Vast numbers of people are congregating online to discuss a vast variety of issues, ranging from their social lives to what is the best server to buy for their business. It is so vast, that it is troublesome getting a handle on it. Surely, any specific online community has lots of systematic biases, so it can't be treated as projectable to anything but that community, right? Of course, the same can be said of any qualitative research. Some of the approaches and techniques that are of interest to market researchers include:
Some recent events make me hopeful that major moves are afoot with enhancing panel quality.
Since the beginning of online surveys, there have been questions about how clean the online panels that enable them are. Questions abounded about representativeness, fraud, professional survey takers, inattentive survey takers and the like. The response from panel vendors has been that they have strong measures in place, and that the problems were overstated. Naysayers have claimed bad sample numbers that range from 20-30%. Buyer's of sample were largely in a "trust me" position, since most of the quality measures were in the hands of the panel vendor. Associations (such as ESOMAR and ARF), have come up with protocols that all good panels should follow, and many have.
I just returned from presenting at CASRO. The topic was "Will In-sourcing Kill Full Service Market Research Firms." It was a review of the major economically driven trends around quantitative and qualitative research and why many of the online tool vendors for market research have had good years, while many full service research firms have not.
I was a bit jumpy about presenting to the CASRO audience, since it is almost all market research vendors, and I knew that some (who supply the enablers of in-sourcing) would like my presentation, and others (who are exclusively full service) would be less happy. As it turns out, the audience was gratifyingly enthusiastic. Everyone recognized that the self-service trend was indeed making some permanent changes in the research marketplace, but that full service would continue to exist in a slower growth form. Those who were on the full service side of the house were quite interested in discussing how to harness these trends to their advantage.
Now that solutions are finally available to "clean up" panels, will buyers at last insist that providers use them, or will a myopic focus on price continue to be the rule when on-line sample is used?
The use of online panels for market research was highly contentious at one time. Traditional researchers thought that they would be prone to the same problems as traditional off-line panels: filled with respondents that are not representative of the general population motivated by the desire to earn money taking surveys.
Despite these misgivings, online panels have taken off in the US (and are coming on strong in Europe.) Why? Because they allowed research to be conducted in one third the time at one fifth the cost. This allowed buyers to say to themselves, "ok, maybe its not quite as project-able, but give the savings it's worth it." Also, many panel vendors claimed to be doing something special to ensure that their panels were better, and indeed several of them did.
More and more clients are asking me to help them assess how ready their clients (usually businesses) are to engage with them via social media. This generally drives a research project. The answers are aften much more positive than clients expect.
Recently I was presenting at a major conference by Purina. What amazed me is how many retailers and distributors of horse, goat, and cattle feed were using Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with their clients on the range.
If Web 2.0 social media is that penetrated into the farbric of America, so that it is now common "out on the range," I can think of few other businesses that would not benefit from its adoption for marketing, market research, or generally driving customer intimacy.
Does anyone have any surprising social media stories they can share?
I'm really interested in getting readers perspectives on why customer satisfaction research is so hot?
One thing that has constantly amazed me since I became an Analyst at Forrester Research, is the overwhelming interest in all things concerning customer satisfaction research. Easily a third of my inquiries are about how to design such studies, how to improve what they have, what are the issues with multinational studies, and how to deal with new concepts such as NetPromoter.
Even in this dire market, it seems that customer satisfaction studies are one of growth area in market research (according to Inside Research).
My question to my readers is this: are MROCs the next big thing in market research, and will they eventually take measurable share form traditional qualitative research?
It is an old story.
A new mode of research comes along, and the existing research world gives it a giant raspberry.
It happened when phone pushed out face-to-face interviews for quant in the US in the 70's (What about selection bias! It can't possibly be as projectable!). It happened in the late 90's and early 2000's with online panels (What about selection bias?! What about professional survey takers?! What about response bias and poorly constructed panels?!).