The Influence Of Cord-Cutters On Research Quality

Tamara Barber [Posted by Tamara Barber]

Our consumer research at Forrester hinges on using the best research methodologies to reach the audiences we’re capturing in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. However, the growing number of cord-cutters in Europe and the US means that traditional landline phone surveys reach less of the population. While Europe still has a higher rate of cord-cutting, US consumers' willingness to give up their landlines is growing steadily and is now in the double digits.

Mobile-only-US

The ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) recently published research results comparing key variables across surveys that were administered in different modes. The study, conducted in Oct/Nov 2008, involved over 100,000 interviews across 17 different online research panel providers, 1,000 RDD telephone interviews and 1,500 interviews conducted via mail panels. The findings show that the online surveys were better at matching Census benchmarks for gender and age, but they overestimated income. And, actually, the RDD study was best at matching cell-phone ownership penetration as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (which conducts studies involving cord-cutters biannually). This research is part of a growing body of work examining the impact of cord-cutters on the research industry, and there is not yet a perfect solution to correct for the exclusion of these consumers in traditional RDD studies. In fact, I covered this topic myself in a research report this past spring, and I found that even folks who live and breathe market research methodology agree that there is not a simple solution to this issue right now.

So what to do? My advice is to approach RDD with a healthy awareness of its methodological strengths and drawbacks. Every methodology has its tradeoffs, and landline RDD surveys will likely be a thing of the past someday. But online panels still have room for improvement, and the phone will still be looked to as a viable option for many studies as long as certain niche segments of the market are offline (for example unacculturated Hispanics and low-income groups). Furthermore, we researchers have not yet come up with a way around the expense of conducting phone surveys on mobile phones or using text messaging as a viable research option for long-format surveys. I for one am going to continue to look to organizations like ARF, the Pew, and research vendors like TNS to guide my thinking around how to tackle this research challenge.