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Ethics of Market Research

Marketing Research and Ethics: Where Should You Draw the Line?

Published : 08 Oct 2021 Industry: Consumer Goods

Marketing research and ethics

As companies collect more information about consumers than ever before, it is important to look at market research's ethical implications. Should researchers be ethically obligated to protect consumer privacy in a world where privacy has been made vulnerable by technological advances? What should the boundaries of market research be in terms of how much a company can delve into a customer's life? 

There is much debate surrounding the ethics of market research. Some believe that marketers should not infringe any more than necessary on their privacy. Others believe that companies should be allowed to delve deeper to collect as much information as possible. 

In the end, companies need to be aware of these ethical implications surrounding market research. Market research is highly effective; it can increase sales, give insight into the consumer goods market trends, decrease the risk of product liability issues, and create products that meet customer needs. It is essential to examine some of the major points about the ethics of conducting market research practices to succeed.

General Good Practices

Consumers are now more aware of market research practices than ever before. In general, it is a good idea for companies to practice good market research practices as a way of demonstrating their commitment to ethics and not just profit. It is essential to understand the ethical ramifications of not practicing good market research.

If a company does not practice good market research, it may potentially mislead consumers and risk getting penalized by regulatory agencies. You might also scare off or frustrate customers by delving too much into their personal information — using hyper-personalized tactics to market the products. To minimize the consequences of unethical market research, it will help to know some marketing research best practices, such as:

  • Offering incentives: Offering an incentive shows consumers that you are willing to provide them with something in return for their time and the information they provide. However, it is crucial not to bribe people into taking part in market research or lie to them about why they are being asked to do so.
  • Providing information to participants: Providing information shows that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. If you are conducting primary research, it is helpful to provide participants with a preview of their specific survey. It will give them an idea of what they will be asked and help ease any concerns or anxiety. Additionally, make sure to make them aware if you have, or are planning to, disclose any information about your customers.
  • Not participating in "frugging": Market researchers will ask customers to donate to the company the researcher is working for under the guise of a statistical survey. It may be in the form of a call: the researcher will ask a consumer’s thoughts on a company. If it is a positive view, the researcher might ask “would you like to donate to this company?” This, needless to say, can irritate a customer who is already wary of providing information.
  • Giving them the right to refuse: It is important to give the consumer the right to refuse. If a customer refuses, don't focus on trying to convince them otherwise or putting pressure on them. It might just sour your relationship with that particular individual, and it could lead them to be more guarded during future market research endeavors. 
  • Being honest: It is important to be honest about the information you are collecting and what you are attempting to do with it. While it might be helpful to learn how people feel about an issue or product, there is no need for unnecessary details or hyper-personalized marketing techniques.

Consumer Data Privacy

Privacy is a significant issue when it comes to the acquisition of consumer data. As more information is being collected, there are more parts of the process. Data collection can be a complicated issue to approach because people may feel violated and taken advantage of without their consent. 

Privacy intrusions can cause many issues such as offense, embarrassment, and even mistrust. One of the biggest concerns is consent and information sharing. Information can be shared with other companies without a person's knowledge, and they may not feel that it is ethical for this to happen.

For example, companies may share information without the knowledge of the person that the data is about. Companies need to be clear on how their data will be used and disclosed. Researchers and marketers use not only information but can even use pictures for a marketing tactic such as a mood board to target clients. This is an effective method of marketing. However, only if the client has chosen to agree to release this information and they feel they are not being violated in any way.

Data privacy can and should be respected by market researchers. There are ways that companies can do this without jeopardizing their business or relationships with clients.

Data Collection Considerations 

Market research is a complex matter to approach, but there are ways to avoid some ethical issues. Market researchers should always identify any risks and benefits with the use of data. There are many considerations that researchers and marketers should acknowledge when collecting the data of clients.

Aided and Unaided Awareness

One of the most important considerations in market research is to attain data for a product without the bias of awareness. There are two types of awareness, aided and unaided. Aided awareness is when researchers present data about a product or service to survey takers before asking any questions. Unaided awareness occurs when surveys and data collection do not use the company's previous information to survey takers.

One of the main differences between aided awareness and unaided awareness is the risk of bias. A factor that could cause this bias is if the respondents know about the product or service before taking the survey. This can be used as an ethical consideration when deciding which type of awareness should be used in a study.

Self-Report Bias

This type of bias refers to the response of survey takers that their personal opinions could shape. Self-report bias occurs when people are influenced to respond to surveys or not participate in research at all. For example, if someone is surveyed about smoking habits, they might report that they do not smoke because they’re aware that it’s considered an unhealthy habit.

A self-report bias could occur in data collection if survey takers are uncomfortable with the questions or feel like their privacy has been breached. Market researchers can minimize this type of bias by assuring the confidentiality and anonymity of all respondents throughout the research process.

Interviewer Bias

Interviewer bias occurs when survey takers may respond differently to questions due to the behavior of the interviewer. This form of bias can be reduced if interviewers are well trained and know how to conduct surveys properly.

Another way to avoid this type of bias is to use standard questionnaires that have no association with any brands or products. This minimizes the chances of interviewer bias and survey takers having a predisposition towards certain products or brands.

One way to avoid interviewer bias is with standard questionnaires. Marketers are also encouraged not to have the interviewers contact any of the company's products or brands.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is when individuals place more value in the information that conforms to their prior beliefs. For example, if someone believes that all pharmaceutical companies are evil, they may be more apprehensive about trying or saying positive comments about a new medicine.

Market researchers can avoid confirmation bias by researching the topic before starting data collection. By better understanding topics, marketers can be better prepared for any questions or concerns about products or services.

Confirmation bias could cause problems in market research when respondents don't put credit toward results that go against their beliefs, especially if they are people of influence.

Another way to avoid this bias is with randomized sampling. Randomized samples can help reduce confirmation bias because respondents are chosen at random before being surveyed, which reduces the chances of one perspective being favored over another view.

Lack of Diversity in Sample

A lack of diversity in a sample can lead to biased or incomplete data. For example, if a focus group for determining the demand for gym equipment only had gym-goers from one region (say, a wealthy area), the opinions and ideas might be biased because they do not represent all types of gym-goers from the less wealthy areas.

To avoid this bias, marketers should consider surveying a diverse group of people about their perceptions and opinions on a topic. This gives marketers a better understanding of how people feel about products or services in general, not just for specific groups of people.

The ethics of market research can be a tricky subject. Marketers need to carefully consider the type and method of awareness they want their survey respondents to have when deciding where to get data. However, you can take steps to minimize any biases that might occur during your research process. Many different factors could cause bias in market research. However, the most effective way to avoid bias is to ensure all respondents are chosen randomly before surveys begin.

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