I have actually heard marketing researchers claim that there is “no reason at all to use anything but online surveys” in this day and age. I could not disagree more. There may be some situations (certain companies, or perhaps even certain industries) where online surveys meet the vast majority of needs, but there will always be those situations where online administration of surveys is not appropriate. In Marketing Research’s stampede to online surveys at the expense of every other modality, occasionally I think we should stop to consider other ways of offering surveys to individuals (business-to-business and business-to-consumer.)
In order to provide an interesting and experience perspective, I asked Jack Semler, President and CEO of Readex Research
about mail surveys. Polaris Marketing Research has worked with Readex on several projects where mail surveys were used or where introduction letters were mailed to the sample. Here is Jack’s answer to the question, “Are mail surveys necessary anymore for marketing research?”
By Jack Semler, President and CEO, Readex Research “Every now and again I remember some of the companies and brands that are no longer with us. While in the Kansas City airport the other day, I saw the huge hangers that used to stuffed with TWA planes. Then my mind continued on and I thought of Eastern Airlines-The Wings of Man, and then Braniff. Later in the day, while passing a shopping mall, I thought of operations such as Circuit City and Linens 'n Things. To be sure, the business landscape is littered with brands that have disappeared for one reason or another.
So, what does this have to do with market research? As the operator of a company in the mail survey business, I am often asked about the future prospects of mail-based research. "Aren't you worried that one day mail is going to go away?" "Will the United States Postal Service shut down?" Yes, of course, I am always worried about business! But, thankfully, we think mail surveys actually have a pretty decent future and in some ways may be experiencing a resurgence. (And, no, I don't think the USPS is going away.) Some examples:
- As our society begins to decouple more and more with land phone lines, and cell-only households become more prevalent, mail becomes a plausible alternative with address-based samples. The USPS does a pretty good job of finding households and has a well-enumerated frame.
- There are situations in which an online approach is desired, but the population of interest cannot be completely covered with email addresses, or simple access to the internet is an issue. Mail becomes an alternative.
- We have had interesting experiences using alert letters to "prime the response pump." for online surveys.
- -Mixed mode, e.g. mail survey with online response option, are in frequent use. However, as has been noted in previous posts, offering multiple response channels may actually decrease overall participation. To me, if mail is a good primary data collection channel, unless there is some very compelling reason to offer the online alternative, just use the mail!
Generally speaking, when is mail a reasonable method to use? Situations include, but aren't necessarily limited to, when a more lengthy questionnaire is in play, when sensitive issues need to be explored, when it's a customer or client survey in which the sponsor can be revealed, when you have a harder to reach sample frame or busy people, when there is a lack of emails...just to name a few. On the other hand, we all know mail takes more time so if you need results in a few days, mail is definitely out. With proper planning, however, you may find this old friend a worthy consideration.
Can you think of other situations where a mail survey might be a great methodological choice? Please post to comments!