According to a recent Global Research Business Network (GRBN) study, conducted as part of their “Building Public Trust Charter,” only 10% of recent online survey takers have high trust in the Market Research industry. Equally concerning is that 70% say they’ve had a bad survey experience lately, with one-third of these people saying it made them feel more negatively about the company(s) mentioned in the survey.

At our recent annual Client Symposium, a diverse gathering of corporate research professionals, nearly all in attendance were surprised and concerned by this finding. Poor survey design leading to poor respondent experiences has a real and negative impact on brand. Certainly, Consumer Insight’s work should not negatively impact the very brands it supports! Just the opposite is true, and all attendees agreed: if companies are spending millions on consumer engagement in other areas, shouldn’t we be working to create goodwill among those whose survey answers feed into insights so integral to moving the organization forward?

In the U.S., only a small minority of survey respondents feel there is any social value to market research. That’s not good for anyone in Consumer Insights. By contrast, some companies in Germany are working to build trust and further consumer engagement by touting consumer research in some of their ads (“this product was created with the input of consumers like you”). So we asked symposium attendees, “Is anyone currently working to identify a branded way to let respondents know what was done with their responses?” No one in the room currently does this, but several indicated they were willing to consider the notion, perhaps re-contacting respondents to let them know what decision was made using their feedback or sharing some small tidbit of information about how their answers were ultimately used within the organization. All agreed that this makes sense and it’s natural for people to want to know that the time they spend on something is valuable and valued. However, it was also conveyed that regularly providing this kind of information to research participants is easier said than done.

The conversation then moved on to some more familiar territory, starting with consumers’ concerns about their privacy in relation to participation in marketing research. One attendee pondered that given people are already sharing all kinds of personal and personally identifiable information (PII) on social media platforms, why the concern when it comes to research? The simple answer is the cost-benefit balance to the consumer. While people do express concern about sharing PII on social media, many have ultimately decided that the privacy trade-off is worth the benefit they get from their social interactions. Since most people don’t see the social value of research, they don’t see the benefit they receive from participating as worth the trade-off of their private information.

Finally, survey length and other “abusive” survey techniques are deterrents to those who actually have a desire to take consumer surveys. Not surprisingly, the ever present struggle for corporate researchers is that their internal clients want MORE answers for their money – not less!

Interestingly, there were some in the room who work for organizations with a corporate mandate to keep all surveys to 10 minutes or less. Great conversation ensued amongst the corporate researchers in the room, with one attendee asking, “How did you start the conversation with your internal partners to convince them that keeping surveys short is a good thing?” The answer is that Insights Leadership in these companies realized the way they were engaging people was outdated and potentially harmful to their brand, so they formed a team to create survey standards, found opportunities to test and learn, then used this information as proof of concept.

One attendee summed up perfectly why we should ALL care about respondent engagement: Given all of the aforementioned concerns that survey respondents have, think about who is staying on panels and who is leaving. Are those who are staying truly representative of our market targets? We can only ensure business partners of the value of consumer insights if sample quality is maintained.

As an entire industry, we need to take responsibility now for the engagement and experience of our research participants.