top of page
  • Writer's picturenuaxia

Market Research: The Serial Killer

Monday, 27 March 2017

Back in the summer of 2006, on a boozy boat party, I remember a bright 20 something staff member coming up to me and talking about how happy he was to work in an ethical industry; that he didn’t work in an industry that made things that killed or hurt people.

I am not sure that is true today.

Out of touch

I read the latest GRIT survey report concerning the key drivers of sample design with a fair amount of dismay. Top of researcher concerns is reliability (74%) but only 8% see fair compensation for respondents as important. As the report states: “Both Clients and Suppliers rank trust and quality as the drivers of research design decisions, but respondent experience are almost afterthoughts. It seems that few grasp the relationship between quality and respondent experience.”

“Market research surveys are increasingly alienating customers and citizens. As a consequence, response rates for commercial market research are fast reducing below 1%. This means most surveys annoy people and it means they are reflecting the views of a tiny minority.”

Ray Poynter 2016

Market Research industry reputation

The essence of Market research should be about bringing the voice of the customer into the heart of company decision-making.  That is never going to happen if the industry continues to “serial kill” respondents. Market Research has a reputation!  It’s a BAD one!! We are up there with cold calling, spammers and nuisance callers.

Sociopathic behaviour

At the IIeX conference in February, a presenter asked who would respond to a market research questionnaire and, tellingly, no hands were raised.  Yet the next day, no one will have changed their behaviour. Rather like a sociopath, the market research industry feigns empathy with human beings but does not really understand what that means.

Serial Victims

There are already key respondent groups that the industry has critically damaged: millennials, teens and high value respondents to name a few. Specialist physicians for example rarely respond; the number of responders has fallen by two thirds in the last three years. Almost all quantitative, ethical healthcare studies include “professional respondents”, and because one data collection company can rarely fulfil the sample by themselves, the professional respondent is often completing the same survey more than once.  If primary data is not reliable, what use is it?

Lack of respect

I have seen an increasing amount of comment about a fall in the level of research competencies at both client and agency side.  At the same time, the general level of respect that surrounds the industry has fallen.  Whether it be the respect that market research is held in general by the marketing, procurement and commercial teams.  And indeed, the level of respect between clients and agencies, and agencies and data collection agencies.

Personality traits

Most researchers are quantitative by nature and probably only thought of entering market research after they graduated.  In general, the attraction of the professional is around its semi-academic discipline, slight divorced from the harsh realities of the commercial world.  Perhaps that also explains why there is a lack of empathy with the great “unwashed”.

“Qualies” not innocent either!

Anyone that has ever tried to organise IDI’s will know, the most likely reason for the common occurrence of re-scheduling is not the respondent – it’s the “qualies”!


Rather like a long-time Serial Killer, the industry is losing all self-control.  It is doing the opposite of what it should be doing almost as if our system 1 wants us to get “found out”.

No more heroes anymore

Once you lose trust, it is exponentially harder to win it back.  That process cannot even start until the industry takes ownership of the problem.  I would be happy to be found wrong, but no such leadership exists.  The best we get is a bit of“hot air” but no action.


Evolution will, instead, play its part as it did with the dinosaurs.  The “researchersaurs” will die to be replaced by Big Data departments and technology companies.  It is happening now.  The majority of primary quantitative research jobs will disappear.


The only route to redemption is to go back to our roots.  A key foundation of Market Research is being an expert at customer contact.  To be experts, we need to learn to empathise with them.  Market Research needs a total makeover where what we do fits into the lives of respondents rather than work against it.  Our behaviours and attitudes as human beings have changed significantly since the 1950’s.  Isn’t it about time that Market Research changed too?

Rebuild around the respondent

Tinkering is not going to cut it.  It will be as effective as putting a band aid on a gun shot wound.  We will need to rebuild the idea of questions and answers around a process that works for the respondent first.

“In the future, no interview will be longer than two minutes.”

Jannie Hofmeyr

Trust as a competitive advantage

In an era where we will increasingly be in a fight for the attention of the respondent, building a trusted relationship is key.  It should not be viewed as a cost – rather a competitive advantage.  Technology, especially that empowered by mobile devices, will enable us to provide far great insight than we have ever being able to do.  But they will require the respondent to trust us with the information that they provide.  No one is going to trust a Serial Killer.  A trusted partner, yes.

Winners and losers

Darwinism will prevail and the fittest organisations who adapt to the new paradigms will prevail.  Serial Killers won’t survive in a future requiring trusted relationships.  So, what do you think that means for you? Apology

My intent is to provoke thought and debate so I do apologise if I have caused any offense.  The real apology, however, belongs to the millions of respondents that have not been respected, especially over the last 5-10 years.



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page