For years these physics boffins have been going on about the big bang and the ever expanding universe, well after nearly several minutes of thought, I’ve decided physics is wrong and I can prove it.
Ok, so my theory doesn’t actually apply to the whole physical universe(s), but within the world of market research it’s very easy to shrink your universe and therefore the representativeness (is that a really word? it looks so wrong) of your study without really trying.
In the ‘olden days’ (pre-www), when MR data was represented by holes in computer punch cards and computers needed their own electricity sub stations, and tabulations were delivered on fan-fold paper via a dot matrix printer. A lot of research relied on a good old fashioned postal address and a penny black stamp to deliver your questionnaire.
And it is the contact method that has power to reduce the size of your universe and ultimately the representativeness of your work.
Post is a total contact route – that is, almost everyone has an address and is generally happy to provide it during transactions, moreover in most established research markets, postal services are excellent and can be relied upon; well mostly.
In this perfect world, you could design your study, post it, wait a few weeks for the reply paid envelope, punch the data, book processing time, tabulate the data, deliver the results and hey presto in less than 3 or 4 months you know what the favourite flavour of chewing gum in the UK was.
Moreover because of the nature of the contact method – the REACH for the want of a better word, you could pretty much rely on the information collected.
But times have changed, genuinely for the better but there is a but….
Technology has had a massive influence on the world of MR, opening new routes to reach out to your universe, reducing lead times and delivering information in readily consumable, understandable format.
E-mail is a perfect example, it’s easy, quick and cheap but is it the same?
Putting response format completely aside (paper vs. online – I’ll deal with this next week).
• Not everyone has an e-mail address but everyone has a postal address.
• Not everyone gives an ‘active’ e-mail address but a postal address is generally are in use because people accept that providing your postal address it is part of life – admit it you have an e-mail account to avoid contact – go on….
• Not everyone checks their e-mail but everyone gets their letters.
Effectively, e-mail is a subset of a postal universe. Your reach when using e-mail is slightly lower than post, therefore the representation will be less. The results will represent the favourite flavour of chewing gum of e-mail respondents – this isn’t earth shattering news, you are all familiar with this. And in most cases the impact is small.
However contact methodology or REACH is an important research design consideration.
Limit your reach and you can limit your responses making the representation potentially less insightful.
So the next time you look up at the night sky, don’t expect the stars to come hurtling towards you like a scene from a Bruce Willis film but just make sure your contact methodology reaches the respondents you need to hear from.