Probably the most important impact of the internet on marketing research is that it has taken it from the realm of academic studies, with set subject pools and relatively rigid experimental conditions, into the realm of real life, with people interacting with one another on the level of regular day-to-day interactions. While it is obviously possible to still apply controlled, scripted situations to marketing research, the more effective way is to find methods of collecting and evaluating data gathered in the more natural environment of virtual interactions.
In some ways, this makes marketing research harder, as new techniques must be developed, and as with many new innovations, there is a large ratio of failure to be expected. In other ways, however, this makes marketing research easier, particularly because, thanks to such developments like social networking sites, gathering the necessary data for marketing research has almost become ‘one-stop shopping’. Marketing researchers are now able, with a fairly large degree of accuracy, to gather enough information to determine how successful a product or service is going to be, who are the existing and potentially future competitors, how long the various levels of market demand will last, what the best distribution channels will be, what type of an advertising campaign will be most effective, how big an advertising budget to allocate to each particular product launch, and what the next step is going to be in terms of either phasing out the product or service or changing/enhancing it to maintain demand.
The Internet also allows marketing research to proceed alongside the partial implementation of the actual marketing campaigns by creating various low-cost advertising options. For example, while creating a YouTube ad is one step in a marketing research effort, driving viewers to the ad is another matter. Unless one has a very wide social network to which an e-mail can be sent informing them of the ad creation, the low-cost way to have people view the ad in large numbers is by utilizing pay search engines or pay-per-view (or pay-per-click) advertising websites. There is even a way to reduce message dilution if one is willing to pay a little more for a targeted audience based on the demographic information that some of the advertising sites. Even without it, however, there is an excellent chance to ensure thousands of views for one’s ad while spending a very small fraction of what it would cost to purchase the cheapest broadcast media advertisement. The response from such a method may be minuscule, but since the expenditures are so low, the actual ROI can potentially be higher than that of a TV ad, for example.
The advantage of such a method, however, is not in the low cost of running an ad with an Internet advertising company, but rather in the long-term benefits acquiring a large number of views offers. Firstly, through the functionality specific to YouTube but also available on other social networking sites, an ad with a drastically increased number of views can make it into the various merit categories on the website’s main page, such as ‘most popular this week’ or ‘most advanced in views’ and thus attract attention of all users without the effort of attracting them through an e-mail campaign or further paid online advertising. Furthermore, since YouTube allows members to comment on every video they view, an ad on YouTube can generate large amounts of feedback. It is unlikely that all of this feedback will be useful, but sometimes even one useful comment can allow a marketer to make the adjustments that would greatly benefit the campaign once it is ready to be launched fully.
Another great innovation that the Internet has created is online surveys. Marketing research has been conducted using surveys in the past as well, either through direct mail or utilizing focus groups. Online surveys represent a significant advantage over both methods, both in coming up with the needed target audience and with reducing operational costs for such research. The best way to ensure that people will actually participate in a survey is to offer them some sort of an incentive. Money is the most common and most effective incentive, but sending money to people ahead of their actually completing a survey, and without a way to guarantee that the survey actually will be completed, is a sure way to increase one’s research costs without adding data. On the other hand, offering compensation at some later date, after the survey has been completed, sent, and processed, may be too much of a delay in compensation to provide enough incentive for an individual to complete the survey. Online surveys rectify both scenarios by allowing compensation to be processed automatically upon the successful completion of a survey. On one hand, the marketing researcher does not suffer an unnecessary expense of awarding compensation and receiving no data. On the other hand, the person filling out the survey does not have to wait for compensation and is likely to be more ready and willing to complete this survey, as well as any future surveys from the same marketer.
Another important element of conducting a survey is coming up with the target audience that most accurately fits the profile of a consumer needed for this particular survey. With a focus group, such target audience concentration can be achieved, but the need to deal with actual people in a physical environment limits the actual size of this audience; such things as renting a space and purchasing supplies – including, in some cases, refreshments – would have to be added to compensation to the participants as the costs of conducting a survey. With an online survey, the vetting process can be conducted at the beginning of the survey by requiring the participant to answer demographic questions, as well as others pertaining to this particular survey, such as recent purchasing activities, for example. With the system programmed to exclude participants who give certain answers, these individuals can be vetted out with just a few minutes of their time taken – and often even less than that. Such an approach would cost the researcher nothing, and if the disqualified participants were offered to participate in future studies or given token compensation, such as an entry into a sweepstakes, they might actually continue to participate in future studies, some of which may need people with their demographic specifics. This allows the marketing researcher not only to choose the best possible targeted audience for a particular survey, but also to retain the pool of potential respondents for future use.
In the future, as the Internet itself develops, it is likely to play an ever-increasing role in marketing research. It is not only possible but practically inevitable that marketing itself will change in the foreseeable future, with more emphasis on individual communications, social networking, and viral marketing. The best examples of the changing marketing environment right now probably can be found in the movie industry, with such films as “Snakes on a Plane” and “Cloverfield” being marketed exclusively through the Internet and relying to a great degree on social networking websites spreading the word. The relative box office success of both films shows that this approach is viable and, with some adjustments, can be used by other industries as well.