Three Steps to Best Practice in Device Agnostic Tracking

06 Oct 2014|Zoe Dowling

We’ve been talking a lot about the ‘big bang of marketing’ and the need for tracking to respond to this new environment. A core element of our recently launched tracking offer, Activator, is drawing upon the explosion of available data and integrating the streams that are most directly related to our clients’ strategic questions. Now, while this means introducing new data sources such as social media, behavioral, sales and website visits, the survey still remains critically important, albeit re-thought to fit today’s world.

The mobile revolution has brought untold changes. For researchers, it has brought multi-mode web surveys as increasing numbers of respondents are accessing PC-designed questionnaires on their small screen. While the reported numbers are currently modest, the trend is a clear call to action: we need to design device agnostic surveys to let respondents talk to us when they want, where they want and on the device of their choice.

The move from single screen to multi-screen is not straight-forward. It is not, as General Mills have told us, ‘lift and shift’* . There are a lot of new areas to work out. At the same time, we mustn’t disregard established survey methods and principles. Indeed, we need to return to the basics and be guided by them as we grow our understanding of this new era.

Questionnaire design is a holistic exercise where due care needs to be taken in all aspects of the process – from question wording and overall flow to programming and interface design. This is true for any mode and is especially important when designing for mobile, which brings new concerns to the fore.


  • The lack of context on the smaller screen reduces text comprehension.
  • Reading through a peephole increases cognitive load and makes it about twice as hard to understand text on a mobile device as on a desktop.
  • Short-term memory is weak, so the more users have to remember after it scrolls off the screen, the worse they’ll do.
  • It is imperative that mobile content be easy to read and scan. Roundabout, fluffy writing should be replaced with direct and concise content that is formatted for scannability.
  • The ‘fat finger’ syndrome will be with us for years to come. Thus for a small screen, you must limit the number of features to those that matter the most.

                                                                                           Jakob Nielsen & Raluca Budiu, 2012, Mobile Usability

In multi-screen questionnaire design, it is necessary to start with mobile, using the small screen as the lowest common denominator with the most restrictions. However, the larger screens must be kept in mind, working to the principle that the content, functionality and look and feel should be consistent for all modes while also optimizing for the specific screen size.

Another crucial piece of mobilizing tracking studies is reducing the questionnaire length. Currently, studies generally range between twenty to twenty-five minutes. This needs to be shortened to around ten minutes. While this is a daunting task, there are a number of approaches and tools that can be used to ensure the right pieces are included within the questionnaire.

Advanced Analytics: capture the key ideas by running a factor, structural or drivers analysis. Depending upon the study objectives, this could involve picking out metrics that look distinct from one another or, it could be important to rather pick related items.
Experimental design: conduct a short experiment to explore different elements of your questionnaire to understand the connections or the outcome of interest.

Qualitative deep dive: take a step back and undertake an in-depth exploration with your target around the topic or issues in question and rebuild your questionnaire with these insights as the guide.

Human element: consulting with the brand managers or product owners remains an integral component to fully understand on what needs to be measured and the desired outcomes for this particular analysis.

These techniques can be used individually or in conjunction with one-another to fruitfully shorten the questionnaire.
While the need to reduce is clear, it is also important to be diligent about which pieces need to remain. For example, removing superfluous wording but being careful to keep the essence of the question or attribute to be measured. Or ensuring there are sufficient demographic and psychographic questions to understand who you are talking to and be able to analyze the data in useful ways.

 In summary:

  • KEEP USABILITY AND USER EXPERIENCE AT THE FOREFRONT: questionnaire design is a holistic exercise and the experience should be designed as such.
  • OPTIMIZE FOR ALL SCREENS: the core principle is device agnostic, rather than mobile centric.
  • REDUCE, WHILE KEEPING THE ESSENCE: be smart about the elements to remove as well as those to keep.

Shorter, devise agnostic questionnaires are the future of tracking studies. As this means less data will be captured from respondents, the next step is to look at the growing number of accessible data streams and integrate the most relevant ones to supplement the survey data. Similar to questionnaire design, decisions on which data sources to include and how they are included need to be addressed carefully. However, once achieved, it allows far deeper insights from your short attitudinal survey metrics and extends the ability of the research to provide actionable insights.

Written by Zoë Dowling, VP R&D & Offer Innovation.

Follow Zoë on Twitter: @ZoeDowling

Image credits: Google

*Jeanine Bassett, General Mills, 2013, Mobile Research – Come On In… The Water Is Warm, MRMW, Minneapolis


prev next