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How to use market research tools
29 June 2012
Whether it’s traditional surveys or tailor-made digital programmes, there are many
ways to glean customer insight. But, as Kate Hilpern discovers, it’s the actions
you take in response to the findings that really matter
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Marketers have never been better served when it comes to
Excellence Awards market research options. From online survey tools and eCIM Annual
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mailed questionnaires to social media, the digital revolution
has opened up cost-effective options to better understand
buyers or markets. But how do today’s marketers go about
selecting the right tools and then integrate the insights and
findings they produce into their strategy?
The tools
“While traditional market research methods are still
important, the popularity of social networking means brands
now have new and clever ways to stay abreast of customer
insights in order to shape business strategy,” says Precise
head of brand insight James Withey.
Mesh Planning experience director Tak Ha points out that
traditional market research methods involve “active”
questioning and interviewing. “The participant is active in
their feedback, whether they are talking face-to-face or over
the phone, or filling in a survey online or via their mobile
But methods that are more passive and designed to track
and monitor behaviour – most apparent in social media – are
becoming more advanced and embedded in normal day-today life.
“The monitoring of chatter and buzz is increasingly becoming
part of a brand’s digital strategy and ongoing consumer
dialogue,” says Ha. “Likewise, marketers can learn from
monitoring an individual’s online browsing behaviour, using
applications that run unobtrusively in the background.”
Take traditional focus groups, says Withey. “It’s a rather
artificial environment, in which consumers may not be
entirely comfortable with saying how they feel. But by looking
at the same issue on the social web, as well as – or
sometimes instead of – conducting more traditional market
research, businesses can get to a different kind of truth and
form a more holistic view,” he says.
For one client, Withey explored the conversations taking
place across Twitter, Facebook and blogs to analyse the
attitudes of owners to their pets, which helped identify
insights that shaped a better understanding of the consumer.
Monitoring tools such as Sysomos and Radian6 can be used
to capture attitudes in social channels, Withey says, while
Watermelon Research MD Mark Squires points to the
benefits of text messaging, interactive voice response,
gamification, eye tracking and QR codes. “Such new
technologies offer clients the ability to benefit from ‘in-the-
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Dos and don’ts
Do remember
market research is
the prelude to the
sale, giving you
the information
you need to make
the right business
decisions. Its
should not be
Do define what
you want to know.
The first step in
effective research
is working out what
you want to find
out from who.
Do beware of bias.
respondents in
particular will
inevitably want to
please you and will
follow your lead
converted by
technologies offer clients the ability to benefit from ‘in-themoment’ real time feedback, while representing a brand in a
fun and engaging way. These tools are at the forefront of
digital technology.”
Ignore traditional methods at your peril, however. “The real
winners in market research will be those who can provide
insight from multiple data sources in the on and offline
worlds,” says YouGov managing director Phil Rance.
Getting plugged in
The good news is that there are many plug-in tools to help
augment CRM systems so that they can gather data from
traditional and social media touchpoints. “So a salesman on
the road can now use his CRM with customer details, but can
also see the customer’s social media profile,” says Rance.
This can help create a better understanding of the customer
and ultimately expand the business network, by getting
recommendations from the customer’s contacts, explains
SAP Multichannel Solutions global marketing director Jamie
Tools such as Twitter, Facebook and UserVoice can also
provide a route for customers to voice concerns or
suggestions for improvement that can work together with
your existing customer insight, says Yammer head of
customer engagement Mike Graftham. “The problem here is
that there often isn’t a clear route in organisations for
identifying who can answer comments when they are raised.
Although someone may be responsible for monitoring and
replying to the Twitter feed, where do they find their answer?
Linking this process with an enterprise social network (ESN)
allows the question to find its way to the relevant experts
within the company quickly.
Focusing on developing something more sophisticated than
off-the-shelf solutions can pay dividends, says Watermelon’s
Squires. “These digital solutions can be bespoke, tailormade to link with any systems that may be in place. For
example, one financial services client wanted to improve a
research programme with the aim of receiving faster insight.
We developed an interactive voice recognition solution,
allowing them to make use of instant feedback from
Which approach?
“Your choice of tool must be entirely determined by what you
want to know,” says Oxford Brookes University senior lecturer
in marketing Ana Canhoto, chairman of the Academy of
Marketing’s special interest group in CRM.
“If you want to measure the size of something or spot trends,
such as how many people prefer A over B, or how brand
recognition has evolved over time, you should always use a
survey. Use experiments, however, if you want to understand
causes, or the effect of something on something else – for
instance, if I increase the price by 10 per cent, how many
fewer (or more) units will I sell? If I sell online, what is the
effect on brand recognition levels?”
If you want to understand what is happening, or why
something happens, then qualitative methods such as focus
groups, or better still interviews, are best. “Focus groups
tend to be more cost effective than individual interviews, but
there is the potential problem of group thinking, whereby one
or two individuals will dominate the discussion and the quiet
members of the group will not voice their thoughts.”
If, on the other hand, you want to understand what people
actually do (as opposed to what they think they do, or want
to tell you that they do), then track behaviour, she says. “For
example, eye tracking, following people on shops or websites
or looking at transaction records. Indeed, one insight made
possible with social media, but very difficult to achieve with
offline methods, is sentiment analysis – monitoring feelings
associated with the brand.”
QuestBack director Daniel Hansen agrees, adding that when
it comes to field sampling, online communities should not be
overlooked. “Many research agencies such as Opinion
Matters and YouGov already have these communities in
place, allowing for strongly targeted research. These
communities can be made up of any type of demographic,
including C-level executives, business decision makers,
consumers, parents and children. Although traditional
surveys can also be used for online field sampling, they
provide less accurate results as the survey may not be
answered by the correctly targeted group.”
Meanwhile, online focus groups are well suited to e-tail
issues, he says. “Again, research agencies will already have
Do remember
insights are very
different to
information and
these tools just
provide the raw
data, not the
Don't forget to
give the
respondent a
chance to opt out.
A “don’t know”
option is better
than forcing a
respondent to
answer incorrectly.
Don't fail to get
your audience
right – your own
customer lists for
client service and
satisfaction work,
forums or special
interest groups for
nice or job-specific
audiences, etc.
Don't assume you
have to spend a
lot of money on
good market
research. DIY
tools such as
Survey Monkey
and Toluna
QuickSurveys can
be used to gather
useful information
effectively, flexibly
and affordably.
Don't forget that
social media
channels enable
marketers to
identify research
based on known
interests, brand
usages and
interactions as
indicated by their
online profiles and
behaviours – a
major benefit.
Tips from the
Nick Baggott is
director of
1. Start with the
simple things.
What is being
blogged about,
which web sites
are at the top of
the Google listings
(meaning they are
attracting visits
and links from
other sites) and
what are people
talking about on
2. Think about
your budget.
Google Analytics is
free and will be
sufficient for many
situations. If you
have more budget
and want to
understand more
converted by
issues, he says. “Again, research agencies will already have
the correct panels in place.”
For customer journey feedback, online pop-up surveys can
be useful. “Nowadays, most online shopping sites will provide
a pop-up survey to find out about the customer journey and
collate the feedback to produce real-time data. This data can
then be used to improve the customer experience and better
understand customer behaviour. Online pop-up surveys are
also a good tool to use in a multi-channel strategy when a
business needs to target audiences through a series of
If you want to be more precise with your research and
conduct studies that meet the Market Research Society
guidelines, Navigate Consulting’s Nick Baggott suggests
online survey tools. “Survey Monkey is an example of a
simple, low cost survey creation tool. Or you could get your
web team to build a pop-up survey or a simple one-question
poll into your website. I am also a big fan of LinkedIn
Answers, which you can find on your LinkedIn home page
under the “More” tab. This function allows you to write a
survey question and post it to other LinkedIn users based on
their business profile.”
Baggott used it recently to survey hotel caterers about their
favourite malt whiskies. “The results won’t be statistically
significant,” he admits, “but these anecdotal answers will
provide you with ideas that you can then put into a
quantitative study.”
Google has a suite of free analytics tools too, he adds. “I’m
not just talking about Google Analytics. Insights for Search
allows you to understand the frequency and seasonality of
search behaviour.” For example, you can check whether
more people searched for the Olympics or Euro 2012 over
the past six months in any country of the world that you
specify. The Adword Keyword Tool will allow you to
understand what words Google’s search database currently
associates with any site. “It is great to see how your site is
doing, but, even better, you can use this model to see what
competitors are doing too, since you can get the data free
on any website.”
Meanwhile, Google Analytics can be useful for small
businesses, says Opinium Research senior researcher
Henning von Arnim. “It provides free metrics, such as
location, type of traffic (how did they find you?) and bounce
rates. But it does not reveal anything about the user and
their key demographic parameters.”
Free analytics tools often only provide a top-level view, they
can’t analyse actual interactions, trends and the causes of
customers’ actions, whether that is through web chat, e-mail
or social media, says Eclipse Marketing insight and digital
director Simon Steel. “They can show you what customers
do, but will not tell you why they do it.”
Dragon Rouge senior researcher Crystal Evans points to a
further challenge. “It’s great that Google Analytics is free and
it lets you track multiple sites and monitor social networking
activity, measure video content and track mobile phone
users. But statistics are not in real time and support is limited
to a help centre and user forum – unless support is hired
from a certified partner. And site visitors can opt out of
having Google Analytics track their online activities, as a
code must be placed on any pages brands want to monitor.
Also, it is not possible to collect data from users with
JavaScript or cookies disabled – therefore analysis may not
be a truly representative cross section of the brand’s target
complex web
behaviours on
your site, then
Omniture or Web
Trends are worth
investing in.
3. If you want
your CRM tool
to drive your
business and
provide salesforce
automation and
integrate with your
billing system, look
That said, many
marketers simply
need to capture
customers and
drive personalised
responses to web
users – Microsoft
CRM Dynamics is
a great low cost
option for this.
4. Rather than
taking a
approach to
tracking what your
customers are
saying about you
in social media by
searching real
time, you may
want to create
dashboards that
cover all mentions
of your brand or
industry in Twitter,
Facebook, blogs
and the like.
Trackers are
designed to do
this job, but
remember they
can be better at
the tracking
(finding and
mentions) than
they are at the
sentiment part
whether the
coverage is
positive or
Radian6 is the
most commonly
used sentiment
tracking tool
among my clients,
but others such as
Buzz Metrics are
also available.
Most survey tools will give you a basic analysis package and
a DIY approach should not be dismissed, says Toluna MD
Mark Simon. “Depending on the size and complexity of your
research and the business, you may not need someone to
tell you what that data means within the context and what
action should result from the findings.”
But Withey argues that there is no such thing as automated
analysis, insisting that only a human analyst can extract the
right information, as well as distill insights that are found. “If a
business doesn’t have the capacity or expertise, but is
serious about understanding the opinions of its customers,
then they’ll need to invest in someone who can do it for
Certainly in medium and large businesses, the role of a
consultant to analyse findings should not be underestimated,
agrees Verint Systems EMEA MD David Parcell. “In the era of
converted by
multiple customer feedback platforms and passive
information gathering, findings from market research for
even a medium-sized organisation are large and
unstructured enough to fall within the realm of big data. In
what is a relatively new form of intelligence gathering, the
role of consultants and software is huge – and the best
analytics platforms can now be customised to suit the needs
of almost any company. This, coupled with experience and
best practice insight from consultants, is at the heart of a
fully enabled analytics approach.”
Marketers should remember that the challenge is not in
creating data visualisations, generating statistics or even
aggregating user quotes. “The challenge is in knowing how
to interpret that data once collated,” explains Evans. “To the
untrained eye, the smallest uplift or downturn on a line graph
representing real-time data aggregation from a week’s social
media activity can feel misleadingly critical for the brand. For
those in the profession of analysing data, the key to success
is being able to interpret, cross-check and translate useful
findings into something that is truly actionable for the brand.”
The real value, she concludes, comes from actually acting
on the insight, and not just having a fancy report in a drawer.
Ready to take on social media?
You need to find out consumers’ perceptions about a
new product, so you:
(a) Send out a detailed questionnaire about the product to
all of the customers on your database.
(b) Set up a focus group and take note of the people who
voice their opinions the loudest.
(c) Track buying behaviour and consumer sentiment on
social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
You have decided to use online tracking tools and
(a) Google analytics – it provides information on metrics,
location, type of traffic and best of all it’s free.
(b) Use a low cost option such as Microsoft CRM Dynamics
to capture data on buying behaviours and segment
(c) Invest in effective and flexible DIY tools such as Survey
Monkey and Toluna Quicksurveys as well as sentiment
trackers such as Radian6 and Buzzmetrics.
You get a market report showing a spike in last week’s
social media activity around your brand and you:
(a) Look at what you did a bit differently last week and try it
(b) Throw a party.
(c) Hire a consultant to interpret, cross check and translate
useful findings to prevent false perceptions about social
media success and to determine future strategies for the
Mostly (a)s
You are stuck in the past. It’s time to depart from traditional
market research methods and embrace the insights offered
by social media.
Mostly (b)s
You understand the potential of market research across
social media channels, but you need to think carefully about
the tools you choose and avoid kneejerk reactions.
Mostly (c)s
Well done – you have the right approach to social media
focused market research and recognise the importance of
investing quality time and resources in it.
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