I’m always thinking about market research, even when I’m on vacation. During my most recent vacation, I wound up thinking about it a lot. Last week, my family and I visited the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.  During our stay, I noticed that the Disney Research team had a very strong contingent of intercept survey interviewers out in all of the various parks as well as in the Downtown Disney shopping area. My wife and I were each approached by interviewers several times and there were perhaps half a dozen occasions when I passed by interviewers surveying other people.

Cinderella's Castle

Disney conducting intercept surveys at their parks did not surprise me, but the sheer volume of activity naturally caught my attention. And of course, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the research because I was curious to see how a huge, global organization approached something that is a regular component of my job at RMS. The experience both reinforced things I already knew about intercept surveys and, in a few cases, gave me some new things to consider.

Here are a few of my takeaways, in no particular order of importance:

  • The Disney interviewers are good — very good. Last month, fellow RMS Bunker Blog contributor Chris Coville wrote a post that offered 7 Tips for Conducting Intercept Surveys. His tips were that interviewers should be friendly, dress the part, identify themselves, approach the respondent, position themselves in multiple locations, state their purpose, and be honest.  The Disney research staff that I observed and interacted with did all of those things extremely well, especially the parts about being friendly and engaging in their approach. I would expect that from Disney, but at the same time, I appreciate how challenging it is for interviewers to keep that up in 90+ degree Florida heat and talking to people who are surrounded by distractions. It just served as a reminder of something I learned a long time ago in the research business – survey interviewers are not a commodity and having good ones makes all the difference in data collection.
  • Disney’s obvious large-scale commitment to intercept surveying hints at the growing trend toward the use of quick and inexpensive “directional” research approaches, even by massive corporations. While it has been widely used for a long time, intercept surveying has always been looked down upon somewhat by research traditionalists due to that fact that it does not employ true random sampling and therefore does not have the statistical reliability associated with it, say, traditional phone surveys back in the era when almost everyone in the U.S. had landlines. For a variety of reasons, market research clients have begun to care less about considerations like statistical reliability and more about using methodologies that can give them “fast and cheap” results. Intercept surveying fits that description to a tee, especially when your organization has ready access to huge crowds every single day.
  • I was somewhat surprised to find that I did not disqualify from the survey by virtue of being a market research analyst. Working in market research (along with being employed in advertising, public relations, marketing or an industry related to the research sponsor) is oftentimes an immediate disqualifier in survey research. Not so with the Disney surveys. I even made it a point to warn the first interviewer who approached me that I might not qualify on those grounds, but it didn’t matter to them. At RMS, we routinely disqualify market researchers from our studies, although on a number of occasions we have discussed amongst ourselves if it really matters for some sorts of studies. For example, does the fact that someone is well-versed in the techniques of survey research mean that they might answer a survey about their experience with an offering differently than any other consumer? Frankly, I’m not sure. But this experience has re-opened the debate in my mind.
  • I was also somewhat surprised to learn that there was no incentive or sweepstakes offer of any kind associated with the surveys my wife and I participated in. That wasn’t surprising so much with the in-person intercepts since those were brief, but there were follow-up online surveys afterward that were fairly lengthy.  If a client of RMS proposed to do a survey of comparable length, we probably would recommend a sweepstakes offer to encourage participation. One can only assume that Disney finds its completion rates satisfactory without such incentives. I suspect that has a lot to do with Disney’s extraordinary levels of brand equity and the generally high levels of felt involvement among many of its customers. That is to say, many people will probably do a survey with no incentive as a favor to Mickey but might need a little bit more of an enticement for a research sponsor they view as less “magical.”

All-in-all, seeing the Disney researchers in action was an enlightening experience. It’s always good to see how other firms approach various research challenges.  And anyone who works in marketing would be foolish to not take a look at how a marketing powerhouse like Disney does things. The only downside is that, these observations and this blog post notwithstanding, I still doubt that I’ll be able to get away with writing my vacation off as a business trip.