When the time for making a decision is limited and competition becomes tougher, operative acquisition of reliable information becomes more important. This fact is a reason of rapid development of online researches in advanced countries during last 10 years. So, now about 50% of all marketing researches in USA, Japan and Australia are performed via Internet. In Europe the percent is lower but it is constantly increasing.
All of us want to increase sales, attract new consumers and open new markets. Often our existing products have enough reserves to do this, but we are not always able to reveal them. In this case we want to understand how people use certain goods or services, what difficulties and problems they have for solution of which they are ready to pay. Also it is important to understand their hidden motives when it comes to the choice and the reason of different sale indexes of similar goods. One of ways to determine these reasons is performance of so-called searching research. This research type includes, for example, focus groups and deep interviews.
Searching researches are also called qualitative ones because these researches give answers on the questions like “How?” and “Why?”. At the same time quantitative researches answer on questions “How many?” and “How often?”. It is important to mention that you must not make decisions that are important for company on the basis of results of qualitative researches. For example, we have a focus group composed of 6-8 persons and ask them why they eat apples. We’ll get a kit of opinions, such as “tasty”, “healthy”, “refresh”, “nice”, “socially”, “doctor prescribed” etc. But even if you have 10 groups like this, we are not able to determine what reason is the most wide-spread because the participants were not selected randomly, and their amount is not enough to determine the quantitative characteristics of event. So, the main criterion of quality estimation of focus group is completeness and diversity of information collected while detailed discussion of the problem.
The most often focus groups are on-site ones. While live communication a group effect appears which may lead to deeper work under studying question. But leaders of such groups often joke that the most interesting opinions and discussions may be heard in the smoking-room after the group. It means that 1.5-2 hours assigned for communication may be not enough. But spontaneity is very valuable in on-site groups. It means first reaction of each participant, emotions arising while discussion etc.
Now let’s look at the situation wider. Innovative technologies together with Internet are developing significantly, and it gives new opportunities to communication between people who are not present at the same place. In the modern world amount of extramural discussions mediated by technologies exceeded amount of on-site meetings long ago. Imagine forum in the Internet. People may discuss some topic during several weeks, add give links to other resources connected to their arguments, post photo and video, write stories from their life. The main thing that people may generate an infinite stream of ideas.
For performing qualitative researches as online forums at a profit of business, you should answer on several practical questions:
- What do we want to learn from people? What area do we search ideas in?
- Who will participate in the forum? How will these people be found?
- Where and how will the discussion be performed?
- How will the results be used?
Now let’s answer these questions sequentially and understand how innovative technologies may be helpful in the communication with consumers and bring a profit to your company.
What do we want to learn from people? What area do we search ideas in?
Let’s take some field you want to explore to invent some goods or services and on the basis of new knowledge sell them. Or, maybe, you want to understand what you are ought to do to make people buy your product more often. Maybe, you’ve already got some idea, but it should be finally formed after asking consumers for advice.
In general, the first thing you should do is composing a list of topics that you want to discuss with real or potential buyers of your existing or non-existing products. Finally, the participants should think up any ideas for this topic; the ideas may be funny, silly or fantastic. The main thing is to get large amount of ideas.
This list will become a main guide of sequentially built plan of discussion.
Who will participate in forum? How will these people be found?
First you should imagine who are the people participating in the forum. Who is your real or potential client? If you get detailed answers on these questions describing your target audience, it is very good:
- Who are these people?
- Where do they live?
- What are their age and sex?
- What is their income?
- Should they already have something, regularly buy it or want to buy in the nearest future?
- Do they have specified consumer’s habits and preferences?
- Do they have some specific social and psychological characteristics?
After having composed the description you will understand that these people may not be found in existing Internet forum. This is a reason why research online forums are specially organized. Only previously selected people who fully meet all your criteria are invited to participate in it.
There are so-called online panels at the market. These are communities of people who agreed to participate in marketing researches for reward from time to time. Usually these communities are quite big, even more than 200 000 of participants. People are recruited via mass Internet portals. Up to 100 different characteristics are known about each of these people. They may also be sieved through filter questionnaire before inviting them to forum. It gives guarantee that only the people whose opinion you want to know are present at your forum. Also it is important that process of participants search via panel takes only 1-2 days, and budget economy is about 50% in this case. You can also start parallel forums in several cities and decrease both time for collecting information and costs for business trips.
If online method is chosen as a tool for data collecting, you should take into account qualitative composition of Internet audience and its correlation with target audience of some product/service. On-line one doesn’t fully fits for research of economical brands, but if you need people with middle+ income and habitants of big cities, the range of online research use expands significantly. Also it is suitable to poll some responder groups in online mode. For example, these people may have high incomes, motorists, users of bank and insurance services, young mothers and pregnant women, and also busy men, such as business owners, chiefs and professionals.
Also you can invite people you communicate with to participate in online forum. For example, you can invite existing clients, vendors, partners, stockholders etc. On-line method is very actual when participants live in different cities or countries, and it is almost impracticable task to call them together.
Where and how will the discussion be performed?
There are special softwares that allow the creation of online forums specially for research performance. The advantage of these technologies is that it takes into account specifics of research process:
the leader of discussion has the opportunity to control it (time to give the questions, duration of demonstrated materials preview, status of other participants’ answers (closed/opened) etc.);
virtual client room;
wide opportunities for video, audio and printed materialsdemonstration ;
suitability of pass to individual chat and division of group into subgroups;
integration of exercises and tasks for responders: underlining of keywords, placing of own photos and videos, virtual shopping etc.
Usually up to 20 people participate in forum, and its duration is up to three days. Participants have time to think the questions over, and organizers are able to correct course of discussion subject to results. There is leader (moderator) at the forum whose task is to involve participants in discussion actively and to help them think over new ideas. Moderator must be a professional, but we also recommend clients to participate in forum actively because only you know the details that should be defined.
How to use the received results?
It is important to know what to do with the results before research starts. The starting point will be business task or problem (How sales may be increased? How loyalty may be achieved?), and after that this problem should be transformed in questions of concrete research (How buyers choose product? What can impel them to buy more and more expensive things?). Only in this case the results will be connected directly with business and have practical character, not informative one.
When the online forum is over, you have its full verbatim (transcript). It is important to read it attentively and try not only to understand the situation but also the main thing is to separate out several concepts from disconnected opinions and ideas. Concept is a short description of business ideas, such as new product or service, variant of communication, marketing action etc.
While working with verbatim it is important to eject at once inadequate, unfit and too expensive in realization concepts. Ideally after preliminary handling you will have 4-5 concepts. Each of the concepts has its own advantages and may be realized in practice. After forming a kit of concepts these ones should be tested by quantitative methods. It will help you to understand what percent of people from your target audience like one or another concept.