Survey techniques (in marketing)
Surveys are quantitative information collection techniques used in marketing, political polling, and social science research. Although the present article is oriented towards their use in marketing, much of what is said would apply to other uses as well.
All surveys involve questions of some sort. When the questions are administered by a researcher, the survey is called an interview or a researcher administered survey. When the questions are administered by the respondent, the survey is referred to as a questionnaire or a self-administered survey.
Structure and standardization
The questions are usually structured and standardized. The structure is intended to reduce bias (see questionnaire construction). For example, questions should be ordered in such a way that a question does not influence the response to subsequent questions. Surveys are standardized to ensure reliability, generalizability, and validity (see quantitative marketing research). Every respondent should be presented with the same questions and in the same order as other respondents.
Advantages of surveys
The advantages of survey techniques include:
- It is an efficient way of collecting information from a large number of respondents. Very large samples are possible. Statistical techniques can be used to determine validity, reliability, and statistical significance.
- Surveys are flexible in the sense that a wide range of information can be collected. They can be used to study attitudes, values, beliefs, and past behaviouurs.
- Because they are standardized, they are relatively free from several types of errors.
- They are relatively easy to administer.
- There is an economy in data collection due to the focus provided by standardized questions. Only questions of interest to the researcher are asked, recorded, codified, and analyzed. Time and money is not spent on tangential questions.
Disadvantages of surveys
Disadvantages of survey techniques include:
- They depend on subjects’ motivation, honesty, memory, and ability to respond. Subjects may not be aware of their reasons for any given action. They may have forgotten their reasons. They may not be motivated to give accurate answers, in fact, they may be motivated to give answers that present themselves in a favorable light.
- Surveys are not appropriate for studying complex social phenomena. The individual is not the best unit of analysis in these cases. Surveys do not give a full sense of social processes and the analysis seems superficial.
- Structured surveys, particularly those with closed ended questions, may have low validity when researching affective variables.
Advantages of self-administered questionnaires
Advantages of self-administered questionnaires include:
- They are less expensive than interviews.
- They do not require a large staff of skilled interviewers.
- They can be administered in large numbers all at one place and time.
- Anonymity and privacy encourage more candid and honest responses.
- Lack of interviewer bias.
- Speed of administration and analysis.
- Suitable for computer based research methods.
- Less pressure on respondents
Advantages of researcher administered interviews
Advantages of researcher administered interviews include:
- Fewer misunderstood questions and inappropriate responses.
- Fewer incomplete responses.
- Higher response rates.
- Greater control over the environment that the survey is administered in.
There are several ways of administering a survey, including:
- response rate : 40 to 60%
- fairly cost efficient
- good for large national (or international) sampling frames
- cannot be used when graphic representations, smells, or demonstrations are involved
- three types:
- traditional telephone interviews
- computer assisted telephone dialing
- computer assisted telephone interviewing
- low response rate : 5 to 30%
- the questionnaire may be handed to the respondents or mailed to them, but in all cases they are returned to the researcher via mail.
- cost is very low
- long time delays, often several months, before the surveys are returned and statistical analysis can begin
- not suitable for very complex issues
- no interviewer bias introduced
- large amount of information can be obtained : some mail surveys are as long as 50 pages
- response rates can be improved by using mail panels - members of the panel have agreed to participate - panels can be used in longitudinal designs where the same respondents are surveyed several times
- Online Surveys
- can use internet or e-mail - The Web is preferred over e-mail because HTML can be used - the survey is not limited to pure ASCII text
- response rates were very high (almost 90%) till the turn of the century, but have been dropping fast since then (now 30 - 60%)
- very inexpensive to administer
- very fast results
- easy to modify
- response rates can be improved by using panels - members of the panel have agreed to participate
- Personal in-home survey
- respondents are interviewed in person, in their homes (or at the front door)
- very high cost
- response rate (40 to 50%)
- suitable when graphic representations, smells, or demonstrations are involved
- suitable for long surveys
- Personal mall intercept survey
- shoppers at malls are intercepted - they are either interviewed on the spot, taken to a room and interviewed, or taken to a room and given a self-administered questionnaire
- response rate about 50%
- socially acceptable - people feel that a mall is a more appropriate place to do research than their home
- potential for interviewer bias
Tactics used to increase response rates include:
- brevity - single page if possible
- financial incentives
- prepaid in advance
- paid at completion
- non-monetary incentives
- note pads
- entry into a draw or contest
- discount coupons
- promise of contribution to charity
- lottery tickets
- preliminary notification
- foot-in-the-door techniques - start with a small inconsequential request
- personalization of the request - address specific individuals
- follow-up requests - multiple requests
- claimed affiliation with universities, research institutions, or charities
- emotional appeals
- bids for sympathy
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