10 Reasons omnibus surveys don’t work

Omnibus surveys are a product of the 1990s, and while some things have endured and flourished in the preceding 30 years (although these are more in the remit of Game Boys and double denim), some other things should be left well and truly in that decade. Omnibuses are one of those things.

What are omnibus surveys?

Omnibuses are a well-established method of gathering consumer intelligence.

But as anyone familiar with investments will know, past performance isn’t indicative of future results. And every omnibus is an investment – in time, money, and decisions that impact your brand.

Almost all traditional omnibus providers will preach about their tried and tested methodology and long established roots. And they’re not wrong, brands have been using online omnibuses for almost as long as the internet has existed (since as far back as 1990 in some cases).

In 1990 consumers might also have been spotted feasting on pick n mix from Woolworth’s, while they watched the hottest new release, Die Hard 2 or Pretty Woman, hired for the evening from Blockbuster.

Clearly, a process that worked in 1990 might be considered outdated in 2018.

Technology hasn’t just come on leaps and bounds since then, it’s been to Saturn, created rechargeable cars and put the internet in our pockets.

So why are brands still using omnibuses?

Why omnibus surveys don’t work

Omnibuses are a shared vehicle in which multiple brands or organisations can share the cost of consumer intelligence by asking a small amount of questions each. This is why you’ll find omnibuses to be some of the cheapest solutions available on the market. So they’re cheap, but at what cost?

If you find old habits die hard, read on for our top 10 reasons why omnibus surveys don’t work (and better alternatives).

They’re too long

Omnibus surveys often include a handful of demographic gathering questions at the front, followed by 1-4 questions composed by each participating brand. Surveys can quickly swell to be 30+ questions, with even as few as 5 brands involved.

A (relatively short) 30 question omnibus survey would take a respondent at least 10 minutes to complete. The respondent might join the survey with the best intentions to pay attention, they get through the demographic questions, then start on the questions from sponsoring brands. By the third brand they’re wondering what’s for dinner. By the fifth brand they’re petting their dog and not even looking at their phone.

So how do you ensure you get to top of the bill, as the first set of questions consumers will answer, and provide the highest quality responses to? With an omnibus you can’t guarantee this will happen.

The quality of responses at the end of a long survey are always lower than those at the start, and with no impact on the survey design you’re at the mercy of the scriptor as to whether you’ll receive high quality results.

With Attest, your surveys are capped at 40 questions. If you’re interested in only asking the 1-4 questions an omnibus is often used for, sending a solo survey you can ensure peak quality because of the high level of attention (at a comparable cost).

Mixed topics cause fatigue

Not only do omnibus surveys extend on for a suboptimal length of time, they change topic at least every 4 questions. Just as a respondent is getting into the swing of thinking about health and beauty, those questions are over and now they’re asked about their broadband provider.

Energy, on behalf of the respondent, is required each time the topic changes, as they’re asked to scrap what they were just thinking about and start thinking of an unconnected topic. This means fatigue will set in at an early stage, with subsequent answers being lower quality. It also means that respondents might not be in the state of mind up for your first, or even second question.

While you can’t ensure there will be nothing else running through a respondent’s mind, by conducting your own surveys you can at least ensure they’re not distracted by thinking of, or being confused by, the topics that fall before yours.

Longer omnibus surveys also increase turnaround time

You’ve likely opted for an omnibus solution to your surveying needs because you have just a small handful of questions to ask. So the results of the omnibus won’t be informing your whole business plan.

With just one or two questions you could get an interesting statistic for PR purposes or gauge top-level responses to a trend or viral sensation. In either of these cases, you’re asking just a couple of questions to get exactly the information you need in as little time as possible.

But omnibuses aren’t short surveys, they can take up to a week to turn around for some providers. By this time the news might have moved on or the social hubbub might have died away. Damn.

With Attest you can get responses from a Nationally Representative sample of 1000 respondents in as little as 24 hours (often faster). And you’ll, see results in real-time as they come in, so you can begin to plan your strategy based on the way the results seem to be heading.

Restrictive minimum question requirements

The alternative to running omnibus surveys needn’t be embarking on hefty, data-heavy market research.

Let’s say your preferred omnibus survey provider requires 4 questions from you for entry to their omnibus, but you have just one or two questions to ask to validate a decision you need to quickly make at the very end of your marketing process. Do you scratch around for two additional questions just to justify the cost and fill the space?

Instead, you could ask as few questions as you like as frequently as you like with Attest.

Restrictive maximum question requirements

Similarly, omnibus surveys restrict you if your required scope is just slightly too wide to fit into 4 questions.

Most omnibus providers offer the option to purchase additional questions, but they will still cap you at some point to avoid dominating the survey and unbalancing the topics.

This inflexibility in both directions (with both a minimum and maximum number of questions) – completely unnecessary in today’s competitive landscapes where modern, online and flexible consumer insights tools exist – restricts the use of omnibus solutions to a narrow need, which the majority of your survey requirements might not fit into.

Variable pricing per question type

Many omnibus providers charge more for an open-ended question than for a closed question. There’s an extra level of coding required before free-text answers can be analysed and presented to brands in a spreadsheet, justifying the charge.

With Attest you can access 7 different question types for one flat price, based only on number of responses.

Fixed sample sizes can cause problems

We might all want to speak to as many consumers as possible, but when there are free-text answers involved, large sample sizes can produce obstacles to you speedily analysing results.

You may also have need for larger sample sizes than those on offer, if the results are to be used in the press or to represent large populations, for instance.

With access to 125 million people in 59 countries, you can use the Attest dashboard to send surveys to the samples that produce statistically significant results for your needs, rather than bending to fit into an inflexible omnibus.

Access to nationally representative samples only

Yes, sometimes a Nationally Representative sample is exactly what you want. Sometimes, though, you want to ask your questions to consumers who have greater value to you than the general population.

While some omnibus providers collect the demographic details from respondents required for you to filter by this in the results stage, the consumers falling outside of these filters have still contributed to your sample size and diluted the overall results (not to mentioned that you’ve paid for them).

You’re also unable to ask qualifying questions, as the consumers who would screen out might be of interest to other brands in the omnibus with you.

Use as many of Attests detailed demographic filters to speak to the consumers that matter to you, as you like, for no added cost.

Omnibus surveys foster bad habits

While some omnibus providers offer a survey each day, at a regular time, some providers offer surveys just once a week, or even less often. There’s an onus, in all situations, to avoid missing the bus (so to speak).

These strict deadlines, especially when surveys serve cross-functional purposes, requiring sign-off from multiple people, can breed rushed, botched jobs. Instead of reviewing and reconsidering your questions (maybe with a few hours or days in between), you accept the first or second draft so you’re not forced to wait for the next omnibus.

Have the freedom to script as many questions as you want, wherever and whenever suits you and your company. Only with this approach will you ensure questions have the appropriate attention to ensure they’re set-up to collect high quality, actionable data.

Results aren’t interactive

The results of an omnibus are returned to the sponsoring brand in spreadsheets for their analysis. Analysis via excel should definitely be confined to the 90s. Unless you’re an absolute spreadsheet whiz, you’ll very likely miss key insights hidden in the data.

Often the most interesting takeaways (whether it’s a PR hook, product idea or consumer trend) lies just below the top-level results.  Interacting with the data in the Attest dashboard can help to uncover the big ideas, correlations and understanding that delivers unprecedented business results.

If you also believe that omnibuses are a tool of the past, and that there’s a new, brighter future for consumer insights, get in touch with Attest today to discover exactly what this can mean for your brand.

Are you getting the most out of your surveys? Squeezing every last drop of insight out of them? Or maybe you’re new to survey-based market research and don’t really know where to begin? Check out our Complete Guide to Survey Creation for advice from the experts:

Complete Guide to Survey Creation

Creating surveys that deliver quality, actionable insights doesn’t have to be so hard. Here’s how you can do it.

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Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

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