Cost-effective data capture solutions for market research

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The widespread spread of the internet has been a milestone in the development of market research, opening the door to a new method for studying market processes more effectively than ever before.

It has taken a long process of continuous improvement and renewal of methods for market research to take on its current dominant role in the economy. In Hungary, online market research, now an increasingly widespread method, started its journey to maturity in 1999.

Not only does market research provide valuable information for businesses, but consumers also benefit from it. Researchers gauge the needs of potential customers and, by conveying their views, encourage supply-side actors to adapt to those needs. Market research can answer many questions: it can shed light on the image of a product in the minds of consumers, anticipate the likely success of a new product/service among the target group, carry out price tests, monitor the impact of an advertising campaign. We can find out which flavour, colour, scent or packaging consumers like best. We can find out who the consumers are and what they choose products based on. We could go on and on about the questions that market research can help answer, but just this small sample shows what a huge impact research can have on the success of a product or company.

The market research methodology is constantly renewed and improved in line with technological developments. This is how online market research developed and reached our country at the end of the last decade. During an online survey, a questionnaire is placed on the Internet in electronic form, to which respondents are invited by e-mail. Respondents answer the questions asked by mouse click or write down their opinion on the research topic. Online research has revolutionised market research methods by combining the visual benefits of face-to-face interviewing with the speed and cost-effectiveness of telephone surveys. And with the global growth of internet penetration, it has become the dominant research method, while making market research available to more and more companies.

Benefits of online focus group research

While it is not possible to conduct a representative survey of the whole of society online, it can provide valuable information on a wide range of target groups. If the proportion of internet users in the survey group is 50% or more and the survey is not influenced by the fact that the respondent is an internet user, it is worth using the cheaper and faster online survey. This category includes, among others, those under 40 and those with higher education or a better job. To give just a few specific examples, 78% of fast food eaters, 69% of technical shop customers and 66% of energy drink consumers regularly connect to the internet, so it is also more appropriate to look at these groups online. However, as internet penetration increases, we can reach more and more target groups with online data collection methods and ask their opinions.

Of course, online research should not be overestimated either, as it is not an all-encompassing data collection technology, but rather a new method that offers researchers and their clients a more cost-effective alternative to telephone and face-to-face interviewing, which is undoubtedly more cost-effective but not always applicable.

In addition to providing reliable, credible data and allowing you to reach target groups that would be increasingly difficult to reach with other methods, one of the biggest advantages of online research is its speed, as a target group survey can be completed in 1-2 days, including the programming of the questionnaire and the preparation of a customer report. With an online survey, there is no need for questionnaire printing, no interviewer, the data is processed in software and if a good online panel is available, where researchers can use a purposive sampling, the client can get answers to their questions even faster.

Respondents to online surveys usually complete the questionnaires in the privacy of their own homes, which in itself has many advantages. Completers feel no pressure, are in no hurry and are able to think more carefully about their answers and provide more detailed and accurate information on the topic. In addition, the chances of error are reduced at the question formulation stage, since the questions and answer choices are those that the researcher himself has asked. In the case of telephone or face-to-face interviews, it is possible that the interviewer may influence the respondent's opinion through gestures, phrases or style, but this type of error is not likely to occur in online research, as no one other than the respondent is involved in the response. Even in the selection of the participants in the survey, more room for error can be avoided, since while traditionally the interviewer tends to ask the people he likes and the respondents tend to answer the interviewer they like, online panellists expect to be anonymised and grouped according to objective criteria. The absence of an interviewer thus reduces the interviewer error to zero, which not only increases the security of sample selection, but also allows for error-free retrieval of the questionnaire.

If online research is used, it is also possible to integrate images, sound, video or even a 3D virtual "world" into a questionnaire, so that the target group can test advertising, visual or audio materials that could not be presented using telephone methods.

The importance of the online panel in market research

But what exactly is an online panel? It is not just an email list, but a database in which we can send out targeted questionnaires to members of the target group we want to study, knowing the personal details, contact details and basic demographic characteristics of registered internet users. In Hungary a good netpanel has at least 30 000 members and the list of members is regularly checked and updated. Although the panel helps to produce online research, the people on the panel need to be collected not only online but also offline in order to create a market research panel of sufficient quality and membership.

And here I would like to note that there can be very big differences between the different online panels: at the moment, there are three types of access panels, i.e. panels that are not representative of a single group: panels linked to a few websites, DM panels where market research is also conducted and research online panels that can only be used for market research. While it is easy to see why a panel collected from a few websites is not useful for online market research, since the attitudes and Internet habits of respondents are largely determined by the content of these websites, it is not so obvious at first sight why a DM panel is less suitable for online market research, since it usually consists of a large number of panels. One of the main drawbacks of DM panels is that they are subject to targeted and intensive advertising, which can expose respondents to daily advertising that can have a major impact on the way members respond to a survey. Let's say a car brand does an intensive and successful campaign on a DM panel, after which a competing brand starts to test the knowledge and attitudes of its target group towards different car brands! It's not hard to guess that the impact of the previous campaign will greatly influence the results of the research, providing unrealistic data on the target group's knowledge and attitudes towards car brands. In contrast, market research panel memberships are not only collected and verified by research companies from hundreds of websites, using telephone and face-to-face methods, but there is no advertising or promotion on such panels, increasing the reliability of the online panel and the credibility of the respondents' answers.

Present and future

With the proportion of internet users in our country reaching 41% and penetration steadily increasing, the role of online research in market research is becoming increasingly important. The growing number of people using the web means that more and more people's opinions can and should be researched online every day. Online research is no longer about internet users, but about consumers and buyers: we carry out advertising, concept and packaging tests online, we use online methods to test the opinions of young people and high-status people, and we help companies that have not been able to use market research to develop their products and services because of the cost.

Although the future is unpredictable for everyone, there are some signs that give us an idea of the direction in which online market research will develop. It is expected that we will see more and more hybrid data collection solutions in the near future, where researchers will combine online methods with face-to-face and telephone interviewing to reach target groups that are difficult to reach with either method. Increasing bandwidth, the rise of the virtual world and advances in computing technology will also allow market researchers to return to using surveyors' prompts in the distant future, replacing the mouse and keyboard. The only difference is that the interviewer of the future will not be a real person, but a program that allows the respondent to create their own interviewer, either real or imaginary, according to their needs - who wouldn't want to talk to Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie and answer questions while they are tasting the product on their favourite sofa.

In the meantime, in the accelerated decision-making process, decision-makers will increasingly turn to online research methods, where modern computer programmes already help to prepare online questionnaires, check data, prepare data for analysis and automatically produce graphs. Although computer-assisted research speeds up the work, it can never replace the human researcher, as qualified market research professionals are still needed to prepare the questionnaire, manage the research and interpret the data, and they not only know their job, but also know when to offer the client an online and when to offer an offline data collection method.

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