Version 3/15/06
Support Material: Hackers, Hits and Chats
Keyterms:; asynchronous; blogs; chat rooms; copyright; google; keyword; open source; news reader; search engines; web 2.0; xml

Marketing Research Online

Marketing research comprises primary research, research that is original to the question(s) at hand, and secondary research, the investigation of other resources that are available to help resolve a question / problem.

We will explore how to effectively search the internet; look at the availability of secondary research resources online; and explore primary research methods that can be accomplished online. We will also explore how to follow conversations in the blogosphere that are relevant to a company in order to remain connected to consumer and industry opinion.


The internet is a gold mine of information for those conducting marketing research. It is critical to understand how to effectively search this wealth of content in order to make the most of this resource. Google is the current gold standard in search engines, although it seems evident that competition in the search engine space ( will ensure continued innovation to improve the quality of search over time.

Despite innovation in search engines, one aspect of conducting an effective search that the technology does not control is the users' construction of his / her search queries. A quick read of Advanced Search Made Easy from Google should help improve your search results. An additional tip: If you are looking for answers that a document may provide (i.e. the population of Poland), phrase your search as part of that answer (the population of Poland is), knowing that the search will be identifying documents with that phrase. The above example: "the population of Poland is" tells is the answer is 38.6 million.

Searching the internet should provide access to secondary research that organizations can use. A couple of concerns with this include the voracity of the content that is discovered, and copyright. Knowing literally anyone can create web content that is then available via search, one has to be discerning in terms of understanding the source of the content and its validity. Copyright is also something that may need to be considered when planning to use and build from the content.

Some of the resources available for secondary research

We will look at a few resources that are readily available on the internet. Clearly each industry will have its own industry specific resources, and to discover those you can do a google search on that industry to identify the appropriate resources. For instance: Note that you should consider not only the organic results, but also the advertisers who are sponsoring those keyword phrases.

The following are resources that are more general, and often used for business and the internet:

Evaluating Internet Research Sources; Conducting Research on the Internet; Internet Research; Internet encyclopaedias go head to head; Original Web Evaluation Materials; Beyond Google: Collective Searching

Tools for Primary Research

Primary research can comprise a variety of methods. Focus groups and surveys are key methods that have been further enabled by the internet.

Focus groups are typically a group of people who are asked to discuss among themselves answer to questions posed by a moderator. They are useful in the early phase of researching a problem, perhaps even helping define the initial problem / opportunity, before more robust and rigorous research is designed. Since the members of a focus group are few, they cannot statistically represent the wider population, so the results must be used accordingly. Live focus groups can prove very effective in seeking out problems and opportunities, but are expensive in terms of being able to gather people together. Using the internet eliminates that problem (partipants can remain in their own location as long as they have an internet connection); but the remote process loses some of the visual cues and other advantages one gets with a live in person session. Since much of the value of a focus group is participants playing off each other, this is a pretty big disadvantage.

Examples of online focus group providers include: itracks and e-FocusGroups.

Chat rooms and discussion boards are useful web technologies to allow for a level of brainstorming or focus group activity. Chat rooms enable quick interaction and dialogue and with a focused topic in mind, can create effective exchanges that generate ideas and feedback for the questions at hand. Discussion boards are for ongoing dialogue (asynchronous); but in turn can allow respondents to feed off each others' ideas which can prove useful for research purposes.

Concept testing and market testing have also proved popular online. Expense is a primary factor for this, speed to results as well as the ability to adapt the test based on early results.

source: Focus Groups vs. Online; Concept Testing Advertising, Brands, Products, Pricing, Positioning; concept testing and databasing

Online survey tools have proven effective. They offer significant advantages of mail-based and telephone surveys in terms of ease of set-up; cost; interactivity; processing results; and the ease of follow up. Examples of online survey tools include SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. Each offers a similar product, and they are free to use in a stripped-down version.

A popular online survey is the The Vals Survey. This survey explores the relationship between personality traits and consumer behaviour, and can be used by businesses to identify target consumers. Feel free to take the survey, discover your Vals Type and blog it (it takes about five minutes. Me: innovator / achiever).

A less formal means of garnering customer feedback is the use of online polls on content-based web-sites. These polls allow sites to gain quick feedback and thus make the sites more interactive. Online polls are used for news sites, sports sites and regular blogs, in search of audience opinion.

source: Web-based Surveys: Changing the Survey Process

Find and subscribe to industry-related content on the Web

Internet technologies are evolving and web 2.0 technologies are a good reflection of this. You can now set up an account on a news reader and have relevant content 'pushed' out to you, so that you can read it in your own time. This process requires that the source of the content has an XML feed (RSS) and more and more news sources are adopting this technology. The blogosphere also has adopted xml feeds as a standard. This enables you then to not only subscribe to relevant news sources (i.e. CNN; BBC; New York Times; Slashdot; GM and MSDN); but also to blogs that might be relevant for a particular industry and to keyword phrases that are relevant to a particular company, product, competitor etc. The latter allows for live market research; understanding what customers are saying about your products.

To find the conversations about your product and company in the blogosphere, simply access one of the blog search engines (google; technorati and feedster for instance.) Perform keyword searches on one of these engines, you can then subscribe to the search result in your news reader (like bloglines). This allows you to simply use your news reader to maintain constant vigilance on the marketplace for your product / company. Of course, as you discover particular blogs that cover your product / industry, you can subscribe to those blogs individually.

source: Economist On Blog Monitoring; Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide

More customer feedback sites

Aside from the marketing research that can be accomplished by subscribing to the appropriate resources above there are sites on the internet that actively encourage customer feedback which enable new customers to make more informed choices. allows customers to provide their reviews; example: Naked Conversations (scroll down to see the customer reviews). Epinions is a popular site for shopping products. As someone selling products it is important to keep up with the customer feedback, as a buyer it becomes another source to help make a purchase decision.