Survey Says…

Learning how a market feels about a product category requires reaching out past our own customers and visitors to contact people we don’t normally deal with.

Traditionally, we use marketing research firms to survey a market by telephone or mail, but these are not traditional times. The fast pace of the Internet has created a new form of market research that moves fast and puts marketers in charge of their own marketing research.

Online marketing research is growing as firms expand from telephone and mail surveys to using the web for gathering data. And, what could be better than having the interviewees key in their own data!

One of the challenges faced by market researchers is selecting a representative sample from the total population of the target group. For instance, the “mall intercept” type of surveys done at many local shopping malls is good for learning about shoppers who live and shop in that area. However, it misses people who don’t shop that mall.

So, what’s the best way to survey online shoppers? Is it with telephone or mail surveys? Probably not because response rates would be low and a lack of interest in the topic could lead to inaccurate answers. At the same time, it’s important to not select a sample that is biased toward the result you are trying to prove.

InsightExpress.com, an affiliate of NFO Worldwide, has just launched a new online market research service that allows marketers to design their own survey and obtain quality responses within a few days.

One of the things that differentiates InsightExpress from other online marketing research firms is its ability to target a particular audience by using the profile-driven targeting services of Engage (sponsor of this column). By using the Engage profiling system, InsightExpress can survey people in a certain demographic group, location, or lifestyle.

Web-based market research is appropriate for a wide variety of consumer surveys, but it won’t reach people who don’t visit the site running the survey, so generating traffic to the survey is critically important.

A couple years ago, we were asked to create an online survey for a company and thought it would be a piece of cake. I thought, “How much work can there be in creating a web form that asks a few questions?” Well, it turned out to be more involved that we thought, and we never did get the number of participants anticipated.

The fact that InsightExpress could tap into an existing pool of potential participants helped make the present project the piece of cake I expected with the earlier project. We decided to use this service to survey people in the 18-34 age range about the personalization features they like at e-commerce sites. We surveyed 200 people who responded to a banner ad inviting them to participate in a survey.

InsightDirect has a rather extensive template library of surveys and individual questions dealing with topics from attitudes and perceptions to brand awareness and customer satisfaction. We had a specific set of questions, so we modified generic questions to create a totally custom survey.

The demographic questions showed we were reaching our target audience with a distribution of age, sex, and geography that matches the country as a whole. And some of the views toward web personalization were a bit surprising.

For instance, almost 70 percent of the respondents have customized a general portal site such as MyExcite or MyYahoo, which was higher than I expected. Almost one-third of the people have also customized a specific content site, and one-third have answered product interest questions at an e-commerce site.

With all the concern over consumers resenting the tracking of their movements, it was interesting to note that half the people surveyed said they like it when a web site observes their behavior to learn about their interests. Of course, that also means that half the people don’t like it. But consumers seem to prefer answering questions about their interests and needs because almost three-quarters of the respondents checked that form of personalization, too.

When asked about receiving a personalized email newsletter with only product information that matches their profile, half of the people in the survey said they’d appreciate receiving it. The real surprise for me was that about 25 percent of them said they want to receive an email newsletter from a merchant once a week!

What was not surprising in the survey was that these consumers want more personalization, not less. One-half of the people said they would like to see more personalization used, while only about 10 percent said they wanted to see less personalization.

The survey covered more about personalization than can be covered in this column, so if you’d like to see the whole report, just drop me an email.

We learned several things by using InsightExpress. First, of course, was how quick and easy it is now to survey a targeted group of web users. The integration of the survey with the targeting system and the content sites running the invitations shows the real power the web.

We also learned a good deal about how online shoppers feel about personalization and which features they value. That, too, shows the high level of acceptance and appreciation of our use of profiles and personalization to improve the consumer’s online experience.

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