Blogs as a Marketing Research Tool

Alex asks the following question in the comments of my recent marketing research post….

“I know it’s not hugely scientific, but I’m sure with a little imagination a decent blog could provide businesses with very useful focus group style feedback.Comments from existing customers, passing traffic, a few people you direct to the site could all prove to be valuable.Is this plausible or is online research always a little dubious?”

I think it’s important to note the distinction between feedback and research. Feedback is fabulous. Businesses can gain a lot by just listening to customers. (But, you wonder why so many don’t.) I think feedback can come from anyone and everyone including your acquaintances, customers, and even your blog readers. Research, on the other hand, should be done with blind, random samples that take out most, if not all, of the factors that could taint the results – the essential feature in providing the custom assignment help. Feedback is something you can say and carry around in your head. Research is hard numbers on paper that you can use to prove points and make decisions.

Using online methods to do marketing research has a few problems….

1) You automatically have limited your sample to customers who not only have computer access, but are also computer literate/savvy enough to take part. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably pretty savvy, but when I speak to groups, I still have to explain to intelligent successful businesspeople what a blog is. I have a friend who calls me all the time to explain to her how to insert a column in MS Excel. In many ways, we’re still on the left side of the adoption curve.

2) The audience you’re gathering feedback from is an important factor. For example. a software company developing a new program is likely to prompt more blog feedback than an auto manufacturer developing a new line of pickup trucks.

3) One of the problems with feedback from blogs is that a vocal minority could override the opinions of the majority. There are great masses of people scanning blogs everyday, but how many comments/trackbacks are there? Even the A-listers don’t have very many comments/trackbacks as a percentage of the actual traffic. When you rely on blog feedback, you’ve silenced a large majority of your readers.

In addition, the “blog as a focus group” model breaks some of the basic rules of focus groups. It’s not random…the participants are self-selecting themselves and already have a positive bias to you. And technically, you’re moderating the group by posting topics and leading them. It would be like the manager of a Pizza Hut grabbing customers as they walked in the restaurant to do a focus group about why people like pizza.

Is all online marketing research dubious? It depends. It depends both on the audience you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to find out. If both those things fit into an online model, I think you’re fine. But the largest factor in any marketing research project, online or real world, is the methodology. Research HAS to be designed well with qualified random samples.

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