New consumer research technologies, old research techniques

Okay, it’s old news that in the US and many other countries, market research has moved online.  The new technology makes it possible to set-up and field studies in record time.  And with Zoomerang and Survey Monkey, just about anyone can create and field a survey.

Which brings to mind a simple question:  Are we using new technology to improve the quality of insights or just using it for the same old tasks?  

My observation is that online research is often a missed opportunity to delve deeper into the minds of customers.  

In study after study I see that questions and study design meant for mail, phone or in-person studies are now migrating online.  The same old studies just done in a new medium.  Why is that such a big deal?  Because many of those questions were compromises based on the technology that existed in the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s like replacing an electric typewriter with a MacBook Pro laptop.  A very cool way to type things.  But you could also adopt all of the new technology stuffed into the MacBook and be making videos and other visual presentations that are much more effective.  

The very nature of putting a study online opens up a world of possibilities — ones that should excite both the market researchers and pretty much everyone in marketing.  The past methods and study designs were not meant for the internet age.  Now it is possible to bring visual experiences and images into the process.

Consider for a moment the typical questions about brand awareness.  Currently they are about remembering a brand based on a verbal cues, along the lines of “What brands of xxxxx come to mind?”  “Have you ever heard of BrandX?”  For aided questions, it is just as easy to show the logo and ask, “Have you ever seen this brand before?”  In real life people come across brands visually, logo first.  If I go into a store, I see the brand name in context of a label, a logo, a package, perhaps a point-of-sale display.  So why not in market research?  

For image and brand personality questions, it is now easy to use visual images instead of  checklists of adjectives and attributes such as “Tall”, “Dark” and “Handsome”.  The illusive grail of marketing, “differentiation” is often in imagery and not in product characteristics.  Consider wine. Or beer. Or water. Or perfume.  Or any number of other categories where consumers cannot rationally explain the differences between the physical products. Here’s where the visual aspect of the internet can really delve deeper.

Yes, yes, I know that there are huge problems with online research. How do you know that a real person between 18 and 49 is filling in the survey? How do you actually verify the sample? This is not meant to diminish those issues.  Market research on the internet is here for the foreseeable future, so this is the time to begin making the most of it.

A number is just a number.  But an insight is priceless.  Much of memory is visual.  Much communication is non-verbal.  Much communication is metaphorical. The great promise of market research on the internet is to re-invent market research to get into these visual, metaphorical, non-verbal parts of the consumer’s mind.  The great promise is to get deeper insights.

Okay, I’m putting my soapbox back into the closet for a while…

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