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Image courtesy of Old Telephones

Let’s agree this now everyone. There are some things marketing and communications should steer well clear of and the telephone is one of them. So lets have no more telemarketing spam, lets have no more political parties ringing people up with an automated message and lets have no more telephone research.


Planners in advertising have a dark secret. While we spend a considerable amount of time commissioning and using quantitative research, we very rarely take part in it. Indeed, like most people that work in marketing, we are screened out from almost all market research. This rather arcane practice is based on the quaint idea that respondents should be ignorant of the research process thereby ensuring more accurate answers. This is similar to the way animals entering an abattoir are made unaware of their surroundings and so succumb to the experience placidly and without distress. Nice placid respondents are exactly what researchers like.
However, there is something deeply troubling when people asks others to undertake anything that they themselves never experience as customers. And so it is with research, where the end users of quantitative surveys often have no real idea of what it feels like to be a respondent, whether its because they decline to take part or are screened out from the interview in the opening seconds. The truth is that if we all had to go through the full horror of a thirty minute questionnaire, we would never let the length of our surveys get out of hand. If we ever had to experience the frustration of being asked to chose from a selection of banal pre-scripted answers that don’t reflect the way we actually feel, we would ask more open ended questions. And if we ever had to endure the imposition, irritation and imbecility of a telephone interview, we would never use telephone research again.
Telephone research, much like its evil twin, telemarketing is a perversion of both the noble role of the telephone and the honourable tradition of research. Not only must one question whether we should submit any fellow human being to the experience, but we should also be extremely dubious about the truthfulness of the results. Not least because finishing the damn thing, rather than recording accurate responses, often becomes the primary aim of interviewer and respondent alike. Thankfully, when it comes to research the telephone is an intermediate technology and one we no longer have to put up with.
While expensive face to face research remains the gold standard the internet is changing the way we acquire the information we all need to do our jobs, especially where budgets and timings are tight. Indeed there are often circumstances where the lack of moderator in online research improves its accuracy over face to face, particularly when it comes to political polling where people are often more honest if they are telling a machine. Online, respondents can chose the time they want to undertake the questionnaire they are participating in, they can consider the questions properly and they can consider the options for their answer properly. They can even come back to tricky questions or take a break from the survey altogether, ensuring that research is completed in a relaxed state of mind and without an impatient low wage interviewer breathing down their handset. While this may reduce the innocence of respondents it is actually possible that people will enjoy online research.
The internet continues to have a profound effect on the marketing business. However, at the same time as the noisy revolution that is taking place in the world of marketing communications the online survey is heralding a more profound but rather quieter revolution in the world of market research. We just need to make sure we take part in it from time to time so that it remains a positive experience for our customers, even if that means fibbing about our profession.

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