What are Ethical Practices in Market Research?

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Anywhere in business, ethics play an important role. Ethical practices are what help establish trust between parties and provide structure for dealings.

The market research industry is no exception to these ethical practices.

Ethical practices in market research are moral principles that guide the responsibility to conduct and analyze research without deception to ensure authenticity.

At every step of a market research effort, the organization takes measures to ensure both participants and clients are treated fairly and with respect.

In this blog post, our market research company discusses several ethics to follow when conducting a project. 

Ethics of Participants

It is essential to understand participants’ rights when conducting market research, such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and surveys

Participants are a huge factor in this field. Displaying a strong set of ethics in market research can create a compelling report that offers credible insight. 

Stressing the Anonymity of Responses

To begin, the researcher has the duty of clearly stating whether responses will be kept confidential and anonymous before participation begins.

Moreover, researchers should allow all participants to remain anonymous, and their right to confidentiality should always be respected.

It is also important that participants have their privacy protected at all times. This includes demographic questions for better segmentation and other information collected in the survey. 

When understanding the importance of ethics in marketing research, it’s critical to value participant anonymity.

Knowing that individual answers won’t be associated with names may comfort participants and encourage additional detail to be shared.

For those developing customer experience (CX) programs and case management from survey data, confidentiality is not always king.

Clearly State Goals and Objectives

It is also crucial that the analyst documents participants’ consent to being involved in research and is fully informed about the goals and objectives.

For instance, a good ethical practice for focus groups is to set up a list of FAQs about what to expect. 

This reduces the perceived risk in the eyes of participants and adds credibility to the focus group company. In fact, we have a whole list of useful tips to ensure your focus group participants actually show up.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Ethical practices in market research include the value of happy participants. Protecting their identity, along with being clear about objectives, is essential to the overall survey. 

Making a Fair Trade

As a market research company, you depend on the participation and cooperation of those willing to assist in the research.

In some ways, these participants are customers who are needed to buy in and partake in the research.

Because of this relationship, there is the responsibility of the market research company to accommodate customers throughout the process.

Offer Incentives When Possible

Believe it or not, incentives can boost survey responses by up to 30%, according to recent findings.

Proper compensation is perhaps the most significant way to ensure a fair exchange for the participants’ services.

Effort and time commitment of the research methodology demand different incentives, such as much higher compensation for a full day with a rigorous focus group than a few minutes spent on a satisfaction survey.

Particularly with qualitative efforts, when participants feel that they are sufficiently rewarded, they will be more likely to fully engage with the research and do so genuinely.

On top of that, the benefit of an incentive for an online survey is usually higher response rates. We’ll cover this a bit more in our next section, along with other ways to increase response rates to your customer survey

💡 The Key Takeaway: Never underestimate the power of incentives in market research! They show participants that their time is valuable, and this will often create a good customer relationship. 

Recommended Reading: How Higher Rewards Can Equal Lower Market Research Costs


Get More Responses–Ethically 

As you’re now aware, adding an incentive for participants is a great way to get more responses for a survey.

That aside, it also shows participants that the organization cares about them. In addition, incentives are a good customer retention strategy to build brand loyalty

But aside from incentives, what are other ethical practices in market research that can yield actionable feedback?

We’ll tell you some more of our go-to’s: 

  • Switching up contact methods
  • Sending pre-awareness emails
  • Changing up the survey invites language
  • Making the survey participant-friendly 
  • Saying thanks

Switching Up Contact Methods

Emailing participants isn’t the only way to get more response rates.

Sure, it plays an important role, but continuously emailing participants likely will not bring in the desired response–literally. In fact, it could even turn off potential participants entirely from research. 

Alternative methods of contact like phone calls often have a good result, as it catches the attention of the participant. 

Sending Pre-Awareness Emails

These emails are a simple but important step.

Allowing potential participants to understand more about the survey, the emails will often list out the reason behind the survey, company information, and other key details.

The benefit of a pre-survey email or letter is that participants are kept in the loop. 

Changing Up the Invite Language 

Think of it this way: the more interesting your copy is, the more interest participants will have in the overall survey.

By sending out light-hearted and personable survey invites, potential participants will be more likely to connect with the message.

Here are tips to build a better email survey invitation for more help.

Making the Survey Respondent-Friendly 

Respondents don’t want to take a survey past 20 minutes, to put it simply. Making a survey easy and quick to complete are the two keys to more responses.

In addition, it’s a good idea to insert different question styles to keep participants actively engaged in the process. 

Saying Thank You

Sending out a message of thanks to participants shows them that their time matters. It also makes them likely to participate with your brand again. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: There are multiple ways to ethically obtain quality survey responses. By adding in some creativity and increased attention to detail, a survey can bring in the desired amount of responses.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Another key to demonstrating respect for participants, and ethics in market research as a whole, is transparency. 

Unless disclosure of the research objectives on a broad level is prohibited, it is a good idea to inform participants of what they are contributing to.

Being forthright with them establishes trust from the beginning and may even motivate them to help improve the sponsoring company.

Be Aware of Frugging

What is frugging? A violation of one of the most core ethical practices in market research: honesty.

“Frugging” is fundraising or requesting donations under the guise of a survey or other form of market research. A sincere research study would never demand money out of the participant's own pocket.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Being transparent will always benefit market research. It shows an organization has integrity and values participants’ time. 

The Right to Refuse

In the case of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), individuals within Europe are guaranteed data privacy protections by law. 

In the context of market research, these individuals have the right to receive a copy of or eliminate personal data that was gathered through a survey.

While no comparative legislation exists in the United States, confidence in the use of personal data is a necessity for market research participants. 

Disclose the Use of Any Personal Data

The standard practice is to disclose the use of any personal data captured from the research as it is gathered. 

For example, email addresses collected to send an incentive should only be solely used for that purpose.

The participants were not agreeing to receive newsletters or have their email addresses sold to marketing companies.

Participants Have the Freedom to Refuse Answering Any Question

It is important for the market research company to explicitly mention the freedom a participant has to refuse to answer any question or to withdraw participation at any point.

No participant wants to feel trapped, so making this clear is a great way for a market research company to set the right tone for an interview or survey.

In the recruitment stage for qualitative research, prospective participants also reserve the right to deny participation or further contact from the market research recruitment company.

This factor during recruitment helps ensure a positive image for the research process even when individuals opt not to participate.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Ethical practices in market research include respecting the privacy of participants. Remember that personal data is being collected–so it’s key to ensure participants never feel forced or pressured to get involved. 

Stereotyping & Bias 

When discussing ethics, it is important to consider the different types of bias in market research.

These biases are often hard to identify and either consciously or unconsciously follow preconceived notions, tendencies, and trends. 

Ethics in market research involve avoiding bias as much as possible. Otherwise, the result will not be truly beneficial for the sponsoring company. 

Two common types of biases include:

  1. Confirmation bias
  2. Culture bias

1. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or favor information that is consistent and confirms one’s existing beliefs. It is one of the most prevalent and long-recognized forms of bias present in market research.

Failing to interpret information in an unbiased way can lead to misjudgments and inaccurate analysis. This results in a biased favoring, interpretation, and recall of information.

To combat confirmation bias, researchers must consider alternative hypotheses and avoid forming a hypothesis too early.

2. Culture Bias

Cultural bias is the interpretation of situations, actions, or data based on the standards of one's own culture.

This bias can also potentially lead to stigma and stereotyping based on assumptions. Thus, it is important to avoid generalizations when examining data. 

Overall, it is difficult to conduct market research without bias. However, by understanding its potential, analysts can provide insightful, unbiased information to the client.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Both confirmation and culture bias can occur in market research, which is why analysts need to be ultra-aware during the process. This awareness can prevent unnecessary conclusions and generalizations. 

Ethics of Big Data and Privacy

The term “big data” refers to data that is continuing to come at a higher velocity, volume, and variety than ever before. It is also more complex than traditional data. 

Pros of Using Big Data

Sources of big data are also becoming more complex. Big data is now being pulled from mobile devices, social media, and numerous other sources.

When pairing big data with traditional market research, a wide variety of information can be gathered to gain valuable insights. 

Cons of Using Big Data

However, using big data has also raised concerns regarding individual privacy and its implications. Currently, information is beginning to become automatic and passive-collecting.

Big data makes use of advanced location-based strategies like:

  • Technology
  • Facial recognition
  • Autonomous sensors

This means large amounts of data are being collected independently of human action. In turn, the data allows companies to access even more data while the consumer may have little or no awareness. 

Impact of AI on Market Research

With the combination of smartphones and the internet, users leave behind trails of data everywhere they go and every site they visit.

Furthermore, as artificial intelligence (AI) enters the home and becomes a part of our everyday life, companies will have even more data on consumers to use for research purposes.

This means researchers will be able to learn even more about consumer behavior and understand “why customers buy.”

Overall, it is essential for market researchers to communicate transparently with respondents and consumers to ensure big data continues to be gathered ethically.

Understanding how artificial intelligence will impact the future of market research can help with this process. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: While big data allows for the use of widespread information, it also runs the risk of privacy violations. 

Practice Ethical Market Research with Drive Research

Drive Research is a market research company in NY. We go to great lengths to ensure our research is conducted ethically time and time again across projects.

Questions about our market research practices? Can we help you with an upcoming project? Contact us below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

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