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Battling for mindshare in the age of the attention economy

Much to the dismay of our Marketing Manager, and his hopeful outlook on 2016 being the “era of engagement”, clickbait, post-truth news, questionable political polls and lengthy and repetitive surveys have done little to enhance the image of market research. Although it could be considered just one of a number of factors, it has no doubt had an impact on research samples, their increasingly self-selecting nature and the difficulty in maintaining participant interest over time.


Content and information have become increasingly abundant, but time and attention remain finite. Like it or loathe it, as Dan Pink might argue, we are now ‘all in sales’. Not looking for money, but battling for mindshare, attention, and to some extent good-will. This is crucial if we are ever to extend our research reach beyond ‘professional participants’.

When designing research activities and carrying out moderation, you are effectively running your very own ‘marketing campaign’ alongside your research, gently persuading participants to fulfil your requests and share their time, keeping them interested and motivated.

With this in mind, it’s useful to keep a weather eye on the world of sales, media and marketing and consider exploring some of the different strategies they employ to enhance levels of participation in your own work.

Make the research experience more fun

Research participants often complain about repetitive questions and topics. This increases the prospect of participants ‘switching off’ and blasting through questions on autopilot. 

How a researcher goes about positioning questions and prompts can have a major effect on participation, and if you have been relying on conventional question / answer formats you may wish to consider ‘gaming’ aspects of your requests. For instance, by requesting that participants share feedback on why they choose their favourite brand by ‘saying it in a tweet’, to facilitate concise but well-considered contributions.

Use social media as a resource to connect with interests and shape your agenda

In the attention economy, emphasis and value are still placed on ‘building genuine relationships with content that is relevant and important to the individual’. There is nothing new here, it's always been imperative. What has changed, however, is how hard it is to get that initial attention in order to kick start the relationship building.

When planning your research topics it is important to connect member and client interests. Social media continues to play a substantial role in enriching customer understanding, so where better to turn than the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn or indeed YouTube. Here it is possible to develop a sense of ‘permission’, something brands need in order to connect with their audience. Moreover, this aids the further development of the conversation currency naturally occurring during contact with a brand.

As little as 10-15 minutes investigation should allow potential to identify conversation topics and themes capable of heightening interest and response.

Upskill participants to act on the part of researchers

Engagement marketers believe consumers should be actively involved in brand development through collaboration and co-creation, a far cry from the traditional view of consumers as passive message recipients or indeed, mindless automatons.  

Reflecting this movement, there has been growing interest in research methods that ‘empower’ and ‘upskill’ participants, to gather information on behalf of the researcher - effectively ceding control of the research agenda.

This approach can involve setting mission-based tasks to encourage feedback on a more spontaneous, in-the-moment, active basis - for instance encouraging participants to behave as ‘store detectives’ to compare different retailer experiences. This more actively empowered approach enhances the prospect of delivering feedback ‘beyond the brief’ (i.e. beyond predicted levels of feedback and outputs), heightening attention and effort invested in activities and requests.

If you’re looking for even more ways to enrich your participants’ experience and increase their engagement, make sure you download our ‘Research Community Engagement Guide’.


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