How AI, respondent fatigue and data quality are affecting the marketing research industry

Editor’s note: Pete Denman is the marketing and client services manager of Observation Baltimore. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “The Current Concerns of the Market Research Industry.” 

When taking a broad look at the industry, insights professionals would agree that today’s landscape looks much better than it did three years ago. At that time, many qualitative researchers were still trying to establish a consistent process for virtual research. To understand the current concerns within the marketing research industry, look no further than at articles written by industry professionals. With fewer articles referencing the difficulties and harsh effects of COVID-19, what are the current concerns within the marketing research industry?  

The increasing use of AI and artificial respondents

Artificial intelligence is being used by the public and businesses alike. AI has immediately demonstrated value in the ability to quickly interpret data and expedite time consuming processes like the creation of screeners and discussion guides. This is largely seen as a positive as it will let qualitative researchers spend more time focusing on other aspects of their research. However, it has gotten to the point of not only being able to replicate the moderator during chat-based virtual groups but is also able to replace respondents too. 

For an industry predicated on human behavior, artificial respondents receive mixed reviews. Most research professionals are adamant that research should be human-based. Some firms may be enticed by the cost savings of artificial respondents, but decisions based on artificial respondents are less than strategic. 

Shorter decision cycles  

In today’s digital world, the average person is more informed than ever. For businesses and researchers, that means there are more perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes to uncover than ever before.

Sponsors of research rush for insights now more than ever to understand their consumers decisions. Despite more insights to be uncovered, budgets and deadlines are rarely adjusted with the increased workload, leading to researcher burnout.

Losing interest: Research participants face respondent fatigue

Respondents that were once eager to pick up their phones in hopes of being selected for participation in research projects have begun to lose interest. Evidence has shown that throughout the marketing research industry, screening tools have gotten significantly longer. In some cases, screeners are too focused, excluding respondents who could offer valuable insights. 

Respondents have begun to feel jaded, and they’re wasting their time answering questions for 20 minutes only to be told that their responses are not appropriate for the study. Excessive screener length is one reason deteriorated response rates are reported throughout the industry.   

Incentive expectations 

It’s a “race to the bottom” or a “race to the top” depending on what side of the isle you’re on. In an economy quickly shifting due to inflation, many have found themselves participating in the “gig economy” and see it as a more lucrative method for additional income than participating in marketing research.  

Insights professionals have tried to prevent respondents from becoming jaded by offering higher incentives. While this does entice some respondents, research sponsors are hesitant to raise incentive budgets, causing poor attendance.

Sample and data quality/validity 

Quantitative research has a data quality problem. Researchers are reportedly throwing out as much as 25% to 30% of their data due to lack of validity. Figures that, if included, could completely alter the outcome of surveys.   

Data validity issues stem from a mix of the factors addressed above. Too many long surveys have left target audiences less likely to respond. Respondents feel that they aren’t being compensated enough for their efforts so surveys are often done hastily and dishonestly. Artificial intelligence has allowed scammers to sit back and relax as their AI model works endlessly to complete numerous amounts of surveys.  

Data privacy 

At the start of 2023, five states (Calif., Colo., Conn., Utah and Va.) began enforcing varying sets of laws using similar terminology as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. The regulations set a new bar for security when collecting data and also limits the amount of data firms can collect. 

Data privacy is at the forefront of the consumer’s mind more than ever before and due to recent data breaches, their concerns surrounding it are reasonable. Without establishing trust, it’s near impossible to accomplish your research’s goals. If quantitative researchers are not showing to what extent firms are going to protect their respondent’s data, they risk unsatisfactory response rates. 

While these are all concerns, they are by no means a death sentence! Instead, these concerns are just a reminder that we must stay agile and constantly adapt. Researchers will begin to utilize AI as a tool to do the time consuming “busy work,” as it has shown clear biases and shortcomings. Researchers will use creativity to shorten their screeners while still capturing desired audiences. Quantitative firms have started vetting respondents, ensuring that responses collected are from reliable sources.

While these are all current concerns, we remain confident the research industry will endure!