Are Mail Surveys Useless?

These days, most surveys are delivered online. Researchers – especially with the proliferation of consumer panels – can now program a survey, administer it to a relevant sample and get results within a few days, for a relatively low cost per complete. This is a far cry from the day when most surveys were conducted by mail. Mail surveys often needed to be planned out well in advance, had to be kept in the field for several weeks – if not a few months, – required incentives and reminders, and often generated low response rates. Needless to say, mail surveys were also quite costly and could not be changed once in the field.

Most marketing research professionals don’t even consider conducting a survey by mail anymore; most now view mail surveys as obsolete. While I certainly favor online and social media surveys more than mail surveys, I caution not to dismiss mail surveys out of hand. They still have some relevance and, depending on the business objective, may be a better choice than the popular online survey methods.

There are several reasons why you might still consider doing a survey by mail:

  1. Some people still aren’t online. What if you need to survey elderly persons? Or low-income households? Many persons in these groups do not have Internet access, so they cannot be reached online. Assuming they’re not homeless, virtually all of them live at a physical address with a mailbox.

     

  2. Advance permission is often needed to send e-mail surveys. Because of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, marketers cannot send promotional e-mail to prospects without permission. While a survey is not promotional, consumers upset about receiving an unsolicited survey might still report it as SPAM, getting you into trouble. This is why most e-mail surveys make use of pre-recruited panels. Mail surveys don’t require such permission.

     

  3. Mailing lists can be obtained to conduct surveys. E-mail address lists cannot be sold. Quite often, you can rent mailing lists to send out surveys.

     

  4. Mail surveys these days may get a better-than-expected response rate. Response rates likely won’t be double-digit, but since few mail surveys are sent these days, those few that are have a better chance of catching the respondent’s attention. And since the respondent isn’t being bombarded with mail surveys, he or she may be more inclined to answer.

     

  5. Mail surveys offer greater perception of anonymity and confidentiality – and hence more truthful responses – than online surveys. Since surveys are administered online, it’s easy to tell who didn’t respond. When you send a respondent a reminder e-mail, the respondent knows his or her lack of response is known. This may lead him or her to feel that the answers he/she gives are also traceable back to him/her. As a result, he or she may be less-inclined to respond truthfully, let alone respond. Although tracking mechanisms have been placed on mail surveys, they’re not as easily discernable as they are for online surveys.

While online surveys appear to be the preferred survey method, there are still times when mail surveys are the better means of data collection. Sometimes, survey projects need to be multimodal in order to achieve a representative sample. Just because online surveys are faster and cheaper than mail surveys, you must consider the value of the insights each mode promises to bring to your business objective.

Insight Central Resumes Week of January 3, 2011!

In observance of the Christmas and New Years, Insight Central will resume the week of January 3, 2011.  We here at Analysights wish you and your family and friends a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year! 

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