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Yes, the Way We Research Matters
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As marketers, we must gather quality information from consumers in order to make business decisions. We need to mine opinions from all types of people in order to paint the right picture.

But which method is best to gather information? And how do we determine that the information is in fact, quality?

The Pew Research Center had a similar question. They were wondering if the answers they received from research participants differed online versus over the telephone. They gathered their participants from a similar pool and asked the same thread of questions.

The results from the study, though not shocking, reinforced their hypothesis.

Although the overall results differed a little, the range in several of the questions was significant. 

There was a common theme with the questions — all of them dealt with social proof; how the participant could be viewed if other people could hear and judge that participant based on their responses. When the answers from the telephone were compared to those from the Web, the Web responses were much more negative and less empathetic.

Why? Because on the phone, you are still interacting with a person. The voice on the other end, in the participant's mind, can form an opinion of that person. Naturally, humans try to avoid conflict and desire to be liked, so talking on the phone would force more favorable responses. On the Web, the curse of anonymity reigns and social proof becomes irrelevant. People don't hold back. Studies have shown that people share more negative opinions than positive; the usual results for online surveys tend to be more negative.

What can marketers do with this information? We must continue to understand that although market research is important, we must take it with a grain of salt. We also must continue to employ multiple ways to gather information instead of relying on a single method. Perhaps we can also design studies where social proof is important, and where it isn't, to better qualify the data.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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