Technology has forever altered how we come to market as businesses. To this end, understanding the impact of technology on marketing research is fundamental to leverage the benefits it affords. Marketing research, particularly digital marketing research (in the spirit of “go where your customers are”) can be used to engage customers at a scale not previously possible.

The internet has played an increasingly important – and complex – role in the marketing process. Every day, more and more companies use the internet to obtain information about customers’ needs. Companies also use the internet to create, communicate and deliver value for customers. Internet-based marketing tools such as social media, websites, SMS, MMS, e-mails, chats, blogs, forums, virtual events, podcasts, multi-user gaming, content communities, lifestreams etc., are all used by companies operating in various sectors to stimulate customer engagement.

Online methodologies as a means of conducting marketing research are growing in popularity. They all help gather information about your market, your customers and both current plus future products. Of course, in this era of all-things-plentiful, there are more than just three types of marketing research that your company can use to engage customers. But here, we will focus on the three types of marketing research that deliver the highest rate of return, are the most straightforward to execute and can deliver results.

Type 1: Surveys

ADVANTAGE: cost-effective means of generating quantitative data rapidly

Online surveys can be designed to ask questions that will help spot new trends, test how Message A vs. B resonates with the targeted audience, to get some insights into the market place and your competition, to get feedback on new product concepts and to better understand differences across sub-groups within your customer base. Surveys are not limited to collecting information in advance of a product launch. They can also be a means of gauging customer satisfaction and collecting information that will inform the strategy and aid.

One customer engagement benefit of surveys that is often overlooked is the opportunity to secure testimonials. Quotes, trends and reports that result from the survey analysis can now be used in your social media feeds. Surveys can also drive customer loyalty, especially if framed as an “exclusive opportunity”.

Surveys are particularly effective in driving customer engagement when they are fun (for example, think about the impact of gaming on society today) or when there is a reward. Customer engagement through surveys can help businesses know where they are with respect to their sales forecast, the strength of their brands and the level of loyalty within their customer base. Surveys enable business owners to have a data-driven and informed strategy: 83% of small businesses who survey their customers regularly feel confident with the level of customer satisfaction in their install base. Online surveys don’t need to be an onerous business initiative; consider conducting them just annually at first, or perhaps even quarterly. Although some businesses do conduct surveys daily, they are the minority in this practice.

One of the challenges with surveys is “response fatigue”. If there are “too many” questions (how many is “too many” depends on the audience but marketers generally try to keep surveys down to 10 questions or less), the responders exit the survey prematurely. If the same audience pool is repeatedly being surveyed, the respondents decline to participate then begin deleting the survey invitations.

Type 2: Bulletin boards/focus groups

ADVANTAGE: deeper qualitative insights, customers drive consensus amongst themselves and ultimately rank prioritize your brand’s next steps

The idea of customers engaging more on a digital platform than in-person seems a bit counterintuitive, but this is precisely what happens. Given the freedom to jump into discussions whenever a participant is inclined to do so versus waiting for a moderator to cue up the opportunity, participants banter freely. There is no risk of being disrespectful and feeling shamed for talking over someone. It’s acceptable to type an answer at the same time as someone else. One of the downsides of focus groups is that participants (and moderators) cannot read body language that provides rich, contextual information.

Another aspect of that freedom is the opportunity for participants to jump in (and out) of conversation threads at their own prerogative. The ability to “tailgate” and build on layers of responses in a thread provides marketing researchers with deep, qualitative insights. Unlike in-person focus groups, discussion threads can go on and on – participants aren’t obligated to switch topics. With online bulletin boards, customers make the choice when it’s time to switch. In keeping with this theme of freedom, participants can join the conversation at whatever time best fits their schedule. This latitude extended to the respondent deepens customer engagement.

Type 3: CrowdWeaving™

ADVANTAGE: qualitative and quantitative data, group consensus to select the best ideas, which moves ideas into concepts

By engaging customers early in the process, customers feel that their opinions are truly valued. This fosters a sense of trust in the brand which deepens the engagement. CrowdWeaving is a method designed by KL Communications and the way that sessions are designed is to drive towards group consensus to brainstorm a problem together. However, not upfront. Participants are first asked to brainstorm independently then they are brought together to collaborate. This approach promotes co-creation, which taps into the individual and collective customer mindset whereas crowdsourcing offers only the former. Real-time analytics guide the process.

Crowdweaving provides highly interactive engagement, multi-lateral conversations between brands and their customers, brands and their suppliers, customers and expert facilitators and a host of other combinations which includes “eavesdropping” as a fly on the wall observing the conversations parallel to your own.

Guidance: Which type do I use?

Given how important it is for companies to engage their customers, it’s critical to understand which approach to use and when to use it. Through market-driven customer engagement, businesses can strengthen their position, minimize their investment risk, identify potential threats and opportunities and facilitate strategic planning. Using one or multiple types of marketing research assists businesses to stay ahead of the competition and become more customer-centric. Companies can focus on customer needs and demands via whichever type of marketing research they choose as they all enlist customer feedback.

Each of the three types of marketing research featured here allows companies to interact with their consumers by engaging them in market research. All methods provide valuable feedback. However, the whichever methodology is selected will drive different trees that will ultimately loop back into the strategy and initiatives deployed for the brand, product or service.

Knowing which type of methodology to use, and when to use it, makes a difference. Here, it is important to consider whether you need quantitative data, qualitative data, or both. Methodologies that capture qualitative data, such as focus groups, can be excellent for capturing consumer insights and open-ended reactions. Other methods for qualitative data collection, like highlighting tools and heat maps, allow for consumers to indicate areas of strong like or dislike.

Quantitative data, through surveys, for example, provides more cut-and-dry results that can be vetted then inform priorities via robust mathematical and statistical models. If you have several questions that need to be asked, a survey may be best. To drive participation, newer online survey tools allow for questions to be much more interactive (for example, with the inclusion of live polls so that responders can see how others have answered the question). Such tactics help prevent survey fatigue and motivate responders to continue answering the questions.

If you’re unclear which type is best to use, reach out and ask. The bottom line is that getting feedback from your customers, by whichever means, is always the right thing to do.