Marketing research is a means of gathering market intelligence through a formal process to gain insight into consumer behaviour and preferences (Kotler and Armstrong, 2014, pp.128-129). Traditional marketing research has usually involved paper surveys, moderated discussions or focus groups (Calder, 1977) and while these still play a role in research, Wilson and Laskey (2003) note the rapid rise in popularity of Internet marketing research and the consideration it is a serious alternative to traditional forms of marketing research.
As Calder (1977) notes, marketing research involves the collection of quantitative (numerical) data and softer intelligence (qualitative data) for analysis and although the collection methods may have evolved, little has changed in terms of the information which is being gathered. Using the Internet to capture this information presents many opportunities but there are also challenges to relying on opinion gathered from Internet research.
Many of the perceived strengths associated with online marketing research such as the fact that it is easier to find participants and cheaper to administer appear to be unfounded (Semans, 2011). Indeed Semans asserts that online research can be more challenging than traditional research methods but there are still some strengths of using online research as a vehicle for collecting data.
Strengths of marketing research via the Internet
Reach and Demographics
Patino, Pitta and Quinones (2012) discuss the emerging importance of social media in marketing research. The main strengths of using social media are the ability to connect with an audience from a wide geographic region and a wide range of demographics which would not be possible through traditional marketing research.
At the bottom of my supermarket receipt yesterday was an invitation to complete a feedback survey about my shopping experience with an incentive to win some shopping vouchers. Had I been stopped directly in the shop, it is unlikely I would have completed the survey but five minutes to complete the survey online was convenient for me and allowed the supermarket to recruit me for their marketing research.
Ease of analysis
I have included ease of analysis as a strength as for quantitative data it is certainly easier to analyse the data directly collected through the web. Lee and Bradlow (2011) make this observation but also identify that online data collection allows for collection of data from a wide range of other sources which would not be available through offline marketing research, including through peer review sites of products and services.
Weaknesses of marketing research via the Internet
Quality of data
Lehmann, McAlister and Staelin (2011) observe the continued quest to improve the quality of data available from online marketing research, noting that even the best designed research relies on users to accurately complete the requested information. They highlight that the ease in which online surveys can be created by novices can actually be a weakness as designing surveys to capture meaningful data is a skill many lack.
Low participation rate
Poorly designed surveys can lead to low participation rates and as Fan and Yan (2010) observe, low participation rates in online surveys have been a concern for market researchers for some time. It can be attributed to a number of factors including concerns about security of personal data, poor usability of online tools and the lack of incentives to complete a survey.
Calder, B. (1977) ‘Focus Groups and the Nature of Qualitative Marketing Research’, Journal of Marketing Research, 14(3), pp. 353-364. [Online]. Available from: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/stable/3150774 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Fan, W. & Yan, Z. (2010) ‘Factors affecting response rates of the web survey: A systematic review’, Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2), pp.132–139, ScienceDirect. [Online]. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.10.015 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Kotler, P. & Armstrong, G. (2014) Principles of Marketing, 15th Edition. London: Pearson Education Ltd.
Lee, T. & Bradlow, E. (2011) ‘Automated Marketing Research Using Online Customer Reviews’, Journal of Marketing Research, 48(5), pp.881-894, AMA. [Online]. Available from: http://journals.ama.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1509/jmkr.48.5.881 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Lehmann, D., McAlister, L. & Staelin, R. (2011) ‘Sophistication in Research in Marketing’, Journal of Marketing, 75(4), pp.155-165, AMA. [Online]. Available from: http://journals.ama.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1509/jmkg.75.4.155 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Patino, A., Pitta, D. & Quinones, R. (2012) ‘Social media’s emerging importance in market research’, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 29(3), pp.233-237, Emerald. [Online]. Available from: http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/journals.htm?articleid=17030546 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Semans, D. (2011) Myth Busters Takes On Online Research. [Online]. Available from:http://www.polarismr.com/Portals/58820/newsletters/online_surveys/MRP_0310_Online_Myths.htm (Accessed: 8 March 2014).
Wilson, A. & Laskey, N. (2003) ‘Internet based marketing research: a serious alternative to traditional research methods?’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 21(2), pp.79-84, Emerald. [Online]. Available from: http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/journals.htm?articleid=854619 (Accessed: 8 March 2014).