Making Surveys Human

Engaging the Whole Human has been a guiding light for Greenberg’s successful strategy work for years. We pride ourselves on understanding motivations and desires at a deep, human level in all our qualitative work. We bring the same philosophy to our humanQuant™ practice.

Nick Collins leads Greenberg's humanQuant practice and recently calculated that he's spent 4.1% of his entire waking life watching soccer.

Nick Collins leads Greenberg's humanQuant practice and recently calculated that he's spent 4.1% of his entire waking life watching soccer.

I dread filling in forms. There’s the angst of wondering whether I have the correct document. Then there’s the pain of interpreting confusing bureaucratic instructions. And the more critical the document (passports, customs, and taxes come to mind), the greater the fear of missing something that will trigger rejection, forcing me to repeat the whole miserable exercise.

Turns out I’m not alone. Urban Dictionary even defines a condition called “formophobia” as “paralyzing fear, distress, and nervousness caused by the act of entering personal information into a pre-made template.” No matter the association, forms are impersonal and inhuman by nature. They remind us not of our own uniqueness, but that we are, after all, just cogs in a machine.

I’m sorry to say that the market researchers among us are in the forms business too. We like to think of questions as key inputs that drive better business decisions, even as many respondents see them as just chores to complete and boxes to check. In other words, in pursuit of human input to understand attitudes, trends, behaviors, and opinions, we too often remind people of the irrelevance of their individuality – that they are just pieces of data to be processed.

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Many of us in the research and strategy business have known this in our guts for years, even as we think of ways to “mobilize” surveys, develop efficient designs, and optimize screen real estate. Now, the industry mantra is shorter surveys – ones that respondents can rush through on mobile devices between other tasks, perhaps without even engaging their brains, let alone their hearts and guts.

At Greenberg, we’ve always believed there’s another way. Instead of just shortening surveys, compressing questions, and facilitating “mindless” answers, why not engage the “whole” human being in research? This might not make for shorter surveys, but ones in which respondents are more fully aware, thinking carefully, and expressing emotions and desires. Engagement, not length, should be the most important metric.

Engaging the Whole Human has been a guiding light for Greenberg’s successful strategy work for years. We pride ourselves on understanding motivations and desires at a deep, human level in all our qualitative work, and we bring the same philosophy to life in our humanQuant™ quantitative practice.

HumanQuant re-thinks much of the standard formula for both survey research and data analytics. While maintaining essential left-brain statistical rigor and data modeling, it embraces right brain visualization and creativity. This infuses both our approach to surveys as well as data science and presentation. 

The practical manifestation of humanQuant departs from traditional formats and re-thinks survey research. Our surveys are no longer chores, but interesting, fun, and relevant experiences that capture respondents’ full attention for a precious 15 or 20 minutes. Using design, simple, human language, and thought-provoking exercises, we produce interactive experiences that engage respondents and treat them as humans. For our humanQuant team, it is that engagement that is the key to insight.

We recently ran a side-by-side experiment against a simple standard survey to understand how our approach resonates and, on a deeper level, how the quality of engagement and relevance of answers improve as a survey becomes more human. This is what we found:

1. First, engagement doesn’t equal speed. Average and median completion times for humanQuant surveys were 30% longer – but almost every one of our 1,000 respondents contributed open-ended remarks that were much richer and more thought out than the standard.

2. Metrics on survey experience were as follows:

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3. Open-ended text analysis delivered words not usually connected with surveys, like “fun,” “enjoyed,” “cool,” and “like.” 

4. Standard survey open-ended responses were terse and focused on the topic; humanQuant respondents told us, “this is the nicest looking survey I’ve ever taken,” that it was “beautifully crafted and grabbed my attention the whole time,” and how it was “nice to see such different and unique visuals and to be treated like a human being!”

5. Cross-referencing category involvement with survey enjoyment was also revealing. Even people with limited category interest liked our survey, while the standard form showed almost zero enthusiasm from the same group.

6. Comparing core metrics revealed that brand familiarity and ownership all tended toward logical numbers, while the standard survey approach indicated a lack of care and attention usually associated with speedsters and straight-liners.

We continue to iterate our survey design to create deeper emotional connection, understanding and interpreting feelings alongside attitudes and opinions. In an era of information overload, the distant, impersonal approach of many of today’s surveys dooms researchers to disengaged respondents, poor attention levels, and questionable data. Humanizing survey research, turning it into a thankful task worthy of people’s time and attention, delivers huge dividends. And for formaphobes like me, it makes the world just a morsel happier.

 

When it comes to surveys, engagement, not length, should be the key metric.