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Tracker research in peril: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

If you’re a supplier, how many newly initiated trackers have you seen come across your desk in the past year compared with years past?  If you’re an owner of research, how much value have you been getting from your ongoing tracker(s) compared with years past?  In either case, I’m willing to bet that the answer is “not as many/much as I used to.”  Trackers can be an incredibly valuable tool and the backbone of impactful research programs.  So, why are so many languishing?  If we consider the tracker in the context of broader trends, a few things come to light, including some light at the end of the tunnel.


The trackers I see, which are not anomalous, are among the longest and least mobile friendly surveys.  They tend to get longer with accretion of questions over time.  They almost never get shorter by removing unnecessary questions.

So what?  If questions get answered and demographic quotas get filled (even if they may take longer than they used to), who cares?  In short, who participates in research matters.  We know that people who prefer to take surveys on mobile devices are different in critical ways to those who choose to use computers.  Excluding mobile participants by choice or by virtue of clinging to an unfriendly survey, the sample becomes less representative and less useful each wave.  Especially with younger age cohorts, to think that those willing to complete long surveys represent their peers is misguided.


While today’s tracker landscape is dotted with pitfalls, there is plenty to be hopeful for.  Trackers – old and new – can be reinvigorated leveraging data in smart ways.  We can address some of the challenges faced by participants while also improving data quality by asking only what we need to ask.

Less questions, however, doesn’t mean less data.  Rather than focusing on how many questions to cram into a questionnaire, ask what types of data best support the business questions at hand.  Numerous datasets exist that can be linked to survey data to galvanize it.  Set aside unwieldly or flat out unanswerable questions and seek data elsewhere.  Looking to the following data sources is a great place to start piecing together the puzzle:

  • Profile data: Most panel providers curate a rich database of attributes on a participant level such as brand preferences, employment information, and travel habits, to name a few.
  • Advertising data: When research evaluates the impact of advertising, which many trackers do, link actual ad exposure data to your tracker to know who was (and wasn’t) exposed to relevant ads that impact key brand metrics.
  • Third party data: A wealth of datasets can be matched to participants on topics such as voting history, purchase behavior, healthcare, and automotive…and the list goes on.


Integrating survey and other types of data is critical to the future of the research industry and especially relevant to trackers.  The future-focused tracker fuses strategically asked questions with multiple data streams and is underpinned by an understanding that people fuel research.  We shouldn’t give up on trackers.  Rather, with a bit of creativity and an eye on the questions they are meant to answer, we should bolster the role of trackers in the research toolkit.

Roddy Knowles

Director, Product and Innovation Research, Research Now SSI




The Australian Market and Social Research Society is linked globally to 45 associations through its partnership with the Global Research Business Network (GRBN) and the Asia Pacific Research Committee (APRC). Click here to read about the AMSRS global network. This article is originally sourced from GRBN website.

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