As we continue our exploration of respondent engagement, in this edition we’ll be looking at several specific types of tests designed to increase the level of focus and attention to the survey process. Continuing with the subject of gamification, we’ll look at animated question formats that seek to gather information through “Environment Interaction.”
We have found that people’s attention is focused when they are asked to compare, contrast and differentiate between different types of stimuli. Two examples that we’ll discuss include Virtual Environments and Collage Building.
Early experiments with virtual environments tended to be VERY expensive and time consuming to produce. This was driven primarily by the notion that the representation needed a high level of verisimilitude—meaning that it had to be extremely “realistic”—in order for people to react naturally. Over time, we found that the opposite tended to be true. Having virtual spaces that were low-fidelity prototypes—one step above wire-frame designs—were actually more approachable than something that was supposed to look real (but never really did).
Illustration 1: Simulated Virtual Shelf Set
Illustration 2: Virtual Retail Environment (VRE)
In a fascinating study at Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson airport, management found that when they used a real human voice to make safety announcements (i.e. “stand back the doors are closing”) people tended to ignore them. But when they rendered a very computer-like, alien-sounding voice command, people paid much more attention. Thus, “realistic” is not always necessary/desirable when you want people to dig in, take action and get involved with evaluating an environment.
When deploying virtual environments, which can include anything from a store shelf display, to a hotel room, to a bank branch layout—having people examine the scenario for things that have “something in common” or something that “doesn’t fit,” encourages evaluation of the entire setting. When people interact, or play, with the environment, their overall opinion of the experience is easier for them to articulate. This is a common theme that we pursue in gamification: giving people something to experience which will trigger more natural, emotional reactions.
Another form of gamified differentiation is the interactive creation of a theme collage. This online exercise allow people to choose from thousands of images, colors and design elements to represent some test construct. These constructs can include brand perception, product performance, service experience, etc. Like most gamification elements, this is not a new test format. Having focus group attendees create collages to depict a brand is a very well-established procedure.
Illustration 3: Online Collage Platform
And just like in a focus-group setting, the pictures that are chosen are not really very important. In fact, studies have shown that many people can choose the same graphic element to represent very different characteristics (i.e. a tortoise to one person can be “old,” or to someone else “slow,” or to others “wise.”) So, what the collage is composed of is largely irrelevant. But how the researchers use the collage as a whole is very important.
After the collage is completed, respondents are asked to “tell us a story about the picture you just created…” Using the “design as an experience” allows the person to tell a more deeply emotional side to their perception of the construct. It is emotional content that can’t be captured in pre-defined lists of attributes or in a typical open-ended question. And unlike a physical focus group with limited participants, in the online world hundreds of stories and their associated collages can be obtained and analyzed. In both physical and digital applications, respondents report high levels of satisfaction with the survey experience.
Illustration 4: Collage Story Telling: Perceptions of a Brand
Handling any sort of stream of consciousness, unstructured data can be tricky. But many new linguistic analytic software applications are improving the researcher’s ability to comb thorough large quantities of text responses to determine patterns, themes and the underlying valence of emotion.
Using these types of gamified test procedures is opening our ability to read deeper into the perceptions and emotional connections that are so critical to brand differentiation and communication.
What are you using to engage respondents in the survey process? Please add comments to share your experiences or your ideas on ways to further engage people in online surveys.
Bill MacElroy is Chairman of Socratic Technologies, Inc.