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Supply, Demand and Sustainability in Market Research

Demand for consumers’ opinions is high as marketers study evolving paradigms for buying preferences and behavior, but we have a global supply shortage. Some issues are driven by the rush to reach consumers digitally post-pandemic; others have been brewing for years.

The insights industry is facing a global supply shortage. What can we do about it?

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Hardly a day goes by without the global supply shortage being a front-page news item. On June 1st, The New York Times published an article, “How the World Ran Out of Everything.” It explained in detail how the supply chain “ran amok” due to the pandemic, exacerbated by just-in-time manufacturing (first pioneered by Toyota). You may have experienced the pain of the supply shortage yourself if you bought a new car recently. Odds are you saw the low inventory of automobiles due to–of all things–a massive shortage of $1.00 chips, referred to as the “new toilet paper.” You may have even paid a premium to get the model you wanted.

The insights industry is experiencing its own global supply shortage. Demand for consumers’ opinions is high as marketers seek to understand the new and evolving paradigm for buying preferences and behavior. The supply of respondents is simply not keeping pace with demand for the first time in the history of online research.

The sample ecosystem and its buyers have been buzzing about this new dynamic. During recent conversations, a buyer representing a major CPG brand commented that even getting survey responses for a 10-minute, high incidence study was a challenge. How is this possible?

There are a lot of factors contributing to the changing dynamics in the supply and demand for respondents. Some issues are driven by the rush to reach consumers digitally during and post-pandemic, but many other issues have been brewing for years.

It’s always been hard to be a research respondent, now it’s worse

In the early days of online research, now over 20 years ago, the issues were often masked. Taking surveys online was a novelty and there seemed to be an endless supply of respondents. While there was a lot of hype about capitalizing on digital capabilities and giving respondents an engaging, if not fun experience, it was mostly just that—hype. When offline surveys transitioned to online, preserving historical trends took priority. Questionnaires administered by phone and mail were literally transferred to an online format, onerous grids and all. The length of the interview often ran 30 minutes to an hour, particularly for syndicated studies. In my view, it was a huge, missed opportunity.

In today’s world, the respondent experience has gotten even worse. Price compression, not just during the pandemic, but over the years, has resulted in lower reward compensation that is typically well under $1.00. More often than not, legitimate people are still turned away from surveys, sometimes after investing significant time completing the screener. Many surveys are still too long and designed to achieve research objectives without considering the enjoyment, or experience of the person completing the survey.

Pandemic-spiked digital advertising costs make it more costly to recruit

“Just-in-time” inventory practices affected the availability of samples across the ecosystem. As market research studies were put on hold during the uncertainty of the early months of the pandemic, suppliers ratcheted back their investments to acquire new respondents. This made it difficult to catch up when demand hit new highs over the last nine months.

But there’s another contributing factor that’s having an even bigger impact. As consumers spent more time online than ever before, competition to reach them intensified, not just within the MR industry, but across the advertising ecosystem. Dollars from other advertising channels poured into digital, and digital advertising costs skyrocketed. From Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, prices increased across the board by 30 to 40%, and even higher in some cases.

We don’t see signs of this abating as we enter the era of “the new normal.” In fact, WPP’s GroupM, the world’s largest advertising buyer, just released a forecast stating that U.S. ad spending (excluding political) would increase by 22% this year and pointed to the acceleration of digital as a major driver which they anticipate will grow by 26%.  As a result, it takes a much bigger investment and marketing prowess to acquire respondents.

Respecting and valuing respondents is the answer

No one can wave a magic wand to increase the “supply” of research respondents across the sample ecosystem, but the research community can make a significant impact.  The most sustainable method is to respect and deliver great experiences. First and foremost, we must acknowledge that research respondents are not a commodity and that the pool of respondents is not infinite. If we want to preserve our most precious assets, consumers who are willing to offer their opinions to help brands make the right business decisions, we need to value them.

At DISQO, we built a consumer-centric platform to provide a modern, frictionless experience right from the beginning. We are focused on delivering on our promise to our first-party panel members to share information in exchange for a great experience and value. The entire MR industry, including corporate buyers, MR Agencies, and sample providers should rally around this same value.

Here are some critical ways to optimize the experience for our respondents, making it more user-friendly. While these are not novel, they have yet to be accomplished on a wide scale.

  • Give respondents the right opportunities rather than screening them out of survey after survey.
  • Shorten screeners to one or two minutes. Let’s not drag respondents through a long screener only to be disqualified.
  • Improve questionnaires—make them shorter, more engaging, and less repetitious for all respondents, including the majority who take surveys on their mobile phones and those who use their desktops and laptops.
  • Appropriately reward respondents for their time and opinions.

Finally, let’s not lose sight of the fact that engaged, attentive respondents provide higher-quality data. With millions of dollars on the line when clients make decisions using our insights, let’s make sure to treat the people fueling those insights the right way. It’s the best way to support brand growth over the long term and a win/win for all.

To learn more about how DISQO builds and engages our 100% first-party audience, click here.

This blog originally appeared on Greenbook on June 28, 2021.

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