Online Marketing Research is Great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all

Today I came across a blog post by “Lawn Mower Belts” entitled “Role of Research in Online Marketing.”  Lawn Mower Belts stresses the importance of conducting marketing research, but seems to suggest that doing the research online is the best approach.

While the Internet has indeed made the collection of data much faster and easier, it has its own share of problems.  Doing a survey has never been simpler, thanks to the Internet.  But that does not change the principles of marketing research;  you still need to define your business problem, you must still decide the population you wish to research, and you must still select (randomly) a representative sample to whom you administer the survey. 

Even if using the Internet to conduct secondary market research, you must still keep in mind the objectives of the researcher whose work you referenced and you still need to assess the findings of that research critically.

To ensure that you get the best outcomes from online research, a good approach would be to:

  1. Start by using the Internet for exploratory research.  Look to see what other people are saying about your market, product type, or industry.  This can help you formulate hypotheses and define your business problem.  You can also informally ask people for in-depth information (qualitative research), which can also help you in this regard.
  2. Define and refine your business problem after #1, and determine your target population.
  3. Think of online places where members of your target population are likely to congregate.  See if you can make arrangements with the owners of those sites to administer your survey (or other research method) to their e-mail lists.
  4. Send your survey to the people on the e-mails you borrow or rent from those sites.

Although this process will still be slightly unrepresentative, it won’t be nearly as bad as if you simply stuck a survey on your web site and let others self-select to do the survey.  Online research may be cheap and easy, but it can cost you time and money if it’s not done carefully.

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