Cutting the Cord: Embracing what you can do in a device-agnostic world

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Which of these scenarios are more common in your home during your free time?

  • Can you be found sitting upright at a desk or table with your attention riveted to your computer for hours on end focused on a single task?
  • Or are you more likely to be found reclining on the couch with tablet or mobile phone in hand while you simultaneously watch TV, talk to your friends or family and perhaps enjoy an adult beverage?

I know the later scenario is the standard at my home, and I would bet the same is true for most of you. Yet many researchers continue to act as if our respondents are happily spending their evenings or other leisure time tethered to a desk or chair and willing to invest up to 45 minutes providing singly-focused thoughtful responses to in-depth category attitudes and behaviors or the evaluation of new product ideas in categories that are likely, at best, of moderate interest to them.

Cut the Cord

It has been over 18 months since reports began emerging that time spent accessing the internet via mobile surpassed time spent via PC in the US. In May of this year Google confirmed that mobile searches also had surpassed PC searches. At Ipsos, 25% of our new panel recruits (and one-third of 18-34-year-olds) are registering for the panel using a mobile device. The days that you could expect that all, or even a majority, of your respondents to prefer to respond to surveys via a personal computer are gone.

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It is time to cut the cord and to start assuming that the people you want to speak to would prefer to interact with you in a way that better fits their lifestyle and real behaviors. That means shorter, more engaging, and more adaptable to whatever device they happen to be using at the moment. In other words: device-agnostic studies that respect your respondents’ time and keep their attention—and that are able to be taken when and where they want them, whether it be on the train, at the gym, on the couch, or at their desktop computer. Device agnostic does not mean a study has to be fielded on mobile. It means that a respondent has the ability to select any device he or she wants and will have a good user experience regardless of which device is chosen.

Many have focused on the negatives of cutting the cord—the things you can’t do when designing a study that is device agnostic; you can’t field long questionnaires, can’t have respondents scroll too much, can’t ask them to type a lot on a tiny keyboard, etc. Yet there are a lot of very positive things you can do once you liberate yourself from a PC-centric focus that lead to better engagement for your respondents—whether they take the study on a PC, tablet or mobile phone—and ultimately better information to address your business needs.

Share a Selfie

One key benefit of mobile technologies is the ability to capture in-the-moment behaviors through text (portable usage diaries) and photos. Both smartphones and other mobile devices increasingly come loaded with high-resolution cameras that allow people to document everyday habits and product usage behaviors in the moment. Even those respondents who prefer to take their surveys on the computer can still snap and send photos. We have learned far more from asking respondents to capture photos than we ever expected to learn. Adding a “selfie” component to product testing has enabled us to much more quickly document—and our client to more immediately address—product performance issues. It has identified discrepancies in how consumers use products compared to the way manufacturers think they are being used. Mobile diaries with photos have enabled us to get a glimpse into consumer homes in a way that typically would be cost prohibitive for quantitative research.

Build a Bridge

Thinking within the constraints of a shorter survey length can also enable us to be smarter about how we do research. It gives us a chance to once and for all to say goodbye to questionnaire bloat. We can more critically assess our questionnaires to better understand what is truly necessary. Or we can conduct iterative surveys, using one survey to inform the way we do the next, probing and going in new directions based on what we have learned.

We need to erase the mindset that dates back to the days of in-person and telephone interviewing that preaches that once we have secured a respondent that we need to ask them every possible question at exactly that moment. We have lots of other options to choose from now, ranging from multiple smaller studies with the same respondents, to advanced analytics that will enable us to build a bridge connecting consumer responses from one survey to another or from primary data to secondary data. This means that some of our typically longest studies—A&U and Brand Equity—are now not only possible in a device-agnostic environment but also able to offer respondents a more positive and enjoyable experience.

Eliminate your Emily Post

In the days when most surveys were interviewer-administered rather than self-administered market researchers got in the habit of writing long question introductions filled with detailed explanations of what we were going to be asking people to do along with niceties and elaborate transition statements all designed to help build rapport and trust. When surveys migrated from telephone to online we worked primarily to convert those long introductions and transitions from interviewer-administered to self-administered, but we didn’t go particularly far in stripping them away.

Now is our opportunity to trade in the flowery language for substantive information. Our shrunken screens mean we have to get to the point quickly and concisely. It is time to drop the introductions and the long explanations. You would be surprised how quickly they add up and excising them can lead to space for additional real content. Furthermore, do people really need to be instructed on how to use a scale when the scale is right in front of them? Our respondents would also happily forgo a few “Now please can you….” for a few minutes of returned personal time.

Design for Digital

Swipe-able screens, slider buttons emoticons and emojis, radio buttons, likes and dislikes—digital and app design has opened up a whole new world in the way people consume and respond to online content. Leveraging these tools can vastly improve our respondents’ experience with our surveys—on any device they are using (with mouse clicking standing in for touch screens for the PC based users). Moreover, our respondents have come to expect a look-and-feel from their digital content that we need to adapt to in order to maintain their attention. Minimal text, clean visuals (whether it be photos, icons or emojis), and limited scrolling are all part of device-agnostic best practices that increase attention and focus.

In addition, the limitations of the small screen offers us a perfect excuse to finally abandon the dreaded grid questions that our respondents despise in favor of drop down menus, thermometers, progressive grids and, ideally, shorter and less redundant attribute lists that will minimize respondent fatigue and improve data quality.

Cutting the cord doesn’t need to be thought of as a negative. Once you focus on the cans rather than the cant’s you will realize that going device agnostic allows you to do away with bad habits and embrace new ways of working that optimize your relationship with your respondents and increase the value of the information you collect.