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dirtywordsWe get it: with so much primary and secondary data at our fingertips these days, with so many creative and interactive online approaches, with panel targeting honing in on lower and lower incidence groups, the idea of an intercept can seem… old-fashioned. Why navigate the logistical challenges of in-person data collection, when you can just launch a quick web survey—it’s a no-brainer, right? Or is it?

Technological advances make managing intercepts much easier, and clients who leverage this approach are reaping the benefits.

As we’ve seen the industry shift away from in-person quantitative engagements, we have to wonder: are we moving in the right direction? Of course, web surveys have their place—we collect hundreds of thousands of online surveys each year, and firmly stand behind this methodology—but are they always the right approach? What happened to the good old-fashioned intercept, and why is it so often cast aside?

Intercepts have evolved a lot over the years. The painful clipboard and pencil approach has been largely replaced by interactive, mobile-optimized engagements, improved efficiencies, and (in our experience) a new appreciation from the respondent perspective. What’s remained the same is the opportunity to capture authentic feedback in real-world environments. What does this mean? Essentially, there are numerous benefits you may be overlooking. For instance:

You can go directly to your target customer. Often, we know so much about a particular specialized audience: kayakers, woodworkers, vegans, etc. that we think they’re everywhere. But the truth is, no matter how well-defined you feel your audience is, by definition there are always more people who don’t qualify in the general population.  Intercept research provides the perfect opportunity to go where your target segment is concentrated.  Outdoor shows, water-related events, or even riverside parks and boat launches provide excellent environments to find kayakers in numbers that make research more affordable.

Respondent screening is honest and immediate. Despite our love for online panels, there are times when they do make us nervous. Even with our most stringent quality measures, it can be hard not to wonder about the face behind the screen. This might be less of a concern on a general population survey, but what about your specialized, low-incidence target? Are they who they say they are, or are they just checking every box on a “which of the following” screening question? On the other hand, there’s no question about the authenticity of a kayak owner when they are interviewed while unloading and launching their craft.

You can rely on “in-the-moment” feedback, rather than respondent recall. Much of the work we do in both quantitative and qualitative research is based around trying to understand the consumer’s mindset when they are purchasing goods or services.  Instead of asking what other brands were considered back when they were shopping, we’ll go directly to the point of sale and observe and record the reasons why each brand is considered or rejected.

Your respondent base includes more than the “tails.” Many of our retail clients rely on cost-effective “snapshots” to gauge the basics: satisfaction with personnel, ability to find a product, etc. Whether this is done through receipt surveys, a customer panel, or a post-purchase email, there is a universal challenge: those who are highly satisfied (and want to give praise) or highly dissatisfied (and want to complain) are much more likely to respond. This approach becomes problematic when a broader, more representative sample of shoppers is required. Highly satisfied and dissatisfied respondents might be sufficient if evaluating speed of checkout, but do we want to rely on them for testing new store concepts? In these situations, many of our clients turn to us for intercepts instead. In fact, some will use their snapshot data as an impetus for more substantial, in-person initiatives.

Intercepts can feed into other research phases. The purchase process is nuanced and frequently difficult to define. Often the tactics we use to find respondents at a certain stage can create unnatural situations (for example, asking a screened respondent to wait to buy a product until the scheduled shop-along). Intercepts afford the ability to find true in-the-moment purchasers, and turn them into longitudinal participants. The on-location participant can be surveyed, AND she can be recruited for an actual shop-along. She can even host us for an OOBE test in her home, which can turn into a needs-assessment ethno, and then complete follow-up usage surveys as well!

You can visually present proprietary products or concepts without fear of leaks. Early prototypes and/or confidential competitive information can be shown to participants without their ability to screenshot the image (during an online interview) and send/post it elsewhere.

Capture audio and video of the interview. One-on-one interviews done in situ—at the kayak launch site, at the outdoor store during purchase—are incredibly powerful to share with marketing/product/brand teams and even upper management.  Additionally, video that not only captures consumers talking about the product but shows them interacting with the product can be extremely beneficial in training sales and manufacturing teams.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly fifteen years since MDC first introduced our Platinum Intercept Program.  Back then, we were still lugging heavy boxes of paper surveys around the country, and assembling large overnight data entry teams to turn findings around quickly. At the time, many of our clients were approaching us because the entire process seemed overwhelming on their own: printing and assembling surveys, laminating show cards, shipping sufficient numbers of packets, clipboards, pencils, gift cards, etc., and then returning everything for high-volume of data entry. On top of all that, the logistics of managing a multi-city team of interviewers (and all the inherent questions, challenges, store issues, etc.) was often a full-time job. We’ve always prided ourselves on handling these aspects seamlessly, drawing on our 40 years of experience in this space.

Now, of course, technological advances have made managing intercepts much easier, and our clients who continue to leverage this approach are reaping the benefits. Our intercept research has helped successfully redesign store layouts, choose lighting concepts and store displays, optimize channel positioning, and build employee training programs. We’ve even shot professional commercial soundbites as part of in-store interviews.

If you’ve become disillusioned with intercept research because it feels too antiquated, too cumbersome, or too expensive, it may be worth a call with us. Our vast experience, combined with our in-house technology, makes this a surprisingly cost-effective solution. In fact, many of our clients attest to the fact that authentic, in-person feedback has value far outweighing any logistical expenses.

Intrigued? Contact us to learn more. We promise we won’t be waiting with a clipboard and pencil.

Irene O’Reilly — Account Executive, MDC Research

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