5 Types of Bias in Market Research

Bias. The word sends shivers down a market research professional's spine!

Bias in market research can be lurking in many places. The most common types of bias in market research can be found in the methodology, lack of using a third-party, research invitation, question phrasing, and question programming.

It takes years of experience to learn the different types of market research bias. Just starting out with market research? Luckily for you, we created this quick guide to help you identify market research bias and how it might be impacting your process and results.

5 Types of Bias in Market Research

Learn the common types of market research bias.

Market Research Bias #1: Methodology Bias

Methodology bias stems from the market research approach. This means the way the data was collected incurred bias and skewed answers. This is likely one of the more obvious types of market research bias, but it can get overlooked by an untrained eye.

An example of methodology bias could be testing awareness of a brand at the location of the brand. For instance, testing awareness of a bank at a bank location or even at a mall where bank ATMs are. Clearly, testing awareness of a bank at the bank's location will likely only test members who are all aware of the bank. Additionally, testing awareness of a bank at a mall where the bank's ATMs are will also skew results because brand signage will be present during the research. When testing awareness it's best to find a neutral site or neutral methodology that is broad enough to cover all and any channels.

Before starting your next market research project, ask yourself if there is bias with your methodology that could skew results.

Market Research Bias #2: Not Using a Third-Party

This is when do-it-yourself market research goes wrong. Using a third-party market research company has many benefits, but one of the biggest benefits is lessening bias.

An example of this type of bias could be employee satisfaction research. If employees know the results will be shared directly with management they will be less likely to share their true feelings. This can occur whether or not an organization tells employees results will be kept anonymous. There is inherit uneasiness among employees when they are asked to provide feedback. Using a third-party market research company that manages the research, including the research invitations sent directly to employees, ensures confidentiality.

Another example of this type of bias could be Voice of Customer (VoC) research. Similar to employee satisfaction research, there is an inherit uneasiness among customers when they are asked to provide feedback to the organization and thinking the results will be shared directly with their sales person or customer representative. Particularly if the feedback is negative. To alleviate this, use a third-party market research company to guide you through the VoC research process and to collect feedback from customers.

Market Research Bias #3: Research Invitation Bias

Did you know the outreach methods and phrasing used to invite people to participate in market research could lead to bias?

Phrasing in the research invitation that could lead to bias could be, "Love our company? We want to hear from you!" If you are conducting VoC, customer satisfaction, or awareness research this is a major red flag that bias could be lurking in your data. Remember, you don't want to only receive feedback from people who have a positive perception of your organization.

Never seen one of these, go to your local donut shop and read the signs inside or read your receipt. Usually the language reads something like "Tell us how happy you were with our service and receive a free donut!"

An outreach method that leads to bias could be only collecting feedback through a medium that reaches a specific segment of a population and ignores other segments of a population.

For example, only collecting feedback from customers who like the organization's Facebook page. Safe to say these results will likely be skewed more positively for the organization than if the study was conducted with all customers.

Market Research Bias #4: Question Phrasing

The way questions are phrased can lead respondents to answer a specific way. This is called a leading question. An example of a leading question could be, "The products created by Example Company are the best. Are you likely to recommend Example Company?"

Clearly, there is a positive spin to this question. While leading question are not always this obvious, the results from questions like these cannot be trusted.

Search your mail for the next political survey for more examples of bias in wording your survey.

Market Research Bias #5: Not Using Randomization or Inverse

This is a pretty simple one, but it's important to remember to use randomization or inverse in surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews when appropriate. Randomization and inverse can be used in question or answer ordering. This is often called sequence bias or order bias.

An example of when to use randomization in answer ordering could be in a question that asks about advertising. For example, "Where have you seen or heard of Example Company in the last three months?" Answer choices may include TV, radio, Facebook, etc. Respondents can be drawn to pick answers at the top of the list. To alleviate this bias, it's important to randomize answer options so different answers appear first in the list.

An example of when to use inverse in answer ordering could be in a question that uses an agreement scale. Answer choices for these types of questions typically include strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat agree, and strongly agree.

Similar to the reasoning discussed above, respondents can be drawn to response options listed first so it's important to inverse these responses. This means the ordering of the answer choices for flip for each respondent to lessen bias.

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