make bold use of imagery.

Response to the magazine format has been very positive.  After an initial dropout following the first wave, response to the survey magazine has remained very steady without the need for any financial incentive.  In addition, the survey has achieved very high satisfaction scores from participants.

Of course, there are trade-offs that have to be made, as was discussed in the Q&A session that followed the presentation. The survey magazine can only contain questions on perhaps 2 or 3 things that the client really wants to hear from participants – the rest of the content is simply there to maintain engagement.

When questioned about the potential commercial development of this approach, the speakers responded that it needs a long-term relationship and a major time commitment from clients.  It may only be possible to build up a picture of respondents over time, with results from one issue being fed back and analysed in order to generate content for the next issue, so it can be difficult to convince clients about this approach.  Interestingly, as Alex suggested, it may be more attractive in emerging markets such as India that are less set in their ways and more open to innovation.

It was also suggested that the approach may be most appealing to those who conduct tracking surveys, with the magazine either replacing or working in parallel with the tracking survey.  Lightspeed is investigating parallel methodologies to explore how a magazine and tracker can work together.

Another challenge is finding sufficient ‘fun’ content to make a magazine approach viable.  This is not a skill set that many researchers will necessarily have, and one questioner suggested that outside help – perhaps from journalists? – might be required

Despite these difficulties, the survey magazine approach looks like a promising and attractive way of addressing the problem of respondent engagement and the presentation was greatly appreciated by a small but very engaged audience.

Author:  Mike Joseph