Friday, 19 June 2009

The "third way" of research: Bigger, Better, Cheaper and Faster!

Two recent blog posts inspired me a lot. The first one: Ray Poynter's post on "the New MR" and how community research is taking quantitative budgets to deliver qualitative benefits. He writes:

"Head of Synovate, Adrian Chedore, has described communities as the fastest growing aspect of market research, and the reason for his deal with Vision Critical. However, unlike online data collection, online communities are a true category destroyer. Communities compete for quantitative research budgets, but deliver qualitative research benefits."

I am not convinced communities will prove to be a category destroyer, on the contrary: it may be a whole new category in it's own right. Here's the thing, different research community solution providers position their community solution differently; KL Communications and CommuniSpace are at one side of the "size" equation, advocating smaller research communities. They should be much more productive and insights will be much more "qualitatively focussed".
In traditional research companies, it will be the qualitative department taking care of the community; there will be many qualitative insights that need interpretation. Indeed, such a smaller sized research community requires above-average moderators and the application of specialist techniques.
At the other end of the 'size' equation we find providers like Jive and Lithium, allowing for several thousands of members per community, clearly skewed towards more quantitative research results. Having hundreds of members, communities allow for coverage across multiple target segments and have a huge potential for quantitative feedback. Why shouldn't we take advantage of the opportunity to contact much larger samples than was possible in the past to provide more reliable and comprehensive data?
So what will it be? Are research communities the domain of qualitative or quantitative researchers?
I think you'll agree: non of the two and both of them! Right, I almost forgot the "in between" solutions: those providers promoting mid-sized communities like Passenger, Vovici and of course Angus Reid's Vision Critical.
I am most confident with this positioning: in the middle. It's a bit like Bill Clinton's centrism (a.k.a. the "third way") advocating a mix of some left-wing and right-wing policies. This third method of market research may help us overcome the fears of the more traditional orientated researchers - both the qual and quant teams who are afraid it may cannibalise their research. It will be another method of market research, leveraging the strengths of both methods combined with the benefits of the available technology.

It may be bigger, faster, and cheaper. And this brings me to the second post that inspired me Tom Ewing's post on the same topic. In this post he also writes the following:
"The cry in online research for the last five years or so has been “simpler! quicker! easier!”. Most online communities are none of these."

I'd argue the right research community should deliver faster, more flexible, cheaper and better research insights:
The clients I've been presenting our community solution to love it just because it's all of the above:

  • Fast and Flexible: Collect insights quickly, a community is "always on" and directly accessible.
  • Better: Given the longitudinal nature of research communities, it is possible to go much deeper on a given topic than in an ad-hoc research project. Respondent will be much more engaged and should therefore result better quality of data, more reliable if you will: less straight lining, more thoughtful answers, higher response rates (we see an average of just under 50%)
  • More for Less: Supplemental research becomes available at little extra cost. Research communities are fundamentally changing the cost structure of research from a variable-cost, per-project basis to a fixed-cost “all you can eat” basis.

But it is true: with communities comes the need for reducing our dependence on evaluative research data and learn to trust listening to these new sources of consumer insights. I believe that anything our clients do to get more in touch with consumers is a positive.

Or as per Adrian Chedore:

“We don’t see how the connection through social media as any more “risky” than relying on traditional qualitative research approaches. Social media are a great way to gauge consumer reactions to trends and often provide a fast return on research investment. It is the joint task of researcher and client to come up with solutions, not that of the respondent.”

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