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Market Research: Third Wave of Survey Tools

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October 01, 2011
Market Research
Elaine Hendricks - ehendricks@theprismpartnership.com
Mark G.Haley, CHTP- mhaley@theprismpartnership.com

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The third wave of survey tools and methods is arriving. After more than 20 years in the hospitality biz, I have seen a lot of innovations. The advances in survey tools today are truly game-changers. 

There are many proven research tools in the market research arsenal:  focus groups, mall intercepts, telephone interviews, ethnography (behavioral observation) and bulletin board groups. But today we’re focusing on the most used of all research tools, the survey.

You may be asking yourself, if the third wave is coming, what were the first two waves?

The first wave of survey research was paper surveys that arrived in the mail. Often they had a $1 tucked inside so you might feel guilty enough to complete and return the survey. They also included a return envelope with postage paid.  Every effort was made to make it easy for people to respond.  But, response rates were low:  3 percent to 5 percent. You had to mail out about 34,000 to get 1,000 responses. When they were filled out and mailed back, those responses had to undergo data entry and tabulation, either manually or by optical character recognition (OCR) technology.  Bottom line: Survey research was slow (typically an eight-week cycle or longer), expensive and inaccessible.

Then society moved into the Internet era, and survey life got dramatically faster and less expensive. With the Internet, canny researchers developed the second wave of survey tools, and they were great. The surveys were fun to take – just a few clicks, a bit of typing and hit send. Respondents loved it. It was a novelty, and response rates went up to between 10 percent and 12 percent. 

Online surveys were cheaper because we didn’t have to spend money on postage or printing. They were faster because printing, shipping and mailing delays became irrelevant. Online surveys have cut the timetable down to three weeks or less. The tools automate the tabulation of the findings, eliminating errors and saving analytical time and effort.

Numerous second wave survey tools are on the market now and continue to evolve, albeit slowly. The three most popular online survey tools are SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo and Zoomerang. Each has continued to improve its features and functionality. 

However, current online surveys have the same basic look and feel to the respondent as when introduced 12 or more years ago.  Click, click, click.  Radio buttons, check boxes, click, click.  Yawn. 

Because they are so easy, just about everyone does surveys. Nearly every receipt you get when dining or shopping has a website to visit to complete a survey and enter for a chance to win $500. And many websites have pop-ups boxes asking us to take a survey. There are also survey invitations we receive via email. 

Consumers have been inundated with survey requests. And all the surveys look the same – boring. Consequently we have experienced a drop in participation over the years due to survey fatigue. 

But now we are on the cusp of the third wave of survey research tools. This is exciting, highly interactive with rich graphics, features and functionality that are light years ahead of where we are today. 

I feel as excited by this as I felt about those first online surveys so many years ago. I am giddy, in fact.  Well, I am a market researcher, so I probably get more excited about it than you will. But even you will think this next generation of survey tools is pretty darn cool. Want to take a little test drive?  The hyperlink below will take you to a sample survey we created for you to experience these cool tools for yourself. Enjoy the next wave.

Link for Survey: http://bit.ly/n6WBCP

Elaine Hendricks has specialized in travel and hospitality research for more than 20 years, and directs the research practice at The Prism Partnership, LLC.  She can be reached at ehendricks@theprismpartnership.com. Mark G. Haley, CHTP, is managing partner of The Prism Partnership, and can be reached at mhaley@theprismpartnership.com.

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