It’s well-known among marketing researchers that respondents prefer shorter surveys. Studies on questionnaire length and fatigue effects concluded that surveys and screeners should be less than 20 minutes to ensure data integrity. But why?
After 20 minutes, fatigue sets in: the respondent starts satisficing, where their attention span decreases and the speed with which they answer questions increases.
As a researcher, how can you design a screener that answers critical questions without disengaging your respondents? In addition to streamlining your screeners, here are 3 ways to get high quality data in a limited number of questions.
Ask Opened-Ended Questions Early
Research shows that the number of characters a respondent types in an open-ended text box decreases as those questions are moved back in the screener. The more information the respondent is asked for, the less likely they are to give insightful answers. To garner rich responses to open-ended questions, design your screener so that easier, multi-choice questions are at the end.
Place “Skippable” Questions in the Beginning
In one famous SSI study, researchers placed a sliding-scale question, where the gauge was placed in the middle, at different points throughout a screener. The later this question was placed in a survey, the more likely the respondent was to leave the slider at its starting position. To avoid having respondents leave questions unanswered, make sure that each question is blank to start, giving the respondent a clean slate for their answer.
Deliberately Phrase Questions
The way information is presented to respondents greatly changes the way they respond to that information. Instead of asking, “Did you watch TV this week?” ask, “When was the last time you watched TV?” Not only does this tactic collect more specific answers, it also ensures that respondent’s aren’t intentionally answering questions in such a way that lets them skip question blocks.
The bottom line is that when respondents get tired, they do as little work as possible to finish the task at hand. Remember: there is far less satisficing and cheating in short surveys.
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By Rich Thau
I've never blogged before about the art of structuring and moderating a successful focus group, but since the folks at Focus Pointe Global asked me to do this, I'm honored to take a stab at it. So, here goes, in sequential order from recruiting to executing:
1) How do you avoid recruiting highly opinionated people into your group so that they don't try to dominate the conversation? Well, there's no sure-fire way of achieving that, but many years ago I started inserting a question into the screener that seems to have helped mitigate the problem: Ask whether the prospective respondents have any bumper stickers on their cars that convey a political message. If they do, that's telling you something: They want to try to convert others to their point of view. You probably don't want them in your group.
2) If you want typical adults ages 22-64 in your groups, try not to host the groups before 5:30 p.m. Sessions conducted during business hours on a weekday tend to be filled with people who are not ideal respondents. Occasionally lunch-time sessions attract good respondents. Also, I've done successful groups over the weekend—but who wants to make a habit of doing groups on a weekend?
3) It makes sense to meet the recruits before bringing them in for the session. Sometimes you spot someone who shouldn't be there—perhaps they're asleep, or not fully engaged—and taking a quick look can help avoid some uncomfortable moments during a group. It also helps to ask folks stationed at the welcome desk if any respondents look familiar, like “professional respondents.”
4) I almost always re-screen groups by asking a key question differently in the re-screening than in the original screening. It's a great way to find people who should have been screened out originally, but weren't. I also regularly try to understand discrepancies between the original screening and the re-screening by pulling people out of the waiting room and asking them to explain the discrepancy. Sometimes the gap is explainable, and sometimes it's not. And when it's not, I've often paid the respondent and sent him/her home.
5) Nothing sets me off more than respondents who try to game the focus group system—they arrive three or four minutes after the group starts, so they expect to get paid without having to attend. I make it a hard rule with facilities: If the respondent isn't there by the time the group starts, they don't get paid unless I take them while in progress (something I am loath to do). The recruiting screener told them they needed to be there 20 minutes before the session starts, so if they are late, no payment.
6) My firm specializes in moment-to-moment dial testing, where we get continuous feedback on video presentations of various types during the focus group. If you ever conduct a session using the dials for this purpose, you MUST not only give detailed instructions, but also conduct a quick warm-up to make sure the instructions are understood. After moderating hundreds of sessions with the dials, I've noticed that there's at least one person in each group who does not follow the instructions—and as moderator I don't know who it is, what they're doing wrong, or how to set them straight, until I do a warm-up.
7) Never moderate groups back-to-back; always take a half hour break between groups to do a "brain dump" of what you learned, eat something, and consult with the client. We typically run groups from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and then from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
8) The most effective time-saving device I've come across for report writing is to do a digital audio backup of my session with my own recorder, and to sync the time on the recorder to the time on an easy-to-read digital stop watch that I place in front of me. When someone says something I want to make sure not to miss, I write down the name of the person and something they said, along with the time, so my associates and I can find it easily on the audio afterwards.
Rich Thau is President and Founder of Manhattan-based Presentation Testing, Inc. (http://www.presentationtesting.com). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-760-4358.
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The opinions expressed in this blog post are Rich Thau's and not necessarily those of Focus Pointe Global.
If you’re just joining this week’s look at the importance of body language in every marketing research initiative, then you can catch up on the first two posts on this topic by clicking here to read about the importance of posture or by clicking here to check out the most common signs of nervousness to watch out for.
Gestures are perhaps the most important form of non-verbal communication that human beings use to convey their thoughts and opinions. Just as “a picture says a thousand words,” a simple gesture, properly identified and recognized in context, can convey much more than any verbal response your focus group participants may offer.
As already noted in previous posts, standing with hands on one’s hips may be a sign of readiness and covering one’s mouth when speaking is usually an indication of nervousness. Here are a few other common gestures to keep an eye out for when gathering your marketing research data.
- Open Hands or Arms -- This gesture indicates openness and receptivity, especially when the hands or arms are extended.
- Legs Crossed, Foot Kicking -- This is very often a sign of boredom or distraction whereas someone sitting with their legs apart and their feet on the floor indicates an open and relaxed demeanor.
- Hand to Cheek -- This is a thoughtful gesture and a good indication that the subject is carefully evaluating a question or response.
- Hands Clasped Behind the Head -- This gesture implies a strong sense of confidence bordering on superiority.
- Quickly Tilted Head -- This is usually used to indicate an active engagement with or interest in the subject matter at hand.
- Arms Across the Chest -- This is a defensive posture that very often indicates fear of participation or hesitancy.
These are just a few of the many common gestures that human beings make and some of their most basic interpretations. Of course, the context of every gesture must be taken into account as well to accurately determine its meaning. For instance, the final gesture above can also mean that the participant is cold … so be sure to check the thermostat before jumping to any conclusions! Different gestures can have very different meanings across cultures, so it’s important to keep the cultural traditions, behaviors and practices of your group in mind when gathering this kind of data.
Documenting non-verbal cues like those listed above is by no means a precise science but, when analyzed in conjunction with the verbal data gathered in your marketing research study, it can provide a wealth of valuable information that a simple questionnaire response doesn’t offer.
To learn more about how to accurately interpret the gestures and overall body language of your focus group respondents, click on the button below to speak with a Focus Pointe Global Pointe Person.
Check back here next week when we’ll take a look at the top qualities of a good focus group moderator. In the meantime, if you’d like this and all future Focus Pointe Global blog posts sent directly to you, simply enter your email address in the field to the right to subscribe.
This week on the Focus Pointe Global Blog, we’re taking an in-depth look at the importance of body language in marketing research data collection. If you missed the first post in this series, click here to read about how posture impacts focus group respondent behavior. In this post, we’d like to address one of the biggest behavioral risks to the validity of any marketing research initiatives: nervousness.
If not properly addressed, nervousness among your focus group respondents can easily derail an entire project. In order to gather the most accurate data possible, it’s important to ensure that every member of the group is as comfortable as possible. Respondents who are at ease are more likely to offer the most honest, open and forthcoming responses.
Here are a few signs of nervousness to watch out for:
- covering of the mouth when speaking
- high-pitched voices
- cracking of the voice
- hesitant speech
- lots of “ums” and “ahs”
- throat clearing
- hand wringing
- lack of eye contact/looking down at the feet
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to do everything possible to put the members of your focus group at ease. Reinforce that this is not a test and there are no wrong answers. Tell the nervous individual: “take your time,” “this is not a test” and “there are no wrong answers.”
Of course, it’s also important to take note of nervous behavior and try to gauge whether it is a result of a certain line of questioning or a direct a response to a particular product, service or other stimulus. If an otherwise calm and collected individual displays signs of nervousness when faced with a certain decision or aspect of your study, that information may provide a valuable “soft data” insight into the product or service under examination.
For more about the importance of body language in your marketing research data collection, stay tuned to the FPG blog. Later this week, we will be concluding our investigation with a look at how certain gestures can inform your focus group results. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to schedule a complimentary marketing research consultation with one of our knowledgeable experts, simply click on the button below.
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