Most marketers understand that the demographics of a population are largely a question of “Where?”

Finding the right consumer often comes down to targeting the right cities, zip codes or neighborhoods. That’s certainly true in market research, but a consideration of equal importance to a successful study is the question of “When?” – as in when are the best times to collect data?

There are some audiences that are best reached in the daytime hours. Obviously, most B2B research requires fieldwork to take place during the traditional 9 to 5 business hours. Stay-at-home parents are accessible during the day and a segment of this group is especially available during the hours when school is in session. RMS has found through its past research involving the senior market that retired seniors are easy to reach during the daytime; for methodologies such as focus groups that require them to travel, they generally prefer to participate during the day as opposed to the evening. But when it comes to a traditional telephone survey administered to a non-niche consumer audience composed largely of working adults, evenings are the by far best time to call.

Not only does calling after 5 p.m. generally improve the incidence rate of a survey, it also helps to ensure that the respondents are as representative as possible of the overall market – at least with regards to age. Below are some combined statistics from two past RMS telephone survey projects conducted in the Central New York region that illustrate that point. (The table and the graph display the same data sets in different formats):



In the counties where these surveys were conducted, the percentage of adults over the age of 65 is about 20 percent. Note how the calls made after 5 p.m. resulted in a respondent composition of 24 percent in the 65+ group – within four points of the actual population, whereas making the calls before 5 p.m. resulted in 37 percent of respondents being 65+; a full 17 points higher than the actual.

Meanwhile, those aged 25 to 64 (the prime workforce age range) represent 70 percent of the actual market. Surveying before 5 p.m. produced a respondent base wherein 60 percent fell within that range – 10 points shy of the actual. On the other hand, calls made after 5 p.m. resulted in 73 percent of the respondents falling within the 25 to 64 age range.

Again, this data represents the combined results from just two surveys, but our past experience and anecdotal observations of our call center staff lead us to believe we would find similar results by examining the data from similar telephone survey projects. (And we may do just that by revisiting the issue in a future post.)

There will be times it isn’t important for respondents of a phone survey to be representative in terms of age or other workforce-related criteria. But when that is a priority, it’s important to remember that evening surveying should make up the majority of the data collection efforts for B2C studies. Once all the effort and expense has been undertaken to ensure your sample matches the needs of the project, it would be a shame to skew the results by calling the sample records during the wrong time of day.

Do you have any insights or opinions about how the time of day that a survey is being conducted can influence the results? Please tell us about it in the comments section.