Companies worldwide are spending less on traditional research, but are turning to the Internet to obtain rapid and sophisticated marketing research. Confluence Digital Research is the first South African company to bring together the skills and extensive experience needed to help companies capitalise on this phenomenon.
US and European spending trends show a flat overall market for research, but a strong increase in spending on online research. Customer comments as well as the establishment of an industry body, the Interactive Market Research Organisation (IMRO), confirm growing legitimacy for this medium.
A recent study indicates that the response patterns of data collected using online surveys were the same as those for telephonic surveys.
Combining expertise in traditional research with in-depth knowledge of Internet technologies and marketing strategy, Confluence is able to provide customers with a fast new way of obtaining accurate research upon which to base their branding, marketing and strategic business decisions.
Neale Penman, director of research methodologies says: "It is about time that South African research firms realise that the inherent power of the Internet means faster, more accurate research results".
He notes that US online market research spending grew 24% in 2003, to $797 million, despite a flat market overall for research. According to Inside Research, an academic periodical, growth in online research is expected to begin at 28% this year to account for a quarter of the total market. The publication likewise recorded 15% growth in 2003 in the European market. Its prediction of 18% growth for 2004 will see this market exceed $100 million.
Penman also says the most experienced research spenders will continue to favour online research to traditional methods, citing as an example Mark Schar, vice president at the biggest buyer of market research in the world, Procter & Gamble, who has been quoted in Fast Company saying, "The Internet is going to be the future backbone of our consumer research activity."
Confluence has developed proprietary technology and methodologies that manage the research cycle, including conceptualisation, electronic fieldwork and respondent panel management.
Says John Anderson, technical director: "Our choice to develop our own solution was made after rigorous evaluation of the available alternatives. While some sophisticated off-the-shelf solutions exist, none has the flexibility and stability we require for local conditions. Our surveys use the most appropriate method of gathering data from different sample populations, and our survey management and data analysis system is built to combine these disparate data sets."
South Africa's level of Internet penetration is lower than that of developed countries, but it has reached a level where it is now a feasible alternative in many research projects.
According to Ivo Vegter, a Confluence director who has covered the Internet industry as a journalist since its local inception, about 3,5 million people have access to the Internet in SA.
"Not all projects are suitable for online research, since the sample needs to be literate and have access to computers," he says. "However, the online population is sufficiently broad and experienced for many research purposes. For projects that require alternative methods, we are able to partner with trusted experts to, for example, conduct interviews in rural areas in vernacular, or supplement online research with telephonic surveys."
The key to good research is a panel of able and willing respondents. To solve this need over the medium term, Confluence is developing the Influence panel, which will consist of a database of consenting respondents who are almost instantly available to respond to surveys, in exchange for incentives ranging from sample products and report summaries to competition entries and cash payments.
Source: Impact of Questionnaire Design Comparing Internet and Telephone Methods", Lightspeed Research, 2002.