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Spammers, Liars and Cheapskates: Why Advisors and Brokers Hate Online Surveys

So what did brokers and advisors have to say about online survey research? A lot…and most of it was not good. In fact, most of it was downright negative. According to our interviews, we have a major credibility issue, caused by the following:

  • Spamming
  • Lying (Or the Perception of Lying)
  • Inadequate Compensation

SPAMMING: Not one of the people we interviewed received fewer than six invitations per month for the past year. This is too much! Even the consumer panel houses, who are notorious for pushing contact limits, try to keep the number of monthly survey invitations below this threshold. Most respondents lamented they’ve unsubscribed multiple times yet continue to receive emails from one market research firm after another. Why are we hammering a highly prized target population with so much email when they’ve made it clear they don’t want it?


LYING: Brokers and advisors complain that surveys almost always take longer to complete than what’s specified in survey invitations. Perhaps we are hopeful the content will be so interesting the respondent will think it took less time. Perhaps we timed the survey using completion paths requiring less time. Perhaps we don’t really care and we’ll say anything in order to get people to participate. We have a credibility gap here—our audience thinks we are intentionally misleading them. How many times are we going to tell a busy person a survey will only take 10 minutes to complete and then have it take much longer?  First we spam and now we lie.


INADEQUATE COMPENSATION: On top of spamming and fibbing, we fail to provide adequate and/or appropriate compensation to respondents for completing surveys. We need to get serious about fair, adequate and appropriate compensation.  Brokers and advisors are in the business of making money and they, more than most audiences, clearly know how much their time is worth. A $5 gift card even for 10 minutes is laughable and destined for the trash folder.  From my perspective, anything less than $25 for a 10 to 15 minute survey is unacceptable.  You can start spouting off all the research methodology mumbo jumbo about the dangers and types of respondents only participating for the money, but why offer an incentive at all if you are worried about it?  I say value your respondent and they will value your research!

Let’s Move Forward!

While the above realities are disturbing, they are fixable challenges that do not require a significant amount of time or effort. They do require that we be thoughtful, courteous, and respectful of our research audiences.

As far as spamming goes, the following scenario plays out every day, multiple times a day:

  • Firm A purchases a list of financial advisors and emails a survey invitation to 20,000 financial-services representatives.
  • 2,000 unsubscribe from the study.
  • Firm B purchases from the same sample source as Firm A and emails a survey invitation to the same 20,000 financial-services representatives. What happens to those 2,000 people that unsubscribed from Firm A’s study? They were invited to participate again and, in most cases, unsubscribed again. In addition, due to receiving too many invitations, a few more people unsubscribe.
  • Now Firm C purchases the same sample source as Firm A and Firm B and the cycle of destruction continues.

While the above scenario is not necessarily a violation of the CAN SPAM ACT (i.e., the invites were sent from different vendors/clients), it does demonstrate the need for the list provider to require their customers provide list health/disposition reports. Otherwise, we’ll all be playing with an even further reduced asset.

We can address the perception of lying very easily by simply applying the 5-minute rule.  For every study, add five minutes to the approximate completion time and present it as a range. If the survey is going to take 10 minutes to complete, tell the respondent it should be between 10 and 15 minutes. If the survey is going to take 15 minutes to complete, tell the respondent it’s likely between 15 and 20 minutes. It’s all about how you communicate and how you set expectations.

Achieving adequate and/or appropriate compensation requires that clients increase their research budgets. This can be difficult to negotiate in an environment of “faster” and “cheaper” at all times, but think about the fallout. The cheaper we go, the longer it takes to complete the study due to low participation. As a result of the low incentive offer, more and more people unsubscribe—further compromising the study and extending the field period.   Pay now or pay later, it’s entirely up to you.  At Brookmark, we always push our clients to offer as high an incentive as possible.