With so much information at our disposal, it’s hardly surprising that people’s attention spans have plummeted. Everything has to be better, faster, clearer than ever before.

A revolution in the research industry

Modern technology has revolutionised all aspects of the market research industry, but nowhere has the revolution been more pronounced than in the way data is collected. In an industry which collected under 10% of its data online a decade ago, now 80% of all consumer surveys and over 60% of business-to-business surveys are conducted in this way.

More generally, consumers and businesspeople alike are bombarded by messages in both the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds. They are always ‘on’ – constantly stimulated by messages from their professional and personal worlds, two worlds which are now intertwined rather than segregated. People must multi-task, alternate between the personal and the professional, and filter the plethora of messages at an astonishing rate.

As a result, attention spans have plummeted. This is a challenge for anyone trying to market or sell anything – how do they grab the attention for long enough for their message to get through? In the world of market research, we are faced with the challenge of engaging respondents enough to make them participate in a survey, which is one of hundreds of requests for their time during a given day.

How have we adapted?

Some of the mechanisms B2B International adopts in order to gather information from today’s distracted, overwhelmed respondent include:

  • Gamification: Turning surveys into exercises, games and workshops, with stimuli such as videos increasingly used.
  • Fragmentation of interviews: Collecting information from respondents over two or three short conversations rather than one session of 20-30 minutes.
  • Mixed methodologies: An end to the evangelism that has sometimes guided research methodology choice in the past – if the respondent wants to complete the survey online, they do it online; if the respondent prefers a conversation, that’s what they get.
  • More focused surveys: Clients increasingly commission agencies to conduct a series of focused surveys throughout the course of a year, rather than one overarching survey.
  • Mobile compatibility of online surveys: Online survey interfaces that allow participants to respond during their commute or at the lunch table, rather than at their desk.
  • Self-completion and self-ethnography: The beauty of self-completion techniques is that they can be completed at any time of day or night, according to the schedule of the respondent. The advent of smart-phones also means that most people now have a camera in their pocket, which can be used to film and photograph their activities. This is an excellent replacement for the direct questions which increasingly frustrate respondents.
  • In the business-to-business world, the difficulty and cost of accessing respondents is increasing by around 7% per year. Further development of techniques such as the above will be crucial if business market intelligence is to continue to meet clients’ needs over the coming years.