As we move into a more inclusive and global world, there are more demographic questions to ask than ever. But we’re also in an unprecedented situation: more and more often, people aren’t fitting into the usual boxes. Market research for the 2020s needs to take a hard look at how questions are being asked and what needs to change if you’re going to get the best answers possible. Not only will this make your target demographics feel more welcome with your brand, you will increase the responses and the accuracy of the data you receive.
Updating your demographic questions isn’t just something done for the sake of political correctness or ‘inclusivity’. It’s to allow your brand and survey to add more humanity into the mix. Adjusting your demographic questions for future research is a big step toward expanding your reach and the amount of people that feel comfortable with your product.
Here are four ways to improve your demographic questions for 2020 and beyond.
1. Avoiding Implicit Bias in Questions
In one of the early Pokémon video games, the player is memorably asked “Are you a boy? Or are you a girl?” Leaving the gender binary aside for the moment, it’s easy to see how female players could feel alienated by their relegation to a second-question option. Women make up nearly half of video gamers, a percentage that has grown every year since 2016. But leading off the game with an assumption that it’s not a woman playing clouds the entire experience (even if only on a small level).
Naturally, the developers behind Pokémon accepted feedback. Recent games featured more inclusion and fewer assumptions. But today’s companies don’t always have the luxury of a strong brand and 25 years of market experience. A lot of the time, it’s important to get it right on the first try.
Give some thought to the questions you’re asking and the implicit assumptions within. Make them as open-ended as possible. Not only will this allow for a wider range of answers and better data, but you’ll avoid unnecessarily alienating your potential customers.
2. Making Better Responses Available
Even if a question is asked perfectly and inclusively, the potential for disappointment still exists if the potential answers don’t do a good job. Asking a well-formed question about gender and providing only “male” and “female” won’t give you accurate data. Although modern research is still working on giving non-binary individuals (people who don’t identify as specifically male or female) their due, research indicates they make up over a quarter of transgender populations.
It’s great to be inclusive and accommodating in your research just for the sake of it, but it’s also critical to make sure you’re getting accurate data.
It’s not just gender where we can improve our question-asking. Ethnicity is another hot topic. As more and more groups within the United States (and around the world) claim their own identities, marketing efforts need to ensure that they’re included. For example, any market research regarding race requires a full understanding of the difference between Chicano and Latino identities, along with Mestizo/Mexican/Hispanic and other terms.
Allowing people that respond to market research to define themselves in their own words where appropriate goes a long way toward making them feel comfortable and providing accurate information.
3. Avoiding Outdated Terminology
Plenty of terms that were used freely for decades have been replaced with others that are either more accurate or inoffensive. Nearly any TV sitcom from 20 years ago would evoke plenty of grimaces today with what’s played for laughs. Even a term like “alien”, used to discuss immigration issues for years, has been almost completely removed from society’s lexicon (even as Joe Biden used it in a recent debate, he quickly corrected himself).
Terminology moves quickly and it’s important to keep up with it in your market research.
For example, “transgender” is an adjective and not a verb or noun. No one is “a transgender” or “transgendered”–this usage is outdated and is considered offensive at best.
It’s clear that language isn’t going to stop evolving. More people are becoming public and proud of their expressions of self. Thus, new terminology is popping up to represent them. Obtaining market research responses is a chance to learn about your potential customers. Also, it’s a chance to listen as they tell you who they are.
Ask open-ended questions and allow any responses they want when applicable. Put the time in to avoid common pitfalls in the first place.
4. Accepting That You Won’t Always Get It Right the First Time
As mentioned earlier, Joe Biden used an outdated and offensive term in front of millions of people on national TV. A week later he was an almost unbeatable frontrunner for the nomination. Mistakes don’t always carry grave consequences, especially if they’re simply made from a place of ignorance or inexperience. If you do make a mistake along these lines, it’s alright. The key is owning up to it and apologizing, then doing better.
Marketing and Market Research is a is an ever-evolving industry with continuous changes to connect with audiences. The process of market research is supposed to make that part easier. However, everyone in the MRx industy knows that it contains its own set of challenges. A misstep or two is perfectly okay and expected as long as your company deals with the results accordingly.
Market research has never seen a decade like the 2020s. The internet is nearly ubiquitous and billions of people are discovering their identities in ways they never would have before. Effective market research will strive to stay ahead of this curve.
As you write demographic questions for the future, remember to ask more open-ended questions to receive potentially unforeseen results. Don’t force participants to select between two or three labels that might not apply to them. Stay on the pulse of modern terminology–things can change quickly and you don’t want to offend. Most importantly, accept your mistakes when they do happen.
Every company is struggling to adapt to the changing world and putting some effort in now will pay dividends.
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