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The Convergence Conundrum

We live in a cross-platform world. In an age of streaming video and social media, digital content is accessible to consumers in many ways. According to Google Analytics, more than a third of all U.S. consumers own multiple digital devices (desktop/laptop computer, tablet and smartphone) and they seamlessly move from one platform to another as a part of their everyday lives. TNS’s 2014 study, “Connected Life,” revealed that nearly half of all evening TV viewers engage in multiscreening or “screen-stacking” behavior. The study of more than 55,000 global Web users found that 48% of those watching evening TV reported simultaneously using social media, checking e-mails, shopping online, or engaging in other digital activities. Today’s cross-platform culture means consumers use a variety of devices for accessing online surveys.

As a result, the data sources that feed market research projects continue to grow. Bringing all these streams together on one platform in a standardized delivery format is the only way to garner the big picture view required to make solid business decisions. According to Forrester, one of the top technology trends for this year—in fact, it has been called “one of the most urgent, complex and important”—is convergence.

Convergence is an industry game changer that is rarely addressed due to the technical complexities that surround it. Integrating multiple data sources and reporting methods into a single platform presents a challenge from both a technical and usability perspective. Yet, platform convergence ensures that both primary and secondary research activities, regardless of the data source, provide accurate results across all types of respondent data, enabling companies to make better informed decisions in a more timely manner.

Why is platform convergence so important for market research? Well, for one thing, it makes good financial sense. Experts estimate that at least 20% of primary research commissioned by the Fortune 1000 is redundant or unnecessary. Considering that the global market research spend is more than $32 billion, brands and marketers conducting “research as usual” can expect to see $6.4 billion in waste. Even worse, conducting research in silos often yields conflicting findings, which drive divergent agendas and dilutes brand salience. As outreach methods vary, combining expert technology and multiplatform data delivery needs to be the norm.

Phone, paper, online and mobile primary research as well as secondary data sources from social media, CRM systems or other marketing platforms can come together to provide a more holistic view of brand health. And to make sure you’re on the right side of the convergence trend, here are a few guidelines for optimizing your consumer surveys across digital platforms.

‘Mobile First’ Design

Content that is easy to read and use on a desktop screen does not necessarily work on a smaller screen. But content designed and sized to fit on a smartphone can, in most cases, be accommodated on the larger desktop screen. Therefore, when thinking about a multiplatform survey, start with the lowest common denominator: the smartphone. Then build out your survey for the remaining devices, such as tablets and desktops. This is commonly known as the ‘mobile first’ design strategy.

For example, a question presented in a grid layout leads to increased dropout on a mobile survey. These questions are hard to fill out on a mobile phone because of the reduced hit area for the radio buttons on a small screen. Text labels are tiny and hard to read, and grid questions with more than five columns require horizontal scrolling, which could lead respondents to select only the answers in their immediate screen view.

The solution? Cut the number of columns and/or amount of text appearing on the screen to accommodate mobile devices. Changing from a grid layout question to a standard closed-ended question with large touch-screen response options, for instance, reduces the amount of content on the screen. And to keep things consistent between platforms, this same question design also easily functions on desktop and tablet devices.

Data Integrity Between Platforms

The key to ensuring data integrity and comparability among all the device platforms is maintaining question structure and labeling consistency across all platforms.

For example, do not use a slider for the mobile version of your survey and radio buttons for the desktop version. Sliders involve a dragging element; radio buttons are a point-and-click interface. This distinction may yield data-collection differences. On the other hand, we have found that when we move from radio buttons (desktop-friendly) to large, ATM-style buttons (mobile-friendly), data is comparable.

Testing and More Testing

Finally, the only way to ensure a proper cross-platform experience for your survey is to test it. See how the survey looks on a mobile phone, tablet and laptop/desktop devices. Test a variety of operating systems and browsers to ensure your survey renders properly on each. Be sure to check for:

• Readability: Are all questions and answer options easy to read and understand? Verify that text size is readable and ensure that no labels are cut off.
• Usability: Do buttons and input forms work properly? Are they easy to use without zooming? Verify that content works in vertical or horizontal orientation.
• Performance: Does the survey feel sluggish? Does the content load without delay?

Technology and Function

Be mindful that mobile phones do not support many of the features or power of a desktop computer. Don’t tie any core functions of the survey to a hover-over function, as that feature doesn’t work on a mobile phone. Additionally, keyboard input is not a user-friendly input method on a mobile device. Instead, try to limit your survey input requirements to touch-and-tap events (point-and-click for PC) and keep the number of open ends to a minimum.

Intense graphics or styling such as CSS text shadows may cause survey performance to slow down or feel sluggish on a mobile device. These should be stripped out. Use standard scripting tools like HTML5 and jQuery so your survey is cross-platform compatible.

Getting Started

There are a growing number of cross-platform data collection and management platforms that are addressing these issues. Industry leaders are exploring ways that the convergence of many different types of data, data streams and data providers affects data reporting and visualization, and how it will inspire a shift in the way our industry works toward a platform-centric approach.

Kristin Luck is the president and CMO of Decipher and a former member of the AMA’s Marketing Insights Council.

This was originally published in the September/October 2014 issue of Marketing Insights. For more on optimizing your consumer surveys, check out “Surveys Made Simple” in the June 2014 issue of Marketing News​.