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Millennial toastJust kidding! As researchers, we love millennials—and here’s why you should, too.

Yes, the “millennials ruin everything” trope is getting pretty tired and clichéd. However, after reading yet another article on the subject (this time focusing on how younger drivers are killing the performance sedan industry), I felt compelled to write this piece. At MDC, we’ve really embraced some of the changes digital natives have inspired in the research world, benefiting both us and our clients. So before you disregard this article as another put-down of younger generations, take a look at some of the ways they’ve transformed our industry for the better.

Millennials have pushed us to be more thoughtful about survey design.

The scenario: We’ve all heard various anecdotes about the impact of today’s on-demand culture, especially in terms of how it relates to attention span. The truth is, while we’re all more easily distracted, shortened attention spans are especially prevalent among younger, digital-native generations. In the research world, we sometimes hear this trend discussed in disparaging terms: “if we could only get more younger respondents through this survey, we’d have a better understanding of their demographic…”  But, instead of scorning millennials, what if we were to take their lead? Is a clunky, 20-minute survey full of dense grid questions really the best way to collect feedback, especially among mobile users? Could it not be argued that younger demographics aren’t the only respondents fatigued by this approach?

The result: Shorter surveys (in terms of both question content and language), mobile optimization, creative question approaches, more attention to visual design… We love the trend towards survey modernization, and willingly give credit to younger generations for spurring us to rethink traditional design methods. Internally, this has resulted in a more collaborative design process—incorporating greater feedback from younger, digital-native members of our professional team.

They’ve inspired us to make research engagements more interactive.

The scenario: Most seasoned researchers have a war story or two about trying to coach a digitally challenged participant through a technologically “challenging” task: uploading a photo to a web survey, submitting pre-group homework, or participating in the full gamut of an online diary exercise. Of course, the technology and its users have come a long way over the years, and encountering a true technophobe is becoming more and more rare. However, there is still nothing we love more than facilitating interactive research components with true digital natives, and then watching them shine in their element.

The result: We’re less apprehensive about what kinds of interactive elements we can incorporate into both qualitative and quantitative engagements, allowing us to push the envelope when working with younger participants. In return, we’ve seen their creativity come through in spades—with well-edited “get to know me” clips, interactive online diary components, and self-recorded video “shopalongs” as just a few examples of the types of digital content produced. Not only has this allowed us to better personify research participants and truly tell their story, but it’s also given us valuable lessons in translating digital requirements to older or less tech-savvy research subjects.

They’ve allowed us to successfully leverage existing technology in new ways

The scenario: In addition to the ease with which digital natives can learn and use research-based platforms, the fact that they already have technology at their fingertips means we can get creative within devices and applications they’re already using. From repurposing Instagram into a mobile diary platform, to using tablets as self-administered “confessional booths” at our facilities, our team has come up with some pretty imaginative ad hoc solutions.

The result: We’re able to offer lower-cost solutions (think mobile diaries without the expense of a diary platform) that still provide a rich layer of participant data—affording our clients significant savings, or allowing them to free up budget to be used in other critical components of the research.

Their comfort in the “sharing economy” extends to research communities, bulletin boards, and other collaborative approaches

The scenario: In the age of social media influencers and robust online personas, the types of information we typically ask for in research engagements is not viewed as oversharing by many digital natives. When we use collaborative online approaches, participants can build rapport with one another, and produce the information we need without a lot prompting. Traditionally, it’s taken a fair amount of moderator involvement to get even outgoing participants comfortable sharing; today, we find this often happens naturally among younger generations.

The result: Expansive and frank online discussions, rich with detail, are not heavily influenced by moderator involvement. We’ve had some truly inspirational interactive diaries, forums, and bulletin boards with younger participants over the past few years.

They’ve changed the way we think about sourcing participants

The scenario: Everyone familiar with the history of MDC Research knows that our roots are in telephone work. But the world is changing, and reaching a live person by phone—especially a young person—is becoming increasingly challenging. This is especially prevalent in our qualitative field, where we can’t leverage high-volume predictive dialing capabilities and other productivity tools suited for quantitative outreach. Instead we get creative in growing our database and in random or network recruiting. Social media tools, text-based snowball sampling, video screening, and other tools have all become highly effective elements of our recruiting arsenal.

The result: Moving toward less-traditional methods of participant sourcing has allowed us to better engage with younger research candidates, while simultaneously upping the quality of our recruits. Social media engagements allow us (with permission) to better profile potential participants, and ensure they are who they claim to be. Video screening allows us to actually observe articulation and qualifying criteria, and as a bonus, adds another ethnographic element to our analysis and reporting.  

Irene O’Reilly — Account Executive, MDC Research

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