Developing and implementing an online marketing research plan is somewhat similar to research that is conducted offline. The main difference is that online research can be used to gather data on sensitive subject matter and reach a wider variety of potential respondents. Some potential survey takers may view online marketing research methods, such as e-mail surveys and online focus groups as less intrusive. This can play to a firm's advantage when trying to locate individuals that are likely to represent the desired target market.
In order for an online marketing research plan to be effective, a firm needs to know who it is trying to reach and how to reach them. The main purpose of marketing research is to gather data that will help figure out why consumers behave in certain ways. It may also be used to identify who the consumer is, including identifiable attributes such as age, income, and recreational interests. Market analysis is conducted in the hopes that a firm will be able to find more efficient ways to appeal to the consumer in order to increase sales volume.
There are several companies that specialize in helping other firms develop and execute online marketing research. Employing one of these companies could be extremely helpful since they tend to have expertise in survey design and locating potential respondents. When conducting research it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each method. For example, online surveys that appear as a "pop-up" advertisement on web pages may not always give researchers an adequate amount of responses.
Targeted e-mail surveys may prove to be more effective since potential respondents have typically already indicated a willingness to receive communication. E-mail surveys can be distributed through market research companies that solicit active survey takers and participants. Many of these companies reward active survey takers with points that can be used towards the purchase of merchandise or they might even give out small cash rewards that can accumulate in a survey taker's account. Using these companies to execute online marketing research may be more effective than attempting to set up an independent permission based survey system.
Online focus groups are an innovative use of Internet technology that may prove to be beneficial. These groups can be used to gather data on more sensitive subjects that respondents aren't likely to give honest responses to in a face-to-face setting. The main issue with online focus groups is finding individuals who are willing to participate. Some sort of reward usually has to be given to entice respondents into giving up some of their time.
One of the challenges associated with online marketing research is that it is easier for potential respondents to delete an e-mail or ignore a survey request. Since there isn't any face-to-face interaction, potential respondents may feel less guilty about ignoring the requests. In addition, the amount of controls on spam and unsolicited e-mail has rapidly increased in the past few years, which might result in the "disappearance" of online communication.