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Market Research

Online Market Research and Real-time Feedback

By Dennis K. Frayne, for Hostedware Corporation


A half-century after telephone surveys became commonplace, another market research channel is making waves. Online research is growing an impressive 50 percent annually. An Acorn study for IIR revealed that 75 percent of research decision makers in the U.S. have now tried online research and expect to use it again in the future.

The Internet has made it possible for businesses of every size to conduct meaningful market research and has caused the largest paradigm shift in the industry not seen since the late 1950's. For example, Microsoft's conducts up to 50 Internet surveys a month to gauge user attitudes about its Web site. Many of its surveys last only two days and draw as many as 3,000 answers in that time, according to the company.

Dawn of a New Era
The global marketplace has resulted in increased competition and one constant in today's evolving business world has emerged: change. Consumer populations alone are more diverse than ever before and have more buying options at their disposal. Research issues and questions have become more complex.

Traditional paper and pencil methodologies are facing declining response rates due in part to over-surveying and the increased use of voicemail. Furthermore, corporate management today is demanding more information quickly and in most cases just can't wait for dirty data to be cleaned, results to be verified, and insightful analysis performed from manually processed, paper-based surveys.

The Internet enables one to collect responses 24 hours a day, with software designed and built specifically for the Web. Online surveying can easily collect responses automatically, avoiding the pitfalls that manually processed surveys pose with easy-to-misread scribbles and error-prone data entry.

Organizations large and small are benefiting from Web surveys, online testing, polling and reporting because the methods are proving to be more flexible, with formatting options that enable respondents to quickly answer more complex question types. In addition, the Web is offering more affordable results analysis, with no travel costs incurred-unlike-manual-processes that require focus groups and interviews to take place in person. These are just some of the reasons why such established companies, like Proctor and Gamble, are conducting 50 percent of its U.S. consumer surveys online, according to Information Week.

Tom Miller, Director of the A.C. Nielsen Center at the University of Wisconsin, has said that 93 percent of the organizations he's surveyed say that they would be using online research more in the future. Online research was rated better than traditional research in speed, cost and lack of interviewer bias.

There are a range of options using the Internet to conduct market research: You can e-mail a "paper" survey and receive a reply by e-mail, or record your survey and answers with a diskette by e-mail using FTP downloads. You can have either static or dynamic HTML surveys using browsers. Utilizing Usenet, chat focus groups can be conducted online and newsgroups can be mined to find information and individuals. Message boards allow for dynamic real-time communication among numerous participants.


Even more vital: Online surveying speeds up the flow of information, improves relationships with employees, distributors and customers and helps large and small organizations and educational institutions extend their reach.

Here's a small example: An insurance company can e-mail employee satisfaction surveys to all of its employees. The employees e-mail the completed surveys back. Information asked includes rating type questions on benefits currently in place along with open-ended questions, which probe for their feelings on feature benefit plans.

So instead of calling employees to a company meeting to listen to an hour-long presentation and then fill out a survey, they can easily complete the survey - right at their fingertips in minutes. Not only is less time taken away from serving customers, but it also better leverages investments already made in company assets - computers.

Better Prequalification
Online market research is also proving to be a valuable pre-qualification tool. Online testing to pre-qualify respondents for an online survey, including auto-validation of participants through screening questions, is now being used by organizations to better track its audiences.

For example, companies are conducting new product concept tests using online methods. Survey questions are asked about the product and/or the demonstration, with the goal of helping finalize refinements to the product and demonstration. A pre-test can also be administered to test a viewer's knowledge before an online demonstration.

In addition to standard ratings questions, choice model questions can be asked and still photos or streaming video presented, showing actual products online. A post-test can then be administered to test a subject's knowledge after the demonstration. Consumers can now assist in the actual design of new products.

Real-time Feedback
Online research makes the possibility of real-time feedback unlimited. For example, online market research allows one to have different versions of surveys depending on how a respondent answered on a test (one for novices, one for intermediate and one for advanced, for instance). They take the test and then automatically the correct survey is presented. All the results are immediate.

Many companies will conduct an online personality quiz, for example, to determine a person's personality before providing the right version of a market research survey, then analyze the results in real time.

Unlike manual methods, in which companies often gear up for months to conduct a single survey, then have to wait weeks for the results to be tabulated, online market research enables a month long project to be reduced to a single day. And because online research is relatively inexpensive and far less costly than mail and telephone surveys, one can collect information on an ongoing basis.

In the end, administering surveys online is doing more than just saving organizations time and money by replacing old, expensive bricks and mortar, paper and pencil and costly software programs. It's delivering valuable results in real time so organizations can make better, smarter and faster business decisions.

Dennis K. Frayne, founder and CEO of Hostedware Corporation .

Hostedware Corporation ( is a pioneer in providing online software solutions for research, education and performance improvement. Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources professionals, market researchers, education and training organizations and membership associations worldwide.



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