No One Will Talk to Me!


Persuasion is critical in market research. If we can’t persuade people to spend 20 minutes talking to us, we have no survey. In this over researched world, we have to be ever more persuasive in getting people to spend their valuable time answering our questions.

There are some obvious things we can do. Of course, we can pay them. Members of market research panels who complete online surveys receive small incentives ranging from a few cents to a few dollars. In telephone interviews we may offer Amazon vouchers, donations to charity and other rewards in an attempt to be persuasive.

However, monetary rewards should be our last resort. At best, they are an easy way out. At worst they are a bribe. What is more, they push up the cost of surveys.

Our experience tells us that it is possible to persuade people to take part in research if the approach is right. It helps if an interviewer or the online questionnaire is likeable. People take part in surveys if they like the approach of the person or the questionnaire. In a telephone interview a person’s voice and their enthusiasm counts for a lot. In an online survey, the layout of the questionnaire, the words which are used to introduce the survey, go a long way to winning a response.

People also are driven to do things that they see other people are doing. An introduction to the survey that explains that everyone of a certain status or position is taking part may provide the social proof and encouragement for completion.

Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University has thrown some more light on the subtle tricks of persuasion. His new book, entitled Pre-Suasion, tells us that it is not just the messages that persuade people, it is the context in which they are presented that really matter. He quotes an example of two researchers, armed with clipboards, who asked shoppers for help with a survey. Only 29% agreed to participate. Yet when the researchers asked, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” the participation rate shot up to 77%. This change of context made a massive difference to the strike rate.

Persuasion is also vital to us as marketers. We should bear some of Dr Cialdini’s observations in mind when making our recommendations to clients. For example, he cites a study that showed background pictures of fluffy clouds on a website for home furnishings increased people’s interest in expensive sofas. The clouds introduced thoughts of softness and quality. A change of background to dimes resulted in an increase in interest in cheaper products. Changing the background primes an audience to think in a certain way.

We should be aware that culture is also a huge contextual influence. What influences somebody to take part in a survey in China may be completely different to what will work in the USA. What will persuade a CEO to participate could be completely different to what will influence a tradesperson. Psychology helps us understand persuasion, but don’t be fooled into thinking there is one universal truth that will get people to talk to you. And don’t forget to just be nice.

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