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A Tricky Survey Could Change Responses
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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There is more to advertising and marketing than creativity and digital media. That is why we dedicate time to talk about market research and the gathering of information. Like changing the oil in a car, or changing a tire, it's not the glamorous part, but it's important.

Creativity definitely has its place, and many professionals (including us, at times) are huge advocates for it. But for some reason, those in favor of market research stay silent.

So we speak up for them.

Perhaps everyone is having the correct train of thought that creating and issuing a survey that goes out to consumers can be very unnerving. Indeed, checking and double-checking for biased or leading questions, hoping that the survey is objective enough to receive uninfluenced responses, can be a huge undertaking. Yet, it is an undertaking that must be done.

However, there are checks and balances that must be — well, balanced.

For example, we designed a survey for marketing professionals entering the mobile marketing realm in a way that would disrupt any answering biases; it was intentionally choppy, we used scales of 1 to 5 and then from 5-1, and we made sure that the people taking the survey were really paying attention to their answers.

We were so successful at it that our supervisor wanted us to add a disclaimer at the end explaining why it wasn't designed as your "typical" survey.

Well, there are other ways to see if people are paying attention when doing surveys, and one method is by adding instructions that say not to complete a certain section, or to select a certain answer based on the instructions. These "trap" questions are called instructional manipulation checks, or IMCs.

New research coming out of the University of Michigan suggests that participants who notice the IMCs change their thinking, making the survey less of a qualitative check and more of a tool to see if they can get tricked again. The participants are less worried about answering the questions and more worried about making sure they follow directions and are not misled.

This has several implications for advertising and marketing. First, when adding in questions that check attention or bias, we must make sure that the questions aren't distracting enough that they distort the data. Then the data collection could become more expensive than the campaign. Second, as we've talked about before, if data has the potential to be distorted, we must use multiple research channels in order to get the best kind of data in order to make sound decisions.

Finally, don't add questions that might take away from the research. Are IMCs good to use? Sure. In every situation? That's hard to say. AdLand has plenty of tools. Let's use them wisely.

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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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