Clear, Fair Questions Key to Reliable Survey Results

Reliable survey research depends on many factors, but it all starts with questions that are asked clearly and fairly.

Reliable survey research depends on many factors, but it all starts with questions that are asked clearly and fairly.

A lot of things need to be done right to deliver reliable and useful survey data. At the top of the list is asking relevant questions clearly and fairly.

Fuzzy questions produce fuzzy answers. Skewed questions produce skewed results. Fuzzy answers and skewed results aren’t a solid foundation for successful advertising and advocacy campaigns or for smart business decision-making.

Clarity in the wording of questions is essential to avoid confusing respondents. You want to make sure respondents have a common comprehension of the question so you can reliably measure their responses. A best practice in public opinion polling and market research is to test questions to ensure they are as clear and commonly understood as possible

Question clarity is becoming more important because of increased cultural diversity and audiences that include English-as-a-second-language speakers. Question testing needs to include this variable as well.

Along with clarity, questions should explore a single idea, issue or product feature. If you mix in multiple ideas, issues or features, you won’t necessarily know which one is the factor that fetches a  “like” or “dislike” answer. Sarah Taylor, in a blog post about survey questions, provides this example:

For example, asking "how valuable and organized was the Ebook?" is mixing two issues together: value and organization. Maybe the respondent really enjoyed the content in the Ebook, but thought it was organized poorly. If you ask them that question, the response may be for either issue and you won't really have a sense of what needs to be changed for your next Ebook. Instead, ask two questions: “How valuable was the e-book?" and “Rate the organization of the Ebook" to get better quality data.

The vocabulary of questions should be basic. Respondents will run the gamut of education and backgrounds. If your subject matter is technical, take special care to avoid jargon or phrases that may go over the head of some respondents. In some cases, you may need to preface a question so there is a common framework for all respondents. Special care is required to make sure any explanation is fair and factual.

Which brings us to skewed questions. If you are in the propaganda business, skewed questions and push polls may be tools of your trade. But for everyone else, skewed questions aren’t helpful and can be disastrous if you mistakenly base million-dollar campaigns on their findings.

Finding out what you need to know – as opposed to what you want to know – is the proper attitude to bring to any kind of research, whether  a quantitative poll or qualitative focus group. Curiosity, not a fixed mind set, is the right frame of mind.

Credible pollsters and market researchers can readily identify and will avoid loaded words or leading sequences of questions. But sometimes skew still slips in, as it did in this famous question, “Would you vote for a woman for president if she were qualified in every other way?” In addition to being confusing, the question implies being a woman is a qualification as opposed to a gender. Subtle, yes, but doesn’t mean it can’t have a significant effect.

The order of questions can influence responses. Pollsters and market researchers will often rotate the order of questions to minimize the possibility of skewing results.

Give respondents a full range of choices in evaluating an idea, issue or product feature. You also might give them a chance to comment through an open-ended question, which allows you to capture their words, not just their answers.

One of the most common forms of skewing is the omission of a key word or concept. If you were polling the congressional Republican proposals to replace Obamacare, it would be a mistake not to test the concept of lower health insurance premiums in connection with the cost of keeping premiums low for patients with pre-existing conditions. Who wouldn’t want to see lower health insurance premiums, but at which price and paid by whom? Installing residential rooftop solar panels will be enticing as a way to cut electricity bills, but the financial equation is incomplete with exploring how long it would take to break even after making the investment in solar panels.

Many other factors determine the accuracy and reliability of survey findings, such as representative samples, sample sizes, length of surveys, when surveys are conducted and the type of survey used. Surveys can generate rich, meaningful and actionable data if done right. A good place to start is to get the survey questions right.

Social Media Video Sells to Consumers on the Move

Peloton has used Facebook video to connect with potential consumers and turn views into sales.

Peloton has used Facebook video to connect with potential consumers and turn views into sales.

Video sells. According to Animoto’s "State of Social Video in 2017," 64 percent of consumers say they purchased a product after watching a video about it on Facebook.

No wonder Animoto found 83 percent of marketers place video content on their company’s branded Facebook pages, many as often as four times per month and some six times per month.

One obvious reason why video sells is because it causes consumers to stop and pay attention to a product message. That’s important because more than 80 percent of consumers who regularly view branded Facebook pages do so on mobile devices. They may be swiping quickly while riding a bus, shopping while watching TV or standing in a store looking at the product.

Branded social media video content is the rough equivalent of a TV infomercial. Both need to show off unique product features, explain how the product works and point out practical product applications. While infomercials are designed to appeal to insomniacs on a couch, social media videos need to connect quickly with consumers on the move. That means you need more than a great branded video; you also need a smart branded video marketing campaign to reach those consumers on the move.

Aiming branded social media videos at mobile device users is now more than a trial run. It is a trend that shows no sign of tailing off. And there is a clear incentive – mobile device users are more likely to watch the entire video, which explains why Animoto found 81 percent of brand managers optimize social media video for mobile devices.

Getting views and generating sales require an eye-catching video with an engaging thumbnail and teaser to draw attention, informative content, some entertainment value and a call to action. It also requires a campaign that targets your most promising prospects. Animoto says nearly 70 percent of marketers pay to boost their social media videos to targeted audiences, which is smart because 3 billion videos are posted everyday just on Facebook.

Unlike mass media ads, digital media advertising is all about testing variations, measuring responses and focusing on what works. Some Facebook videos may get views, but no follow-up. Marketers want to find out what turns viewers into buyers. Often that is the video that is more informative than artsy, that shows someone using the product and talking about it.

A few other nuggets from the Animoto survey:

  • 85 percent of Facebook videos are viewed with the sound off, which argues for strong visual content.
  • 39 percent of consumers are more likely to finish videos with subtitles, making it easier to understand key messages.
  • There is increasing interest in live branded videos.
  • Consumers like behind-the-scenes videos.
  • Consumers are more likely to share videos with educational value, emotional tags or humor.
  • More than 40 percent of viewers decide whether to view the entire video in less than 15 seconds.
  • The attention span of mobile device users viewing videos is significantly shorter than viewers on laptops.

The bottom line is that if you aren’t using video content as part of your marketing mix, you are missing out on opportunities to connect with your existing and potential consumers who are on the move.

Medical Trends to Outpace US Health Care Policy

Major trends, including the marriage of medicine and technology, are revolutionizing health care even as US politicians struggle to find a path forward on ensuring access and affordability for all Americans.

Major trends, including the marriage of medicine and technology, are revolutionizing health care even as US politicians struggle to find a path forward on ensuring access and affordability for all Americans.

How and whether Congress repeals and replaces Obamacare will shape health care in America, but there are other trends that may have as much or more impact.

Frank Baitman and Kenneth Karpay, who are involved in health care technology, identify “three immutable trends” in the US health care system that will march on regardless of what Congress does or doesn’t do. The trends are the aging of America, the marriage of technology and medicine and new life science discoveries that are bursting from research laboratories.

Taken together,” Baitman and Karpay write in the Harvard Business Review, “these three trends will drive dramatic changes in health care, regardless of government policies. We see several areas where patients and care providers, as well as entrepreneurs and investors, will likely benefit.”

While politicians bicker over health insurance strategy, health care officials and investors are focusing on patient engagement, which Baitman and Karpay say is linked to better heath care outcomes. “Technology plays a crucial role in promoting engagement, in part by customizing medical information for each patient and [using] digital platforms that promote health and help patients understand their medical conditions and options for treatment and prevention.” The authors say there were 296 digital health start-ups in 2016 and they expect $4-$5 billion will be invested annually in this evolving health care sector.

One way to promote more affordable health care, they say, is to bring medicine to patients, especially older people, instead of patients to hospitals or clinics. The savings goes far beyond avoided travel costs and risks. “Today’s telemedicine technology enables practitioners to scale their services, seeing more patients in less time and it embeds analytics that can help focus clinicians’ time on the cases where they have the greatest effect,” according to Baitman and Karpay.  Patients benefit by more frequent contact with their health care providers, which can improve coordination on ongoing treatment of chronic conditions. The authors note there are now 3,000 apps to aid in managing diabetes.

The market is adapting to a expanding aging population by offering aids to enable older people to live independently or in facilities that allow semi-independent living situations.

The growing availability of personal health data and declining cost of integrating those massive health data sets is galvanizing medical research into what might be called personal medicine. “The pipeline for new drugs is bursting and new devices and tools in the rapidly emerging digital health space will come to market more quickly,” Baitman and Karpay say.

Even though the explosion of new drugs and devices will open up new treatments, it also will create a conundrum for medical providers who must keep up with new options and health care payer who need to figure out affordable strategies to pay for them. Baitman and Karpay predict the “current payer strategy of negotiating favorable pricing” will be seriously challenged.

The question marks on Capitol Hill surrounding a replacement for Obamacare are unlikely to alter these trends, Baitman and Karpay insist. "Uncertainty surrounding the health care bill shouldn’t have a material effect on the success of various solutions. Indeed, with the current government gridlock, the rapid development of and growing demand for new health care technologies may help policymakers chart the course forward.”
 

Boring Economics Can Bridge a Divided America

Economics may be boring, but the lack of emotion could be just what a divided nation needs to have a civil conversation about taxes, trade, savings and jobs.

Economics may be boring, but the lack of emotion could be just what a divided nation needs to have a civil conversation about taxes, trade, savings and jobs.

America is deeply and perhaps even dangerously divided. Common ground has become almost extinct. But Miles Kimball says one unsuspecting subject could bridge the partisan divide – economics.

Kimball, who is a blog-writing economist, says economics could work to bring people together because it is, for lack of a better word, boring.

Unlike health care, border walls and Russian election meddling that spark emotional debates, Kimball says economics is unemotional. Economics is so unemotional, it can put you to sleep, as evidenced daily in college classrooms across America.

Politicians, Kimball explains, may not be the best interpreters of economics. They tend to turn it into an “us versus them” narrative and campaign promises, which are either unrealistic or counterproductive.

Take, for example, the Republican call for a “border adjustment,” which would raise the price of imports and cut taxes on exports in the name of preserving US jobs, reducing the trade deficit and raising revenue. Kimball said it might do the opposite by strengthening the US dollar, which in turn may encourage imports and dampen exports.

Miles Kimball is Eaton Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado and a regular Quartz columnist and blogger.

Miles Kimball is Eaton Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado and a regular Quartz columnist and blogger.

"The trouble is that border adjustment doesn’t do much to give the rest of the world access to the US dollars it would need to buy US goods,” Kimball explains. "Border adjustment is like trying to sell cars by giving car buyers a discount, but then failing to give them any financing.”

A better idea, Kimball says, is to boost the lagging US savings rate by automatically enrolling all workers in retirement savings plans, which would provide more money to lend abroad to buy US products.

"With Americans doing more saving, the United States wouldn’t need to borrow as much from the rest of the world to build houses and factories – and the trade balance would improve,” Kimball wrote for Quartz Media. "More exports and fewer imports would, in turn, lead to more of the types of jobs that many people want. In addition to lending abroad to finance US exports, extra saving would mean more funds for investments in the United States that would also lead to better-paying jobs.”

This is clearly not an idea that has occurred to Congress, which recently voted to eviscerate a Department of Labor ruling that cleared the way for state-sponsored retirement savings plans, including one in Oregon. Thee also is discussion in the Trump administration to drop the tax deferral on money going into company-sponsored 401(k) accounts, which would be used to offset predicted revenue losses from the President’s proposed tax cut.

Kimball puts the onus on economists, teachers and journalists to find ways to make economics as interesting as economic disasters. He believes the curiosity of Americans of all political stripes can be piqued.

"It’s clear that American voters on both sides of the political divide are invested in topics like jobs, trade, retirement and the plight of the working and middle classes.” he writes. "But often, hot-button issues such as immigration come to dominate the conversation about these subjects – perhaps because most people lack a solid grasp of the real forces that have created economic problems, or the mechanisms that might be able to address them.”

To follow Kimball’s suggestion, politicians might consider scheduling town hall meetings devoted to Economics 101. They might be less raucous and more informative.

Four Ways to Maximize the Value of Your Research

Maximize the value of your consumer research by listening to, engaging and sharing with key stakeholders. And make sure research findings are rendered to answer the “So what?” question.

Maximize the value of your consumer research by listening to, engaging and sharing with key stakeholders. And make sure research findings are rendered to answer the “So what?” question.

How many times have you spent significant time and budget on research to inform and enable leadership and other stakeholders to make wise business decisions…only to hope something—anything—happens with those insights once the report presentation is finished? Here are four things you can do to help ensure what you present is meaningful, impactful, and maximizing your ROI.

1.         Listen: Take time to engage with stakeholders, get their input and really understand the challenges they’re trying to solve. Think of them as peers rather than people to convince or obstacles in your way. (Pro tip: leverage your research skills and ask open-ended questions.)

Janice Cogdill, who took her MBA at Willamette University, spends her days investigating how to make websites and apps more effective and efficient for the people who use them. She also leads consumer-obsessed teams and drives double-digit sales growth for her Fortune 100 clients/employers. You can reach her at jenicacogdill@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/jcogdill. 

Janice Cogdill, who took her MBA at Willamette University, spends her days investigating how to make websites and apps more effective and efficient for the people who use them. She also leads consumer-obsessed teams and drives double-digit sales growth for her Fortune 100 clients/employers. You can reach her at jenicacogdill@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/jcogdill

2.         Involve: Further increase stakeholder buy-in by involving them, at least at a high-level, throughout the whole process. For example, hold kickoff meetings to get everyone on the same page and communicate updates on the schedule. Harness the power of qualitative research by having them observe sessions, even if only remotely. (Pro tip: ensure they observe more than one session…trust me on this one.)

3.         Share: Take ownership of raising awareness and sharing what you know about the consumer. A study conducted in 2014 by Tom De Ruyck and Anouk Willems found that 92% of insight professionals believe their research was worth sharing with colleagues, only 65% shared among their organizations. Sometimes seemingly unrelated departments, teams, or roles—often those without access to research—find tremendous value from what might initially seem like irrelevant research. (Pro tip: this is a great way to increase your visibility across the organization)

4.         Tailor: While findings might be interesting, they won’t get any traction if they’re not useful. I’m surprised at how often research reports intended for leadership are heavy on descriptive findings and light on the specific, short messages that answer, “so what?” On the flipside, overly strategic reports don’t always meet the needs of design teams. Tailoring your report might mean developing or re-organizing materials, but this isn’t overly difficult or time consuming if you’ve implemented the initial three points. (Pro tip: providing actionable value for each audience is how you generate value for yourself as well.)

Americans Vote with Their Feet in Landslide Counties

The purple on America’s political map is fading away, replaced by super red and super blue areas that deliver landslide victories and give voters a rare chance to find a neighbor with an opposing point of view.

The purple on America’s political map is fading away, replaced by super red and super blue areas that deliver landslide victories and give voters a rare chance to find a neighbor with an opposing point of view.

More Americans live in polarized communities, which has resulted in a growing number of local landslide elections, according to an analysis posted on fivethirtyeight.com.

From 1992 to 2016, fivethirtyeight.com says the number of US counties that delivered landslide votes for a presidential candidate – with margins exceeding 50 percent – “exploded from 93 to 1,196, or more than a third of the nation’s counties.”

“More than 61 percent of voters cast ballots in counties that gave either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump at least 60 percent of the major-party vote last November. That’s up from 50 percent of voters who lived in such counties in 2012 and 39 percent in 1992 – an accelerating trend that confirms America’s political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart.”

These election landslides aren’t the result of gerrymandering districts or stagnant politics. They suggest Americans are voting with their feet or live in areas becoming collectively politicized by economic or social conditions such as high jobless or opioid addiction rates.

Fivethirtyeight.com notes Trump carried the large, traditionally Democratic counties that include Utica (New York), Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) and Charleston (West Virginia) with 20 percent or larger margins. Meanwhile, Clinton did the same in San Diego County, Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) and Henrico County (Virginia), which were landslide GOP counties in the 1988 election.

“These examples prove that communities can change allegiances over time,” writes David Wasserman on the public opinion analysis website. “But most places just aren’t budging – in fact, they’re doubling down.” The picture these statistics paint is one of super red and super blue counties, with fewer and fewer purple swing counties.

A byproduct of this geographical polarization is “an entire generation of youth will grow up without much exposure to alternative points of view,” says Wasserman. “If you think out political climate is toxic now, think for a moment about how nasty politics could be in 20 or 30 years from now.s

People who live in landslide counties may be skeptical of how deeply and evenly the nation is divided. Wasserman points out Trump won the presidential election by eking out relatively narrow victories in traditionally blue states, while losing the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. “But if you feel like you hardly know anyone who disagrees with you, you’re not alone,” he says. “Chances are the election was a landslide in your backyard."