AIMRI Meeting Como, Italy ' June 2006

Back in June 2006, a large number of delegates gathered at the beautiful setting of Lake Como in Northern Italy.

The subject was the ever popular online research. The last time an AIMRI meeting had been dedicated to this subject area was back in June 2004 (at Wiesbaden) where the future of online research was hotly debated. It was felt to be the time for an update.

The first paper was presented by Christoph Irmer of ODC Services in Munich. He described how the internet has changed research (and there is no doubt that it has!). He outlined the growth potential for online research versus that achieved in the US. Online research is still very small in Europe ' currently representing 1% of all research spend, compared to 11% in the US.

Exponential growth

He described new research methods and approaches such as online shelf tests to measure optimum pricing and new ways to test advertising quantitatively. He also explained how online research has become a new instrument for data collection - online panels have grown exponentially and online focus groups have continued to grow in popularity.

The next paper was given by George Head of Sample Answers. He questioned whether in online research, we are using appropriate standards. Before online, the market research industry largely based its reputation on using scientific methodology to measure consumer opinions and mostly it has worked. The assumption in this scientific methodology is that every person in the study population has an equal probability of selection.

However reliability in genuine equal probability samples is decreasing as the population becomes more mobile, respondents become fatigued and less and less time is available to complete surveys.

Potential bias

Enter online research. George asked: Is data collected online any more susceptible to bias than other methods of data collection? Online has its bias problems driven by professional respondents and other panel recruitment issues. George claimed that all market research data collection methods are subject to potential bias. He offered one solution ' weighting the data. Perhaps one answer, but surely as an industry there is more we can do to provide reassurance?

Boris von Heesen of ToLuna was next to step up. He gave us a talk on online sampling. Online sampling is fast and cheap and can reach many difficult target groups. There are some innovative online recruiting methods around ' recruiting via interest (forums, newsgroups, online ads on special interest sites). Also recruiting via innovative incentive solutions.

In future, there could be recruiting via new technologies such as IP-telephony and SMS. The other possibility is recruiting via current panel members. Here the panel company provides the technology and an individual creates their own 'personal' panel, inviting friends or family to join. The personal panel owner will then receive a certain amount of money per complete.

Focus on online panel recruitment

Boris argued that there needs to be a greater focus on online panel recruitment in the future. And he expects there to be far more co-operation in the future between panel owners and other online database providers.

Four population groups

Peter Cape of Survey Sampling International also talked about panel motivation and incentivisation. SSI have segmented the general public into 4 groups ' (1) those who will not give their opinions, (2) those who can be persuaded to give their opinions, (3) those who will give their opinions freely and (4) those who will give their opinions only if paid for them.

The area of free opinion (also called altruistic or intrinsically motivated) has been the preserve of the traditional researcher. Online panels have relied more on paid informers (materialistic or extrinsically motivated). He suggested that panel providers would be better off matching the reward according to motivation, rather than just paying everybody for giving their opinions.

Luca Ghezzi of Inter@ctive Market Research in Naples gave us an interesting talk on 'Advanced analysis in web surveys'.

Marketing an agency online

After lunch, we were privileged to hear a paper by Gerard O'Neill of Amarach Consulting on how to market an MR agency online. This paper was full of great ideas.

Am'rach's online marketing activities include:

- development of a value added web site

- subscription eZine

- online advertising & SEM

- strategic partnerships

Value added content on the website includes offering free reports online and a simple to use quotation service. The subscription eZine is again a free service and offers subscribers a one page 'window on the Irish consumer', every other week.

Online advertising offers banner ads and search engine optimisation. And strategic partnerships with trusted membership organisations such as the Marketing Institute and the Irish Computer Society have also been very beneficial.

The final paper of the day was an assessment of the Italian market research industry, by Marco Nazzari of ART, Milan.

Dinner that evening was in a spectacular location, overlooking Lake Como ' this special treat was very much the icing on the cake to a most enjoyable experience. 

Stephen Bairfelt, Purple Market Research, UK

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