Categories: News and Resources

Katie Ferro


New forms of communication can shape strategies and get the best outcome from participant engagement. The move away from outdated or obsolete communication methods may free the industry, allowing it to place a greater emphasis on the development of innovative new tools that attract and build panel engagement.

Just like most industry sectors, market research is undergoing transformative change because of technological development. Convenience, personal preference, and learned communication habits are impacting the way that participants engage.

In 2013, CRNRSTONE, formerly Stable Research, approached our 110,000 strong Australian panel to gain an insight into how and why they engaged with market research surveys, including participant preferences, protocols for maintaining panel quality, and the importance of online survey structure and design.

During May this year, we revisited our panel to determine whether much had changed over the ensuing four years and to once again put the same questions to them that were directly related to their survey participation experience. The demographic spread of those who responded was 61% female and 39% male. Those between the ages of 31 and 60 made up the bulk of participants, but reach did extend from 18 to 66+ years.

While many things remained the same, there were areas where participant opinion had altered, most notably in the area of telephone research and telephone polls.

The appeal of focus groups engagement remains strong, highlighting the importance of feeling valued.

The fact that there had not been greater take-up of other survey methods that utilised technology also raised that issue of whether engagement through online surveys, for example, had reached saturation point and whether the industry was innovating fast enough to keep people engaged and connected.

Hold the phone

In 2017, results showed that while participation continued to grow across most areas of market research, nearly four in ten participants said they were participating less in phone polls and telephone research compared to previous years. Of the participants who did take part in phone polls, less than half enjoyed the experience.

The decline in phone poll participation was strongest across the 18 to 29 year category followed by the 30-39 year category at 47%.

These findings correlate with those of the 2017 GRIT CPR Report[i], where just 4% of participants chose telephone communication as their preferred form of research participation. Only 4.2% of all participants reported that they usually participated in phone research and 2.9% said a telephone call was their preferred method of research invitation.

The decline in landline phones, as well as an overall trend away from speaking on the phone when compared to the rise in instant and text messaging as well as the increase in robocalls, may continue to impact this area of market research. While we are not at the same levels in Australia, in the United States, an estimated 2.5 billion robocalls are now made each month.[i]

A recent Guardian article also highlighted that people prefer text to talk because they are able to pre-empt their responses, with the millennial journalist writing: “We’ve grown up with so many methods of communication available to us, and we’ve gravitated towards the least intrusive ones because we know how it feels to be digitally prodded on a range of different channels. Speaking on the telephone is an event, and we don’t want to avoid it – we just need to be sure that both parties have a chance to prepare for it. We want a chance to compose and edit our thoughts, in the way we do when we’re writing them down.”[ii]

Online surveys | Is it time to take it to the next level?

Our results found that participation rates for online surveys had not changed significantly since 2013. In fact, 44% of participants said their participation rates for online surveys remained the same, while 38% participated more and 18% participated less, painting a mixed picture for online survey engagement.

Recently results showed that those who did take part in online surveys expressed a significant amount of enjoyment with more than 70% of participants indicating they enjoyed taking part in online research studies. Females enjoyed taking part in online research more than males.

Consideration could be given as to whether it’s time to take online surveys to the next level. A 2016 study titled Increasing survey engagement through gamification and the use of mobile devices suggests that while there is no definitive research at this stage, it does appear that elements like gamification add to the online survey experience and increase buy-in.[iii]

This finding can also be highlighted by the most recent Greenbook GRIT CPR Report calling on the industry to think like game designers, marketing or UI experts when designing research.

Participants make time to attend focus groups because they enjoy them

Apart from online research, focus groups continue to remain popular with participants. While about 80% of participants indicated that they currently participate in focus or discussion groups, nearly 90% indicated they would like to do so in the future. Enjoyment levels for those who have participated in focus groups also remains high with nine in ten participants indicating they enjoy participating.

The willingness to engage via focus groups is also relevant when viewed in comparison with the reason that participants decide whether or not to participate in surveys. 73% of participants indicated that participation related to whether they were busy or not, 43% indicated that it related to the topic and 50% said it related to incentives/payment. It appears that people will make the time to attend focus groups in person because they enjoy the experience and feel that the incentives they receive are commensurate for their time.

Our 2017 survey also showed that the main reason given for attending research groups, in order of popularity, were that participants enjoy meeting other people, the process, finding out new products/services, the incentives, and giving their opinion.

Other elements that came into play, which were very similar to our research findings from 2013 include, food/refreshments, venue/parking, who’s running the session, the duration, incentives and the topic.

Time and engagement

Participants indicated that being time poor did not impact the way they answered research questions once they were engaged. Half of the participants said that time commitments did not influence their attention to their responses once they were engaged. Eight in ten said that the time commitment did not affect their honesty in responding to research.

They also indicated that the ideal length of a survey is 11.7 minutes on average with those aged over 60 happier to engage for longer periods of time. Shorter survey times were preferred by 18 to 29 and 30 to 39 year olds.

During the week participants are pretty happy to answer questions at most times with the research showing a preference for morning at 30%, daytime at 43%, and evening at 58%. During weekends the preference was for daytime and evenings on Saturday and Sunday.

More than half of the participants also said that homework tasks helped with their preparation before attending research and during discussions.

Food remains the king of topics

Since our last survey we can see that participants’ enjoyment of talking about food has not waned, with the topic once again proving the most popular research topic. Government and social issues as well as health also remained popular topics.

Younger participants enjoyed talking about media, food and non-alcoholic beverages while those in the older age brackets enjoyed talking about Government, health and food.

Blogs on the decline

There were significant increases in the number of participants who used mobile phones, tablets and videos to participate in research. The use of apps also increased, with blogs reflecting a decrease in relation to research tools used.

There is no doubt that engagement via mobile will continue to increase with the Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey 2016 recently highlighting that “while worldwide shipments for the second quarter of 2016 revealed just 0.7 per cent year-on-year growth, the smartphone is still the most ubiquitous device across the mobile consumer landscape and its penetration rate is quickly approaching 100 per cent”.[iv]

When compared to findings of the GRIT Report, we can see that older Australian survey participants engage more readily via mobile phones when compared to their global counterparts. Our Soapbox 2017 survey showed that 53% of 50 to 59 years old and 42% of over 60 year olds were most likely to use their mobile phones when answering research questions. In comparison, the GRIT report found that only 15% to 20% of those aged over 55 reported that the mobile phone was their preferred participation method.[v]

Engaging on their terms

While the findings of the participant surveys, that occurred four years apart, show that many elements had remained the same, there is a definite trend where participants are more inclined to engage with market researchers at a time and via a method that works for them. As the mobile phone continues to rise as a preferred method of engagement, the use of the device for talking is waning.

Time constraints appear relevant in terms of engagement, but if people actually enjoy the experience and the topic they are talking about, they are willing to give greater attention and commitment.

It will be interesting to monitor the use of the mobile phone to see whether voice-based research via the device declines further, or whether the industry finds a new and innovative way to engage via that method.

[i] Why am I getting so many Robocalls? | Marguerite Reardon | c|net | [ONLINE] Avaliable at:

[ii] [iv] The Guardian. 2016. Wondering why that millennial won’t take your phone call? Here’s why | Daisy Buchanan | Opinion | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at:

[iii] Increasing survey engagement through gamification and the use of mobile devices | Maree Ackehurst and Rose-Anne Polvere | National Centre for Vocational Education
Research | [ONLINE] Avaliable at:

[iv] Mobile Consumer Survey 2016 The Australian Cut Hyper connectivity: Clever consumption | Jeremy Drumm, Nicholas White and Morne Swiegers | [ONLINE] Avaliable at:

[v] [i], [vi], [ix] GreenBook. 2017. Q1-Q2 2017 GRIT Report | GreenBook. [ONLINE] Available at: