GreenBook, a directory of market research firms, conducts and publishes the Research Industry Trends (GRIT) report annually.  While perusing the most recent results, I stumbled upon the following finding (techniques respondents would choose in their ideal research company):

The top part of the graph showing most desirable research techniques – mobile and online – wasn’t surprising.  After all, these tools have been the talk of the industry for several years.  What surprised me, was not that mail was considered least desirable, but that it was such a strong response.  Nearly twice as many people said mail was the least desirable than the second most least desirable, telephone (telephone does have its share of challenges from cell phones to participation rates).

Why the hatred of mail? The report, or at least online summary, didn’t go into the why on this particular question.  My guess is the longer timeline to field the survey is  a major barrier, as well as the additional logistics of conducting the actual mailing, data entry, and so on.  Response rates with mail, when done right, can actually be quite good and the costs aren’t always out of line with other research forms.  While mail may not be the newest or hippest means out there (ok, it isn’t), mail can still get the job done.  As always, it comes down to picking the right tool for the job.  For certain populations, small geographies, or other areas where mail excels, it is still a good tool.

To be fair, there were many interesting results that I wouldn’t disagree with, and I do enjoy seeing the trends in the report.  Sometimes, I just think the mirror lies.

On a related note, this made me think of a story on NPR last year.  Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, argues no invention has ever gone extinct (they later found examples that contradict this, but stay with me for a second…), but rather continue to live on to serve some unique niche or as part of a bigger piece of technology. So, until there ceases to be a mail service, mail surveys (and door-to-door, and intercept surveys, and…) will probably continue to live on to serve unique niches in the research world where they excel.