July 4th 2022

Digital market research: Not only representative!

14 more advantages of digital market research

What do ordinary Russians think about the war in Ukraine after more than three months of "special military operations"? How does a representative sample customer react to the change in packaging size of a well-known muesli bar? What influence do the essential principles of the "New Work" have on the job application behaviour of young professionals - in Spain?

All exciting questions, at least for those who commissioned us market and opinion researchers to answer them. Until the early 2000s, the forms of data collection were either the telephone, postal questionnaires or personal interviews at home, on the street or in a test studio. But then the internet began its - slow but sure - disruptive triumph in the market research industry as well. With completely new possibilities that have made some traditional methods look old in the course of the last few years. With good reason?

The forms of market research
Digital market research is not a trivial topic that could be adequately covered here in a short article. This text is rather limited to the advantages of digital survey methods, and always in comparison to the following classic instruments:

  • CATI - Computer Assisted Telephone Interview: These are the computer-assisted surveys conducted by an interviewer over the telephone.
  • Face-to-Face: The personal interview on the street, in a studio or at test persons' homes.
  • In a broader sense, face-to-face also includes group discussions or discussions of so-called focus groups, in which the participants (as a "panel") devote themselves to a specific topic. They are guided and led by a moderator.
  • Postal survey, i.e. sending a questionnaire to the respondent's home.

The quality criteria of market research
When professionally implemented, these and several other established market research methods fulfil the so-called four quality criteria of market research:

  • Objectivity: The survey results must not be influenced by the questioner.
  • Reliability: Repeating the survey under the same conditions must have the same result.
  • Validity: Can the results be described as valid? Have the results covered what was the subject of the survey?
  • Representativeness: Do the respondents correspond to the so-called population in terms of structure and composition?

Especially the last point of representativeness was the big problem in the first years of the internet compared to the popular telephone surveys: If the older population in particular and also women have little or hardly any online presence, how can an online sample stand for the population of society?

At present, it is the other way round: how can a survey by telephone be representative if fewer and fewer households have a landline because they do without it due to the widespread use of mobile phones? On the other hand, nowadays virtually all age groups, genders and social classes cavort on the internet and communicate regularly by e-mail or otherwise digitally

Online market research is representative
The important representativeness of any online survey is actually much more feasible through new selection procedures and innovative methods than through traditional CATI methods. The former weakness of digital market research is therefore no longer an issue. On the contrary, there are many other important plus points of a monetary and qualitative nature. Here is a selection

1. The speed
If a market research institute recruits a new sample of, for example, 1,000 people, this can be done much faster via existing online panels than via the telephone. One click is enough and within a very short time potential participants can agree or refuse to be interviewed. With appropriate monitoring, the panel supervisor knows at any time when the critical threshold of a sufficient number of participants needed for representativeness has been reached. Even in the case of a necessary follow-up recruitment, online research plays in a different (speed) league compared to traditional methods.

2. The availability of data
Digitally collected data ends up in the corresponding analysis tool without detours, media discontinuities and in real time. This seamless process enables rapid interim reports, the visibility of early trends or the rapid use of the results for further investigation steps.

3. The cost advantages
Digital market research generally requires fewer staff and, of course, no provision of representative studios or premises by the market research institute. In addition, expenses for telephone and post can be saved as well as the expenses for travel and catering for all participants. The list could be continued and emphasises the efficiency advantage of digital over most classic methods

4. The accessibility of target persons
Who hasn't experienced this: you hardly step onto the shopping mile in your city when a person already sets up in front of you to ask you about whatever topic. Most of us quickly wave thanks or almost run away: Not now, not here and not with me! Or another case: The market research institute XY reaches you by phone, but you have neither the inclination nor the leisure to take 10 to 15 minutes for a survey now of all times.

An online survey, on the other hand, has the advantage that there is a self-selected time span between an enquiry by mail and the answering of the questionnaire, i.e. the recipient decides himself where and when he takes action.

5. The accessibility of the target persons - part 2
You remember the above-mentioned survey on "New Work" in Spain? Not so long ago, this would have required a great deal of financial and time effort, or else the commissioning of a local competitor. Today, there are panels around the world with millions of active members who can be reached at short notice to participate in surveys. We ourselves currently have more than 2.5 million international consumers and several hundred thousand B2B decision-makers. Specifically for Spain, for example, there are about 150,000 private individuals and over 53,000 business contacts

6. The high quality of the data
You know the infamous interviewer bias? This is the usually unintentional or unconscious influencing of subjects by the interviewer - especially in face-to-face or by telephone. From leading questions to the participant's motivation to give (seemingly) socially desirable answers, there are other factors that can systematically distort or falsify the answers.

While the standardisation of any questionnaire design already automatically reduces this risk, it is not infrequently the anonymity of the internet that brings about truly free response behaviour without any pressure to conform. A real plus for the important preservation of objectivity.

7. The use of multimedia
Especially in comparison to telephone surveys, online market research scores with the huge potential of multimedia: graphics, presentations, sound pieces, videos or even the whole breadth and power of virtual space ensure that the respondent can form the desired comprehensive picture of the object under investigation.

8. The possibility for interventions and interactivity.
Respond immediately to a particular answer from the participant with other questions or new information? Yes, online this is possible if the survey is designed for a live setting. Such possibilities for reaction are technically complex, but they open up completely new opportunities for targeted insights that are otherwise probably only feasible in a studio setting

The opinion poll on the "Special Military Operation" among the Russian civilian population presented at the beginning is the perfect example of this. For the anonymity of the internet is nothing less than the prerequisite for Russians to take a stand at all on an issue that is personally dangerous for them. In such cases, digital survey methods are the only viable way to gain at least a rough insight into the almost closed system from the outside. Nevertheless, caution is called for here when interpreting the data, because despite the virtual space as a "safe space", most of the people on the Russian panel will still not express their opinions completely freely out of fear

10. The validity and plausibility of the data
Validity as a quality criterion has already been briefly outlined above: Are a respondent's answers valid? And also plausible? Do a person's expressed opinions seem chaotic or even contradictory? Is the completion of the questionnaire perhaps unrealistically fast, i.e. too fast for the respondent to actually grasp the thematic context correctly? Corresponding programmes can screen the response behaviour of the test persons, measure the average duration of the questionnaires and even allow corresponding plausibility questions that confirm or dispel such "doubts".

11. The higher acceptance
Which do you find more pleasant? The personal invitation to a market research studio? Participation in the study by telephone? The visit of a market research employee at home? The approach in the pedestrian zone?
Or: an enquiry by e-mail asking whether you would like to take part in a survey within a certain period of time, which was either sent to you as an attachment or which you can call up for processing via a link? Unsurprisingly, most people prefer the latter flexibility in terms of time and place and the less time required.

12. Higher response and success rates
The high level of acceptance mentioned above leads - quite logically - to a higher response and success rate. This means correctly and completely processed documents on the subject under investigation.

13. Contactlessness and thus health protection.
Through Corona, the market research industry has finally positioned itself digitally. It became a pandemic necessity that several innovative online formats were successfully established in the past two years, e.g. to replace face-to-face on the street or group settings in the test studio with equivalent virtual solutions. Among other things, previously problematic issues such as screen fatigue and better, intuitive user-friendliness have been addressed. In the meantime, this also includes the regular integration of haptic elements - e.g. through advance mailings - as well as the open, transparent addressing of data protection concerns

14. The motivation of the participants
How are participants motivated to take part in a survey and also to conduct it with the necessary thoroughness? In addition to convincing communication about the general sense and benefit of surveys, panel operators usually work with incentivising members, i.e. reward points are awarded for participation that can be converted into real money at any time. This type of participant fee ensures a steadily growing, reputable and also loyal panel base, which is essential for reliable market research.

Nice! You've made it this far in the article! Were we able to convince you too? Would you like to try digital market research for yourself? Then we invite you to become a member of an online panel. Registration (here) only takes a few minutes (we promise!) and of course you will then also participate in the "payment" described above.

Do you and your company currently have topics, questions or challenges where you need answers? Whether from your customers, the general public, business decision-makers or other target groups? Well, then feel free to ask us. We would be delighted!

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Herbert Höckel

Herbert Höckel is a managing partner here at moweb research GmbH. He has been a market researcher for more than 25 years. In 2004 he founded moweb GmbH, which he is still the owner today. moweb from Düsseldorf operates internationally and is one of the first German market research institutes specializing in digital processes.

You are welcome to purchase his book "Customer Centricity Mindset ® - Really Understand Customers, Master Disruption Successfully" here.

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