Is that Ethical? CASRO and Marketing Research Ethics

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marketing research ethicsMarketing Research ethics? What’s that all about?

You may never have considered this before, but ethical behavior is critical for marketing research success. Certainly we want to behave ethically towards our clients, but we have the additional burden of behaving ethically to our respondents as well. Think about these situations:

  • In a customer satisfaction survey, there are three customers who are extremely negative toward the company. Your client wants to know who they are, so they can be contacted to improve the relationship. But you promised confidentiality in the survey. What should you do?
  • In an employee survey, a very small department showed extreme dissatisfaction with their manager. Reporting the results for that division alone will make it perfectly obvious who wrote the responses. Again, you promised confidentiality for their responses. What should you do?
  • A client wants you to combine marketing research and lead generation. Within the same interview, you will assess the need for and interest in the product and then turn the individual contacts back to the client for those respondents who look like good prospects. Should you do it?

Nearly every marketing research project presents some ethical challenge for the research supplier or the client. The marketing research industry as a whole is guided in these challenges by the Council of American Survey Research Organization (known as CASRO.) Founded in 1975, CASRO represents and safeguards the market research industry, at home and abroad. CASRO requires members to adhere to the CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research. Updated in 2014, the Code is a widely-known set of standards which has become the benchmark for our industry.

The CASRO Code sets out the ethical behavior of research firms toward both respondents, covering such topics as:

  • confidentiality of respondents’ data, privacy and avoiding harassment
  • internet/online research, email solicitations, and active agent technology
  • Ethical use of panels and other sample sources
  • Privacy laws and regulations

The CASRO Code also sets out guidelines for the research firm’s responsibilities to clients and the public:

  • Relationships should foster confidence and mutual respect, being marked by honesty and confidentiality
  • General instructions for conducting research projects
  • Conditions necessary for publication of findings
  • Recommended information to include in reports and materials available to the public

For clients, CASRO is important for two key reasons: 1) membership in CASRO can be one of the differentiating factors in your choice of supplier 2) understanding the CASRO Code can help you understand the ethical challenges you may be bringing to your research supplier, and how to mitigate those challenges. Being aware of our responsibilities to all participants in the marketing research industry will ensure that we are all viewed with trust and respect.


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Kyle Burnam

Kyle Burnam is the CEO of Infosurv and the leader of its sister company, Intengo, where he oversees all client research and R&D projects. Having been in the industry since 2005, Kyle brings a wealth of experience to the table and an innovative eye to every project.