Video Caption: Companies do not want to play games with their market research surveys. One wrong management decision based on inaccurate information could break a brand.

Have you recently gotten an e-mail, been graced with a pop-up window, or been asked nicely at the bottom of a sales receipt to please go to a website to take a marketing research survey? Online surveys are becoming more and more popular because they quickly and economically collect an immense amount of information.

Internet surveys have several advantages specific to that methodology, according to Professor Carl McDaniel of the University of Texas at Arlington and Roger Gates, president and CEO of DSS Research, authors of  “Marketing Research Essentials:”

  • Rapid development and real-time reporting because marketing researchers can send thousands of Internet surveys simultaneously and tabulate and post results as soon as returns arrive.
  • Dramatically reduced costs of between 25 and 40 percent compared to a traditional telephone survey because online surveys eliminate data-collection labor costs.
  • Personalization that speeds up the response process because surveys are more flexible and relevant to each respondent’s situation.
  • Higher response rates because respondents complete the surveys at their convenience, and surveys are much more engaging due to graphics, interactivity, links to incentive sites and real-time summary reports.
  • Ability to contact the hard-to-reach like doctors, high-income professionals and top management in Global 2000 firms who are well-represented online.

Disadvantages of validity do concern marketing researchers, and they are designing tools that make sure that Internet survey respondents are who they say they are, engage in the survey, and are not counted more than once, said Douglas Quenqua in his November 30, 2009, “Marketing News” article, “Survey Says: New Tools Aim to Ensure The Integrity of Online Surveys. Better Surveys Would Help Too.” Several organizations have created tools in response:

  • The Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) Online Research Quality Council’s Quality Enhancement Process is a set of best practice templates that clients and suppliers can use when structuring an online panel. Microsoft, Unilever, Coca-Cola, General Mills and four other marketers are piloting the program.
  • The CMO Council with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has “Pause to Support a Cause,” a program that rewards respondents whom complete surveys with opportunities to make charitable contributions in their names so they are not tempted by personal gain.
  • Research companies like Peanut Labs Inc. draws its survey respondents from Facebook and LinkedIn to confirm that potential respondents are real people and the age and gender they say they are. The company combats the incentive problem with “virtual currency” that respondents can use to play games on the social networking sites.
  • Software solutions like TrueSample from MarketTools Inc. filters duplicate or false respondents and weeds out the disengaged.

The solutions Quenqua shares are a good start to make Internet surveying more accurate, but they might not be enough to make the methodology more than a quick, easy inexpensive way to get a preliminary pulse on a marketing research problem. Although online surveys are better than no research at all, let us hope that companies use a variety of marketing research methodologies to decide their marketing strategies.

In fact, a study in the February 2004 issue of “The Marketing Review” found that most United Kingdom marketing research agencies who participated in an Internet survey believed that the online survey is not the most effective primary research tool, and its use should depend on the marketing research objective. The study also reports that marketing researchers believe that respondents are less likely to answer online survey questions “truthfully” than they are when using other research methodologies.

This lack of truth could be a result of a flaw in the online survey design. Online surveys that do not have options like “other” with explanation or “I don’t know” force respondents to pick an answer to move forward even if they find no answer appropriate. Respondents in this position unintentionally skewed the results because they could not talk to a person administering the survey live or via telephone or make a note on a written survey. Thus, if resources allow, marketing researchers should consider using more than one methodology to get the most accurate results for management decision-makers.

—Laura Phillips Garner

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