Google & Qualitative Marketing Research

GCS Will Smooth Entry into Consumer Research

Later this month, Google Consumer Surveys (GCS) will be launching an expanded toolbox to companies and researchers alike. Currently, publishers can use Google’s two-question surveys to monetize content, giving users the option of answering a few survey questions in order to access premium content. Approximately 200 online content providers, such as the L.A. Times and USA Today, are currently offering their readers Google Surveys.

Excellent to Augment Qualitative Marketing Research

The GCS offerings are well-suited to complement qualitative marketing research, for example to:

  • Sort new product concepts quantitatively prior to getting focus group feedback on those most liked
  • Test the final recommendations from online qualitative brand positioning research in order to back strategic guidance up with numbers
  • Test final messaging for an ad campaign after feelings, emotional responses and other qualitative insights have been obtained in one-on-one interviews

marketing research needs to be usable, valid, cost effective and easy graph showing this conceptIn short, having a lower bar in terms of cost, access and turnaround can make quantitative data more accessible in more situations.

Expanded Survey Tools

Google will increase the maximum number of questions from 2 to 10, and will include crosstabs in its analysis package in addition to current basic statistics. Longer survey instruments can be broken down into shorter surveys of 10 questions each, connected by common questions. Instead of 500 unique participants answering 40 questions, you might have 2000 unique participants each answering 10 questions.

The benefits of Google’s more aggressive entry into consumer research are many:

  • Longer surveys in front of large pools of fresh participants
  • Faster turnaround using built-in tools plus the ability to download and conduct more advanced analysis
  • And, hopefully as a result, smarter, more frequently data-driven business decisions

With increased functionality, both smaller businesses and sophisticated research organizations can benefit.

Do It Yourself?

Some data can be better than no data – there is, after all, a difference between statistical significance and business significance. But effective quantitative marketing research should be grounded in an understanding of its statistical underpinnings, including an appropriate sample size and definition. Questions should be worded in a neutral way, and answer options’ effects on participant choices taken into account. Professional researchers’ academic and experiential knowledge may not be needed in every situation, but non-researchers should know their own limits.

Erroneous conclusions based on faulty data may actually be worse than decisions based merely on gut instinct, since data fallacies can persist as “facts” in decision makers’ heads for a long time. And mistakes can undermine confidence in future research efforts.

When Do GCS’ Offerings Not Make Sense?

GCS may be easy and useful, but it certainly doesn’t cover all situations:

  • It doesn’t substitute for online qualitative or in-person focus groups and interviews
  • Google currently can’t guarantee access to populations with incidence below 20%, making local populations, business-to-business decision makers and rarely occurring situations more expensive or unattainable
  • The complex questionnaire designs and longer lengths that Google’s short, simple surveys eliminate may be unnecessary for some uses, but remain useful and effective in many others
  • Depending on the population, a truly random sample may not be possible using even Google’s long online reach and may call for more traditional techniques such as phone or even mail surveys

Questions and Concerns about Google’s Survey Offerings

And as a professional researcher, I have to end with some concerns:

  • Is Google partnering with professional researchers or merely competing with them?
  • How do survey-takers as a whole differ from non-survey-takers through GCS?
  • Will DIY usage amplify research mistakes and undermine professional offerings?
  • Will the king of big data be the main source of all information on people around the world?
  • And if so, is this really what we want?

Opportunities and threats sit side by side in this newly expanding research tool.

Consultant Jennifer Cooper heads BuyerSynthesis, the buywhys™ marketing research company. BuyerSynthesis helps clients clarify their goals, plan methodologies, conduct research and use insight-driven recommendations to drive success. Contact:

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