With lots of online research tools to choose from, making the right choice can be tricky. The key to success is to match them to your objectives. So before you look at tool selection do ensure your insight objectives are perfected (Stage 1). If they are cloudy, muddled and unclear from the get-go this just creates uncertainty later on. Your stakeholders may want to change/add things along the way depending on interim findings however, so remember to stay open minded too.
Your objectives, i.e. what you want to find out, are primary to determining the online research tools you use, but there are other important factors including sample, time, budget, depth, participant experience, etc. Bare these in mind when selecting tools also. Below I address each.
Stage 1 - Defining Your Insight Objectives
Before you even look at the online research tools on offer out there it’s crucial that the purpose of your market research is clearly defined. Go through your objectives, carefully, step by step and in detail and ensure that they are both universally understood and bought into by your stakeholders.
If you’re looking for a second opinion, the experts can help. Whether it’s branching out to an online agency or consulting an in-house team member for their opinion, it’s beneficial for sure. It’s good to make your objectives as concise as possible, any expert will tell you that there’s no room for fluff. It will only dilute the focus and worst case scenario, skew the project. Seasoned researchers will be able to extrapolate the primary objectives (separate the essential from the ‘nice to have’) and match them to an online research tool methodology with ease.
Once you have a confirmed your insight objectives - As a rule of thumb, these should be no more than 5 – 10 points and include a hypothesis which can be proven or otherwise – move on to your tool selection considering the sample, time, budget, depth as you go…
Stage 2 – Matching Your Insight Objectives to the Right Online Research Tools
Having defined your insight objectives, consider the following when choosing your tools:
If you’re on a tight schedule and you need instant feedback, look at either live or quant tools first.
A personal live favourite of mine is the online focus group, just like a traditional in-person focus group, with hosts (stakeholders included), a moderator, and consumers taking part from the comfort of their own home. In addition to speed, online focus groups provide anonymity prompting more honesty and greater depth. Not only this but you can show stimuli including photos, images, in-image bulletin boards, videos, documents, etc. whilst the online focus group is taking place live. 60-90 minutes later and you have a detailed, structured conversational qual transcript for analysis.
On the quant side, polls and surveys are both fast and scalable and surveys go way beyond ‘box-checking’ these days with features such as visuals, sliders, drag-and-drop and card-sort gamification all contributing to broader insight reach.
If neither quant nor live tools will fulfil all of your insight objectives but speed is still a leading factor, you may have to compromise. Is the speed of feedback/gaining results is more important than fulfilling each and every one of your insight objectives. Weigh it up.
If you’re not pushed for time you’ll still need to consider your objectives carefully, but you can afford to look towards slightly more lengthy, in-depth projects. For example, if you’re objectives are centred around UX testing an iterative feedback card style research task for users to record their experience is ideal, and you may want to follow up with collaborative group exercises to deep dive, ideate.
If your objectives involve users taking part each day over a period of time on the other hand - if you’re looking at a particular consumer or lifestyle behaviour for example - a diary and/or vox pop tool would be best suited. Again, you might want to compliment this with more collaborative tools, an image board or scrapbook if you’re looking for visual input, polls or surveys to quantify, etc. depending on your objectives.
For co-creative depth look at a short-term community project. The community element really encourages innovative discussion.
Digging for detail can be difficult. Having dedicated, in-the-know moderators who can prompt participants is a must have if your insight objectives require such detail so choose a tool or tools which allow for this interaction; online discussions of any nature.
Also bear in mind that your moderators will need to be readily available for a certain period of time and number of days, and depending on your insight objectives they’ll need to be clued up on the topics covered too. Moderators could be in-house team members who have experience in moderating - you don’t necessarily need to go far.
If you have an ongoing research schedule you might want to consider a research or community panel as a base for your online research project tools. Both support speed and budgetary economies of scale as well as allowing for tools to be selected on a project by project basis in relation to the specific insight objectives of each.
Stage 3 – Your Insight Objectives and the Participant Experience
You’ll slowly start to see a drop off of interest if you bombard consumers with lengthy questions, tasks or activities. Once you have confirmed your methodology in terms of your objectives do revisit each planned research task/activity to ensure that everything is as user friendly as possible.
Between work and family, most people lead busy lives, so can’t always afford to spend hours each day taking part in your research. Some consumer samples however will be busier / harder to reach than others. Such participants may prefer to sit down and answer one 20-30 minute survey rather than having to come back each day for 5 minutes, or they may not – consider your research target market in relation to your insight objectives and tool selection. Find the balance…
A lengthy 80 question survey, for example, may be better broken down into 3 individual 20 question surveys, or even a 40 question survey with follow up qual to spread and vary the activity. No matter what online research tool you choose, your consumers can only take so much before they feel like that Amazon voucher reward really isn’t worth their time. I am a big fan of mixed method approaches for both insight accuracy and depth as well as participant engagement but don’t get ‘tool happy’! Having multiple tasks set across multiple formats each day can really put a strain on your consumers. Think realistically, and focus on the type and volume of feedback you really need.
An experienced researcher will be able to ‘guesstimate’ the time commitment required for each research task and either revise or prime participants accordingly. If you’re less experienced, I’d recommend completing each task yourself as a participant whilst timing yourself. This will also allow for sense-checking.
B) Sample and Scheduling
Generally, mornings/evenings are generally the best times for people to take part in market research activities so if you are using tools which facilitate live, time-specific tasks ensure these are available at the right time of day. The live online focus group is a perfect example. Often time moderators/hosts for live online focus groups will only be available Monday to Friday restricted to office hours only. This means that you will be running your focus group at prime work time! Unless otherwise stipulated and appropriately incentivised, you are only likely to attract unemployed, retired, self-employed, etc. consumers due to this.
If your insight objectives include a ‘full-time employed’ consumer sample, you may want to think again. External providers do offer out of hours services for this purpose. Or, if the live element is not fundamental to your research objective consider a reflective focus group tool, a bulletin or image board for example.
Luckily, online research means that there don’t have to be time constraints on research anymore, consumers can take part whenever suits them if the tool allows. Always consider your sample and their accessibility as well as your insight objectives when selecting your research tools.
Stage 4 – Bringing It All Together
In conclusion, always finalise your insight objectives before research tool selection. Gone are the days where quant and qual are either/or, where possible go for a multi-method approach. Consider the needs of your participants, oh, and keep an open mind!