Only a decade ago online market research was considered radical, perhaps ‘risky'. Now it's being referred to in most markets as traditional. Changes in web behaviour, the advent of social media and the uptake in web-enabled mobile devices will eventually see our long-held focus on the web browser - where users typically take online surveys - change in favour of ‘apps' that can communicate and collect information across different sample sources, devices and platforms, social media, and likely new ways of communicating that we may not have even conceptualised yet.
Survey research is, like the web, undergoing a significant metamorphosis. Its place in the pantheon of MR techniques is assured, but growing trends for innovative qualitative and hybrid research techniques, direct behavioural measurement and ‘listening' to consumers through innovative social media measurement are gaining popularity, not least because insights gained through these methods enable researchers to answer their clients' questions in a new way, often providing a more holistic view of the consumer.
By and large, we're beginning to realise that feedback is valuable, consumers are more willing to provide their opinions in new ways and we have a unique opportunity to use this feedback. As researchers we need to balance these new techniques with an eye on data quality. Innovations in the technologies we use and the methodologies we apply are needed in order to help researchers make the most of the ever-increasing amount of information available to us.
Ensuring quality research
As our industry evolves, the way that we approach data quality evolves with it. When we began using online research ten short years ago, we needed to be mindful that the data obtained was representative of the population at large and those participating in online surveys did not present bias in the data set. Of course, internet users were likely more technically advanced, more affluent and in many ways ‘different' than the population at large. Our focus was on developing ways to make the data more representative of the population and used weighting techniques in many cases to do this.
Today, with an online population in most major markets, these techniques are less important than they were. That said, we now face a new challenge. The universe of online survey respondents that once seemed vast, we have realised is finite. In many cases, companies are using multiple means of reaching their population of interest. Our focus now needs to be on ensuring that in finding these people, possibly using multiple sources for doing so, that we continue to produce reliable and representative market research data. Many companies employ a means of ‘source-based blending' techniques that aim to control quality by selecting respondents based on pre-determined percentages by recruitment, or sample source. These methods often fail to correct for source-level changes that occur.
At Toluna we're exploring a unique methodology that directs respondents into a survey and asks both demographic and behavioral screening questions that yield a SmartSelect Score. This propensity score is used to assign respondents to surveys that they qualify for and focuses on data quality at the respondent-level. This respondent-level quality assurance can be used to broaden the universe of survey respondents, enabling us to use multiple sources (no matter how mundane or cutting-edge) without worries about data quality or possible sample bias.
Blending the science of market research with progressive ways of obtaining feedback is what I truly enjoy about this industry, continuing to evolve the way that we obtain consumer feedback. Companies are now looking at numerous techniques for obtaining insight: from the ‘hybrid' and ‘listening' approaches, to GPS-enabled, targeted mobile surveys. The key for researchers is to keep one eye on the science behind the art.
Going where consumers are
Market researchers have always been able to collect feedback in new and innovative ways thanks to consumers' willingness to adopt new technology and means of interacting. We've gone where the consumers are - from mail to phone, to online and now to exploring social media applications, mobile devices and more. We have learned that consumers participate in research when and where it's most convenient and ‘fun' for them.
Toluna has developed an approach that leverages the principles of social media websites. The member portal allows panelists to share opinions and post their own QuickSurveys in seconds, any time, anywhere. Pictures can be uploaded and results published through direct links to Facebook and Twitter. Members truly enjoy the experience and, unlike a typical panel experience, there is a ‘social' reward for membership, which encourages ongoing participation. This new means of interaction provides exciting market research applications. We can literally obtain consumer feedback in ‘real-time' without relying on email - polls are posted to the community site and answers generated within minutes.
Additionally the ‘community' experience can be applied on a brand level, enabling companies to create their own branded member portals for listening as well as traditional quantitative research - small examples of new methods of interacting with respondents in ways that appeal to them, while leveraging fresh insight obtained as a result.
In conclusion, we would all agree that ‘The Web is NOT Dead.' It is alive and well, powering social media applications, browsing on mobile devices and more. It will continue to evolve, just like web-based surveys, with new applications emerging and we will see new means of obtaining feedback, both in traditional survey form and new listening and hybrid applications.