I admit that I am an old school market researcher. As such, I have always had somewhat negative feelings when it comes to conducting online surveys with non-customers and non-employees. That said, I should clarify. I have no problem with conducting online surveys with current customers and employees. I just fear that when I am doing an online survey with those without a vested interest in my brand that I am going to suffer what I call a high-end/low-end problem. Specifically, I am concerned that the only people that will take the time to fill out the online questionnaire are those that are either really happy or really unhappy with a brand and/or topic (and/or have a very strong opinion) and thus you don’t get a good read on the “middle”. I am not as cranky about online forums and discussion groups as I see these types of research as qualitative rather than qualitative in nature.
And, since much of the market research I have conducted in the past few years has been B2B in nature, I really haven’t had too venture far from my comfort zone: telephone interviewing. The problem with staying in your comfort zone is that you inadvertently will wall yourself off from new and what you perceive to be unproven and/or unreliable methodologies. And, it could be that this new methodology is exactly what you need. That’s the problem that I have for years with online surveys.
So being the diligent researcher that I am, I went about to disprove my hypothesis—that doing online surveys has more inherent bias (i.e., not as representative) than telephone interviews among B2B respondents. I did this by polling other experts in the marketing research field. And what I found was interesting. The answer seemed to be online research should work just fine but not with all populations (types of survey respondents).
So this old dog can learn new tricks. Here are the questions I am going to ask myself when determining whether or not to use online surveying.
- How will the research be used? Is the research project “mission critical” meaning we will be putting millions of dollars behind marketing strategies developed from the research or will it be one of many pieces of information used in strategy decisions?
- Do I have every reason to believe that my survey population has equal access to the internet? So this will depend on the market, the category and the expected behavior of the potential respondents.
- Will I use the information to do market-sizing? If so, I will look to conduct a hybrid research methodology.
- Will the potential loss of the “middle” matter?
- Is the topic simple enough that you won’t need to have additional explanatory information provided to the respondent (without leading the respondent of course)? And, can questions be written such a way that they are easy to complete through an online form?
- Are secondary sources of research available to confirm findings? In some industries, there are benchmark studies you can use to determine if you data “seems right”.
I would welcome other researchers’ thoughts on online vs. telephone!
Have a great day! Sharon