Marketing Research Ethics

�If I don�t promise confidentiality, can I disclose the individual respondent information?�

�If I don�t get the number of responses I promised, what should I do?�

�If I find out that the survey wasn�t completed exactly as promised, but the client is happy with the results, what does it matter?�

In marketing research, ethical behavior is a requirement. Because strategic business decisions are made every day based on our industry�s findings, trade associations, such as the AMA, MRA, and CASRO have put guidelines in place to ensure ethical behavior is addressed. The AMA ethical norms are as follows:

  • �Honesty � to be truthful and forthright in our dealings with customers and stakeholders,

  • Responsibility � to accept the consequences of our marketing decisions and strategies,

  • Fairness � to try to balance justly the needs of the buyer with the interests of the seller,

  • Respect � to acknowledge the basic human dignity of all stakeholders,

  • Openness � to create transparency in our marketing operations, and

  • Citizenship � to fulfill the economic, legal, philanthropic and societal responsibilities that serve stakeholders in a strategic manner.�

(AMA Statement of Ethics, adopted in 2004)

Researchers have many responsibilities when it comes to respondents:

  • They are required to provide the respondents confidentiality.�Before disclosing respondent-identifiable information to the client, the researcher must get the respondent�s express permission to do so.

  • Researchers must also respect the respondents� privacy.�If the respondent asks to not be contacted again or be put on a do not call/email list, the researcher must respect respondent�s wishes and not contact them again.

  • Marketing researchers must avoid harassing respondents.�We usually set a maximum number of attempts (calls) or reminders (emails) so that the respondent doesn�t feel like he or she is being harassed.

  • Survey research organizations should never use research as a cover for sales efforts.�This has become known as �sugging�: selling under the guise of research.

  • Finally, researchers should never misrepresent the length of the survey.�Better to be accurate with the respondents than to leave everyone angry and disappointed at the end of a too-long survey.

Marketing researchers have responsibilities not only to the respondents but to the clients, outside contractors, and interviewers involved in marketing research.�Research organizations should carry out the study in the manner agreed upon.�If the organization has any reservations regarding the study design or implementation, it must make its reservations known before the study begins.�Researchers must hold all information obtained about the client�s business confidential.�All research findings are the property of the client, and the research organization should never make a public release of these findings � or even disclose the identity of a client - without the express consent of that client.

Researchers also have responsibilities in reporting research results to clients and the public.�Along with the summary and analysis of the results of the raw data, reports should include:

  • The name of the organization that the study was conducted for, as well as the research organization (ideally specifying an individual to be contacted in the event clarification is needed).

  • The purpose of the study and the dates the data was collected.

  • A description of the population frame, the sample design, sample implementation results, weighting or estimating procedures, and special analysis.

  • The complete questionnaire and statistical tables that are clearly labeled.

In short, research results should stand on their own, allowing anyone who reads them to have the full context in which to understand and interpret the results.

Polaris Marketing Research is a proud member of the AMA, MRA, and CASRO and prides itself on its adherence to uphold the ethical guidelines set forth by these organizations. However, ethical behavior is about more than following a set of rules.�Ethical behavior in Marketing Research is based on respect for all of the parties involved and balancing of their disparate and potentially conflicting interests.�Ethical behavior is the cornerstone of our industry and everyone�s responsibility.

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