You can’t manage what you don’t see: Best practices for inclusive marketing research

Lindsay Strouse / March 2021

The foundation of all great marketing campaigns is market research. Knowing who your audience is and who your competitors are, as well as your biggest threats and greatest opportunities, are just some of the fundamental components you need to know to effectively market your business.

Yet, despite the influence research can have on a business, the basics of ensuring accurate representative samples that truly reflect your audience base often go overlooked. While some sampling error will always be unavoidable, building diverse representation into your research from the beginning will ensure you’re marketing with intention and not just for the sake of seeming inclusive.

Here are a few basic best practices to consider before starting your research:

You identified a challenge or opportunity, and you’d like to understand it better. What now?

Include more diverse respondents into research upfront. It’s easier to identify insights that have the potential to broaden your impact overall.

Do you know if your topic of interest disproportionately impacts historically underrepresented groups? By adding additional profiling questions or diversifying your research sample, you'll be able to contribute to a more inclusive future, and you’ll be better able to understand your current customers and potentially expand your audience research to tap into new business opportunities.

Including questions about gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, ability, or education can impact the effectiveness of your product or marketing, likely uncovering insights around the diverse needs and experiences of your customers. For example, in India, it’s estimated that around 20 million people are deaf — that is almost twice the size of the entire population of Sweden.1

You want to work with a research vendor or sample provider for a new study. What should you consider?

Many companies are looking to expand their reach to the millions of users coming online today. But while online surveys may expand your reach, you might also unintentionally exclude an important base of people that have limited online connectivity.

Take into account the likelihood that devices do not equal people, especially in markets like India, where sharing devices between all members of the family are common.

Think about where your audience spends their time, and explore alternative methodologies for data collection — such as face-to-face interviews — to meet your audience where they are.

You’re writing a survey to learn more from your users, but you’re not sure what to ask.

Consider the needs of the audiences you most want to hear from, and optimize your research to their needs. Implicit biases are underlying attitudes and stereotypes that can interfere with how we interact or think about other groups. There are a few basic checks you can put in place before starting your research to validate your own assumptions while also helping respondents feel comfortable with being their authentic selves.

Ensuring the comfort of your users will ultimately give you better insight into what they need and how they think, and ensure they feel comfortable showing up authentically.

Here are some sample questions to ask yourself before fielding a survey:

1. If you’re measuring performance, are you incorporating feedback from people of diverse backgrounds who have been exposed to your marketing or product?

You may be missing out on critical information if you’re only collecting data from a specific segment of the population.

2. Is your survey using font sizes and colors that are accessible to all respondents?

Talk to your survey provider about how to make the platform accessible to people who may be color blind, have limited vision, or are using screen readers.

3. Does the language in your surveys or discussion guides make assumptions about lifestyle preferences or family structure?

If you are using a multiple-choice screener that includes identity and profiling questions, consider adding in options that reflect non-nuclear family structures.

4. Have you accounted for the needs of differently abled consumers?

Common adjustments needed include online surveys for screen reader accessibility and changing face-to-face exercises or tools to include examples for people with disabilities.

5. Do you know whether respondents will only feel comfortable sharing with people of similar backgrounds in face-to-face settings?

Think about the questions within your study, and reflect how you might feel answering an interviewer of a different age, gender, race, or culture.

6. Are consent forms written and shared in a way that all respondents can easily understand?

This is especially important when performing research with respondents who have lower literacy levels.

Many factors impact survey completion rates, from survey design to length to mobile optimization. Soft-launching research with audiences of interest first may help you uncover what resonates with respondents and what does not.

You’ve completed your study and are writing a report for internal or external publication.

The role of the researcher to interpret the data and provide context about the audience is very important. Finding an insight about a more niche audience that currently only represents a small portion of your customer base could have an outsized impact on future growth.

When you are sharing a report about your company or publishing it in a journal or web platform, using high-quality images or diverse examples of case studies or photos to accurately represent your users goes a long way for helping your insights land.

Research about specific demographics or ethnicities should feature images that accurately capture their profile — and not reinforce stereotypes. Consider tools such as Unsplash for freely-usable images featuring wide diversity of people from around the world.

It’s long been said, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Ensuring your consumer and market research tracks the needs of a diverse population can help you uncover richer insights to identify new business opportunities.

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