Social networking sites spawned by Web 2.0 along with other online communities offer brand owners new and increasingly targeted ways of finding out how consumers think, feel and behave.
Some predict the demise of online panels as brand owners turn to social networking websites composed of brand supporters to uncover insights into their behaviour. By contrast, others argue that only panels of respondents chosen from across the population permit an impartial study of public attitudes. One way that researchers and marketers find out about new ways of gleaning insights into consumer behaviour through online communities is by attending key events such as the Insight Show.
Other key issues being debated concern mobile phone and text message surveys, which are offering opportunities to gauge people’s reactions to events in the moment they experience them rather than having to wait until after and interrogate their recollections. This should increase brand owners’ understanding of the way people react to event sponsorship, TV programmes and shopping promotions.
YouGov founder Stephan Shakespeare will open this year’s Insight Show with a keynote address, presenting the results of the research company’s Best Brand Performers 2007. He will take a critical look at this year’s biggest risers and fallers and examine the role that daily research plays in managing and maintaining brand health.
This is likely to spark discussion about the validity of online panels and whether their findings will be upstaged by insights gleaned from tailored Web communities.
Paul Marsden, a director of ClickAdvisor, will take part in a round-table discussion following Shakespeare’s address. He argues that the days of online panels are numbered as Web 2.0 technology allows brand owners to mine information from online communities, blogs and “mash-ups” which combine information from different Web sources. “The Web 2.0 way of doing things is that rather than recruit people as respondents, you recruit them as advisers. For instance, we have created an advisory board for Simple Skin Care, where we take brand enthusiasts and engage them as advisers offering them 70% off the price of the product. This is one of the first times it has been done,” he says.
The reputation of online research panels has been buffeted because many of the respondents will sign up for any panel, adapting their profiles according to the requirements of the researchers, Marsden claims. “It is impossible to get quality respondents – less than 2% of the population participate in surveys and many of them are survey sluts who adapt their profiles just to get the 50p an hour rate,” he says. Others agree and believe that the UK is approaching “peak panel”, a point where all respondents interested in taking part in online questionnaires have already done so repeatedly.
Marsden says the way forward is suggested in the new book Wikinomics, by US authors Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, which has powerful implications for market research. It explores the ways that the “open source” © methods – which promote participation and online editing and are witnessed in publicly constructed encyclopedia Wikipedia – will dramatically change the economy.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble are using the open source approach to research, for instance by offering prizes to anyone who can solve innovation problems. It also has a “vertical” advisory board with 500,000 members who comment on its products.
Other speakers disagree with the assertion that research based on online panels is invalidated by the narrow profile of the respondents. Millward Brown global innovation director Duncan Southgate says issues of representation affect all types of research, and are neither greater nor smaller when it comes to online panels.
But he adds: “The more interesting debate may end up being who should control the conversation – does it require a research company to help shape the debate? I hope so, but maybe consumers will be more forthcoming if it is a third party moderating, such as a social networking site.”
He points out that Facebook already has a polling section but wonders whether that is any more representative than other online panels. Southgate warns that if Facebook ramps up its polling activity and bombards users with surveys it may change the way participants and brands view that environment. “If it evolves from a platform, will it change how those people view Facebook? Researchcompanies need to talk in a more interesting way rather than just sending out surveys,” he says.
Southgate will chair a discussion about online research, looking at the “pros, cons and cutting edge methodologies”, with Dr Liz Nelson, founder of Taylor Nelson, and BBC World Service.com managing editor Kelly Shephard. A case study on how © to use online discussions, blogs and polls to gain strategic insights will be presented by Pete Comley, founder of Virtual Surveys.
He worked with The Green Party to prevent waning and lapsing membership and rather than send out straightforward questionnaires, Virtual Surveys helped the pressure group-turned-political party set up a community site where party members could join for a couple of weeks and take part in discussions and debates. To stimulate debate, members were e-mailed with topics for discussion each day.
“As a method it gets real depth of understanding from people, much more than from a survey,” says Comley. “It is akin to running focus groups but you get a view from lots of people. We run quite a lot of these for clients – we have done a massive one for BA, we’ve got one for the BBC and another for United Biscuits. Some people just enjoy talking, but others feel it is a way to get their opinions heard.
“The people who took part in the Green Party forum knew that the party hierarchy was monitoring the discussions, which is important because one of the issues with marketers asking people to fill in a survey is that people think that no-one reads their comments. But here, they do.”
He says the research was successful in helping the Green Party establish why members were letting their subscriptions lapse. Many felt there was insufficient organisation within the party for new members and that there should be greater communication with relevant information.
Other sessions will deal with issues such as using social and cognitive psychology to get the most out of online research communities and getting the most from online and mobile.
In one session, David Day, chief executive for Europe of Lightspeed Research, will present a case study on mobile research into the Live Earth event in July comparing reactions in the UK, US and Australia and looking at issues such as sponsorship awareness.
There will also be a live text messaging trial and a presentation by Tim Snaith, co-founder and research director of OnePointSurveys.com. The audience will have the opportunity to take part in the trial and see their responses appear on screen in real time in addition to the results from a mobile phone survey carried out for ITV into people’s attitudes to coverage of the 2006 World Cup.
Along with a sharp focus on technology, there will also be discussions about the use of semiotics, how market researchers can improve relationships with clients and ways of mining existing data for insights rather than commissioning ever more fieldwork.
There will even be some research into research itself. This will show a mismatch in expectations between client and agency. Proving that the research industry is aware that it has to use its own tools to ensure its future success, as well as the success of its clients.
Insight Show 2007
The Insight Show 2007 takes place at London’s Earls Court on November 20 and 21 and is a key date for market researchers and brand owners. It will showcase some 150 exhibitors ranging from consumer panel experts and focus group specialists to ethnographers and semioticians while its two-day conference will debate some of industry’s most urgent issues. Top speakers will include YouGov founder Stephan Shakespeare, Dr Liz Nelson, founder of Taylor Nelson, and industry figure David Smith.
For more information log on to www.insightshow.co.uk
Integrating of market research
Integrating customer insight into everyday business practices will be under discussion in a talk by Markus Graw, BP’s customer insight manager for Europe. He will discuss ways the oil giant makes use of customer satisfaction surveys to improve its business. An important part of this is using performance in the surveys to provide financial incentives for senior managers.
Graw has identified three levels of integration of market research within organisations.
Some companies make little use of customer insight, and market research managers are under pressure to demonstrate the benefits to management. Other organisations integrate customer research into their business models. At the highest level are strongly customer-focused organisations where customer insight becomes “more consultancy rather than just data delivery, and customer insight managers work at a senior level,” says Graw. He believes BP is between the second and third level and will talk about how market researchers can move the discipline up the agenda in their organisation.