Cyber-Europe is your oyster

National boundaries will be no obstacle, thanks to Internet advances that promise to have vast potential for data capture and market research across Europe.

It is now possible to see how the Internet and other new technologies will enable marketers to carry out much more integrated international work across Europe in the key areas of database marketing and market research.

No one can yet discern how speedily these fields will develop but, undoubtedly, in a few years, companies will have much more efficient and comprehensive access to customer data, information and opinion on a pan-European basis.

Clearly Europe, with its variety of countries, legislative rules and languages, does not provide the ideal conditions for one-to-one marketing across the continent.

But the European data market is just starting to develop the consumer surveys that make market modelling so effective in the US.

Major providers such as Experian and Claritas, together with the French company Consodata, are investing substantially in data collection.

The Internet is also enabling Europeans to establish the type of customer interaction centres prevalent in the US. These can carry out inbound and outbound work, working on a monolingual or multi-lingual basis, all co-ordinated through project managers.

Obviously, different implementations of the EU Data Protection Directive will slow down these developments, but the Internet is certainly starting to break down some of the existing barriers.

Transformations in European market research are proceeding at a faster pace. It should soon be possible, for example, to test a pan-European commercial among consumers in six countries and get the results back on the client’s desk within five days.

All the large research companies are exploring web-based research services, with small independent operations such as the London-based also joining the fray.

Rapid improvements in technology mean that problems with the speed and quality of visual downloads and the availability of computer storage space are rapidly being overcome.

What’s more, the spread of PC and Internet use across Europe will enable companies to build representative samples – which, until now, has been the main problem. Companies are now starting to build large panels, motivated by incentives, which will meet virtually all demographic, lifestyle and product use criteria.

These trends are just the beginning. Clients can already see the advantages: better customer relations, greater client input and control, faster delivery and lower fieldwork and debriefing costs.

And with the likely development of voice-based software and video-phones in the next few years, the stage will be set for web-based research to become even simpler and more efficient.

John Shannon is president and chief executive of Grey International

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