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Is Blockchain the Missing Link to Winning Back Participant Trust?

Lisa Wilding-Brown

May 7, 2019

Participant feedback is the bedrock upon which market research is built and yet, as buzz surrounding Blockchain technology grows, the respondent’s voice has been surprisingly absent from the conversation.

As the global landscape of data privacy rapidly evolves, the future of consumer insights will hinge on our ability to engage in meaningful and transparent dialog with participants. Based on results from the 2018 GRBN Trust Survey, wherein market research landed a trust rating below mobile phone operators and search engines, there is clearly much work to be done.

A multitude of technology companies, ranging from start-ups to well-established players, have framed Blockchain as the heir apparent in solving participant distrust. Some experts have even touted Blockchain as a disruptor that will completely redefine the face of sample procurement.

While the potential applications are intriguing, adoption of this technology also poses challenges which must be considered in order to make this a materially and commercially viable option for firms throughout the insights ecosystem.  More importantly, while we have discussed the associated virtues and challenges of this tech, there has been very little focus placed on the perceptions of consumers. What do participants think about Blockchain?  Understanding their perceptions and sentiments will help the research industry to shape value for EVERY constituent in the research cycle.

Is Anyone Asking What Participants Think?

I recently partnered with Andrew Cannon, Executive Director of GRBN, in an effort to better understand the participant perspective on Blockchain and how it might influence perception of the market research industry.

In partnership with Opinions LTD., we surveyed 1,000 people online—and an additional 300 offline—with three questions in mind:

  1. How do participants perceive Blockchain and its application in the market research space?
  2. Will Blockchain increase or decrease trust in MR companies?
  3. How can Blockchain solutions be improved to increase participation rates and attract new audiences?

The resulting study uncovered a series of compelling insights from respondents and we presented our findings at IIeX in Austin, Texas.

Participant Perception of Blockchain

The majority of participants are having discussions around privacy and data security, with 53% talking about the issue at least sometimes. And yet only 20% of participants indicated they had any familiarity with Blockchain as a privacy and security safeguard. Overall, 80% of online participants (and 83% of offline participants) were unfamiliar with Blockchain. Of those with some Blockchain familiarity, a meager 32% had positive feelings about it and just over 2/3 of the sample selected the correct definition when surveyed.

Blockchain’s Impact on Trust in MR

Among those familiar with the technology, we inquired about their willingness to participate in a Blockchain-based panel and asked if that panel would be preferable to a standard market research panel:

More than half of respondents indicated they were likely to participate in a Blockchain-based panel. When asked about preference between traditional and Blockchain panels, nearly 50% were undecided, and ~20% indicated they were in favor of a traditional panel. This ~20% figure is important to highlight as the potential exists for a reduction in feasibility (if this group is reluctant to embrace this technology in the future.)

Regarding the perceived value of a Blockchain market research panel, factors such as improved security (87%), greater protection of personal information (86%), and greater visibility into how information is used (84%) scored the highest. 77% of participants remained concerned that their personal data might be misused.

While trust is a major factor for engagement rates within MR, there were several additional issues unrelated to Blockchain that the majority of participants indicated were particularly frustrating. These included not qualifying for surveys (74%), surveys of an unreasonable length (59%), and surveys with incentives below perceived value (53%).

Trust, however, remains the most pressing issue based on the findings from our most recent study and that of the GRBN Trust Survey.

Key Takeaways of the Study

If Blockchain is to tackle data privacy and security concerns in our industry, we must first address low awareness. Transparent communication and education must highlight the benefits of the technology—and the potential of autonomous data management that it represents.

Blockchain technology could help us improve overall trust in MR but it is unclear precisely how much of an impact it would have without broader awareness and adoption. Currently, the number of people with a clear and positive disposition towards Blockchain remains modest.

Considerations and Concerns

Our presentation at IIeX sparked a flurry of responses, particularly from Blockchain proponents, who believe that participant awareness is not a necessary component in determining success. Others concluded that, with a research focus on the respondent POV, perhaps we’d simply misunderstood Blockchain adoption or were resistant to the changes that implementation might require. To be clear, our perspective does not stem from a place of resistance to blockchain. However, as an industry, we must always vet any new methodology or technology through a research lens.

Legislation surrounding data privacy continues to evolve and we owe it to consumers to educate and communicate our various data storage measures (if we expect to foster a healthy symbiotic relationship with them). Our changing privacy landscape will require greater levels of transparency, including specifics around what technology we use, how we store data, and ultimately how PII (personally identifiable information) can be effectively masked (or outright destroyed). Take online cookies for example, which European legislation ultimately deemed necessary to disclose to respondents. In a similar vein, we feel it is better to lead with transparency rather than hide our methods behind a nebulous black box.

Feasibility and reach are everything in sample. The risk to reward must be carefully evaluated and vetted at the onset to ensure the foundations are not disrupted. While blockchain presents amazing opportunities the challenges surrounding representation, reach, and economics will need to be examined further.

About the Author

Lisa Wilding-Brown

As a 15-year veteran, Lisa is responsible for quality, best practices and sampling methodologies as Innovate’s Chief Research Officer. Prior to joining Innovate, Lisa was a member of the executive team at uSamp where she developed the company’s global panel and led the mobile business division. Lisa got her start in Market Research at Harris Interactive where she played an instrumental role in developing the Industry’s first online panel, The Harris Poll Online. Lisa has presented at AAPOR, MRS, the MRMW, The Insights Association, SampleCon, WomenInResearch (WIRe), the GRBN and she has published research on engagement, survey design, quality and mobile best practices.

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