Does asking about a topic on a survey change actual consumer behavior?

Survey panelists are experts in sharing their opinions, and researchers are experts in measuring their responses. Panelists are asked many questions about many different topics over the course of their time taking surveys, with topics ranging from auto purchase intentions to food preferences or shampoo preferences. In research, completion of a questionnaire by a panelist typically marks the endpoint of the interaction between the panelist and the organization conducting the research. However, as with many experiences, taking surveys has a lasting impact on a panelist’s mindset and the topics that are top-of-mind long after the survey-taking experience is complete.

Research has shown that the act of being asked a question about a particular topic can dramatically increase the likelihood that panelists will later perform an action related to that topic. Basically, being asked a question about a particular topic makes that topic top-of-mind for panelists and often leads them to do things they may not have otherwise done.

This phenomenon applies to a wide range of situations from big-ticket purchases to everyday necessities. For example, panelists who received a study about auto purchasing were more likely to buy a new car within 6 months, compared to panelists who did not receive a study about auto purchasing. And students who were surveyed about the likelihood of flossing their teeth in the next 2 weeks reported greater instances of flossing their teeth after being asked. Students who were not asked about flossing their teeth were not likely to report greater instances of flossing.

This is an important consideration for organizations to consider when conducting research. Just the act of asking a question can influence the mindset of panelists and lead them to take actions they might not have otherwise taken.

And this measurement effect can be broadened to social media. When organizations reach out to their followers and ask questions, the topics those questions cover become top-of-mind and are likely to lead to action. In this way, the purpose of asking questions shifts from being solely focused on receiving input from consumers. Asking questions allows organizations to strategically influence what those consumers are thinking about and the actions they’re taking afterward.