Web Advantages

In today’s digital customer-centric society, advertising agencies are under pressure to produce effective, highly targeted commercials quickly. At the same time, traditional research methods for ad tests are too slow to keep up with the tight deadlines imposed by companies operating in Internet time. To meet this challenge, market researchers are moving ad testing to the Web, via online focus groups.

While many of the tasks of online focus groups are the same as the traditional sitdown—recruiting, preparing a discussion guide, moderating and analyzing results—online units offer several key advantages over more conventional gatherings:

•Online discussion provides geographic dispersion in every single group. No more setting up roundtables in major cities and assuming they represent the target market. Rather, respondents can log on from anywhere. Plus, many more clients from the marketing team to the CEO can observe and have input in the groups—without leaving their desks. Those who do so tend to buy into the research findings more quickly.

•Online groups allow for greater participation by all members. It is harder for one person to dominate online because it takes time to type responses. In addition, shy people talk more because they can’t see the disapproving looks of other participants. The conversation is more dynamic because people can “talk at once” and respond with comments of any length.

•Online discussion is deepened by the fact that participants must use words instead of gestures and facial expressions. In traditional studies, the moderator interprets each participants facial expression—sometimes incorrectly. With online groups, the moderator has to work harder to probe and draw out participants. The result is richer data.

•Finally, there is cost. Online groups are not always less expensive because so many tasks are the same. However, the savings in travel costs and transcription fees are dramatic. These savings can be put aside for other research projects or, better yet, used to increase the scope of an ad test.

Should marketers conclude that online ad tests will replace the traditional focus group?

Not entirely.

There will still be instances when we need to gather participants in a facility, particularly when the stimuli cannot easily be uploaded to the Web. For example, full-motion video needs more bandwidth than the average consumer has. In other instances, the population we need to explore is not yet online.

But the Web population is growing and becoming more like the general population, and technology is improving rapidly.

Further, the Web has already proved itself to be a highly desirable place to conduct ad tests. Those who ignore or dismiss the efficacy of online ad tests risk losing the very data they desperately need.