Boosting Market Research Response Rates by Improving Participant Experience

Emily James

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Emily James

A participant experience is how a participant feels when taking part in research. Participants are the ‘bread and butter’ of market research but it seems that their experience during the research process is all too often taken for granted. Market research relies on willing participants giving up their time and effort to respond to questioning. If the participant experience is poor, they are much less likely to do so ongoing and response rates will deplete.

Businesses rely on respondents data outcomes to guide key decisions and provide directional insight. Consequently, if response rates do deplete, it will have direct detrimental effect on the client, be they internal or external. If the participant experience reputation of a brand, insight agency even industry is negative, that effect is compounded and can be severe. So how can we ensure that our participant experience is up to scratch?

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Business relies on market research data to provide directional insight - if response rates deplete. business suffers

1. Treat Research Participants as People

In recent years the participant experience has risen up the list of priorities for market researchers for the reasons cited above. Some have compared the current treatment of respondents to the “tragedy of the commons.” In an article by Survey Sampling International (SSI), this analogy was extended to draw some close parallels between humans’ treatment of the oceans, and researchers’ treatment of respondents.

“EARTH is poorly named,” states the article, “the ocean covers almost three-quarters of the planet." Just like Earth, “Participants” are also poorly named as they’re not a marginal group, but rather our neighbours, family, friends, colleagues and in the market research industry, they are our ‘everything’. So how can we ensure that they are treated as such?

Firstly, make sure that your research invitations and reminders clearly outline what you are asking in terms of participation as well as why it would be beneficial for recipients to participate, i.e. the incentive offering, the social element, the opportunity to feedback, etc. It is important to write in a friendly and relatable way - Don’t be too formal but don’t waffle. Try to personalise communication to the individual as far as possible. If you do have a sample size that necessitates automated invitations and reminders use name fields at a minimum. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or any connotation there off is a sure fire way to alienate participants, it’s says, ‘you are merely a number’ like nothing else.

Far too often, researchers agonise over project design and subsequent analysis and participant communication is left at the bottom of the priority barrel. Just taking a few moments to stop and consider the points above before sending that email or making that phone call makes such a difference to the participant experience and thus research response rates.

2. Make Consumer Surveys Mobile

It can be a challenge to get participants to answer a survey when they could be watching TV, having a bite to eat or on the move. Rather than competing for their attention, use a survey that is optimised for mobile so that they can complete it at a time that is convenient for them.

Mobile surveys also benefit participants by providing them with a ‘second screen experience’, meaning that instead of having to log out of their Netflix account to complete (the horror!) they can take a survey without any interruption to personal activities powered by desk or laptop computer.

By designing your research to complement the busy daily lives of participants’, you will make their involvement both easier and more enjoyable boosting both response rates and engagement.

3. Make ALL Research Interesting

Neither researcher nor participant benefits from excessively lengthy and tedious questioning in either qual or quant. When survey participants become bored they are a far more likely to flick through questions without due consideration. When qual participants get bored, they may well disengage entirely, with much the same result. The worst case scenario for both qual and quant; drops-outs levels reach such a point that the sample is no longer representative and/or the quality of responses suffers to the extent that both researcher and client are deprived of accurate insight.

Whilst participants want less, businesses demand more. It is therefore essential that market researchers take a ‘lean’ approach to their research by breaking it down into smaller chunks. Shorten your surveys but do them more frequently. Instead of an elongated bulletin board, try a mixed methodology including interactive whiteboards and vox pop feedback or an online customer community for collaborative peer-to-peer interaction as well as participant to moderator. Your participants will thank you for it in the form of active, honest and increased feedback.

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Participants want less + Business demands more = A 'lean' approach to market research

4. Gather and Act on Participant Feedback

Consider implementing a Research Participation Satisfaction Survey. If you’re serious about improving the participant experience you need to research the research. Find out what participants like and dislike, understand the barriers to completion, the participation motivations, suggestions for process improvement, etc. And most importantly, action this feedback.

When you start listening to your participants and making research activities more engaging for them, you will see a boost in response rates. Simply by implementing their feedback you will improve the participant experience. Implementation sends a clear value message and the combined effect is exponential - their willingness to take part in your research in the future increases as does advocacy.

Gathering feedback on the participant experience is also the key to quality insight. Conducting outstanding research requires the right balance of questioning, being open but not too invasive, to the point but not stifling the discussion. Participant feedback will highlight any areas of concern in this regard.


These are only a handful of the ways research response rates can boosted. But by implementing these four practices you will both decipher what makes participants tick and improve the participant experience, encouraging engagement and reducing dropout rates. Your reward: consistent, representative, quality data outcomes for rich consumer insight and commercial success.

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