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In the 1840s, journalist and social researcher Henry Mayhew began work on a series of stories for London's Morning Chronicle that he hoped would shed light on the plight of the poor. For several years Mayhew roamed the low streets and alleys of what was then the largest city in the world, interviewing those who earn a living in an inequality metropolis.
His stories have been collected and published as London Labor and the London Poor, the first volume of which came out in 1851. The book, Mayhew explained, was “the first attempt to get the story of a people published from the lips of the people themselves. “It's a fascinating early market research case study with details on everything from how many ducks were sold on the city streets each year (80,000) to how many violets (65,280) to how many fish, fruit and vegetable sellers ( over 30,000). to how many cake sellers (50).
Market research has advanced its techniques over the past 170 years, but at its core it is still guided by a simple question: Do the people you speak to trust you? The fact that Henry Mayhew was able to get people to reveal what they sold and for how much – as well as more intimate details like where they live and their level of education – shows that he has a meaningful relationship with over time built them up. As recently as the 1960s, researchers from major brands were still able to go door-to-door with polls in hand to better understand their buyers' motivations and purchase decisions. Consumers opened their doors to complete strangers and spent hours filling out these brochures. Why? Because they trusted us.
However, in today's cynical and divided world, with spam clogging email inboxes and confusing fake messages for real things, getting people to participate in research is a tough climb. According to a June survey by the Global Research Business Network, only 34% of respondents around the world said they had personally trusted market research firms – roughly the same level of trust in government.
So how do we get back to a trust? Consider these strategies:
Related: The Guide: Do Market Research on a Shoestring Budget
1. Speak your customer's language
Especially if you're doing branding research, the language you use – even the emojis you choose for the type of mobile research we do at Rival – needs to match the brand you are working with. A Hermès customer communicates differently than an H&M customer. The same is true when talking to guests at Motel 6 versus those at the Four Seasons. You want to make your subjects feel like they are part of their tribe – that you know what is important to them and not talk to them.
Related: Why Messaging Is The Future Of Market Research
2. Establish clear expectations in advance
How much time do you need with them? What topics will you cover? How often will you reach out to them if you ask them to be part of a mobile community for ongoing research? And what will you do with your data? This last point is especially important as recent research has shown that nearly four in five customers will leave a brand when they find that data is being used without their knowledge. Nothing can annoy a participant faster than the feeling of being lured into a survey and exploited.
3. Offer a consistent brand experience
Consistency should be seen not just in how you deal with research topics, but also in how you represent the brand. One of my worst experiences lately has been with a large resort operator. It was after a family vacation, and while we were having a great time on the trip itself, the subsequent customer survey – emailed out – was a nightmare: I was trapped on an ugly, barely legible microsite for half an hour and long replied and confusing questions. All of a sudden I was mad at this brand – and not because of anything that had happened at the buffet table. The resort just didn't know the survey experience was an extension of its brand – and not a good one.
We have to recognize that trust is not something that is given to us as researchers: we have to go out there and earn it – and keep earning it. Even Henry Mayhew suffered a setback from the people he interviewed: shortly after the first volume was published by London Labor, a group called the Street Traders' Protection Association was formed, made up of some of the salespeople he interviewed, who came together felt misrepresented in the book. Their association was formed to defend the interests of street vendors and provide guidelines for future research.
Today researchers live in a world that is bound by ethical and professional rules. These codes of conduct have helped to legitimize our area and to distinguish good from bad operators. But that doesn't mean the work is easier. We are no longer invited to people's homes for an hour's chat. When we email a survey, people often ignore it. Instead of a customer contact point, researchers need to connect to customers through multiple customers: in the store, in the showroom, on their smartphone and even on the street.
The platforms we use may have changed or evolved, but the need for meaningful dialogue with our consumers – a trusting relationship – remains constant.
Related: Creating Memorable Brand Experiences in the Digital Age