Myth: Online market research is the best – and really the only – way to go these days.

Have we really reached a point in which our technology deserves more attention than living, breathing humans? Microsoft’s “Really?” commercials for the Windows Phone back in 2010 suggests that we may have – and heck, that was nearly 2 years ago. While this is hardly the time or the blog to have a deep discussion about civilization and its relationship with technology, I’m sure this point is somehow related to what I’m trying to say here: there is great value and authenticity in interacting with customers and constituents face to face.

That said, I’ll also point out that this MythTrouncers episode is not intended to undermine online research methods, either. I sincerely believe that both online and in-person research methods have their uses, and there are cases in which one is better – or perhaps more user friendly to participants and clients – than the other.

I’m not the only one who feels that while online marketing research has its uses, it isn’t always the best choice. There are researchers who actually specialize in using particular online methods who are still careful to make certain that their clients are getting what they need.

It comes down to a few key questions:

  1. What are the questions that you need answered? Can these be answered with existing data? Do you need to collect new information? Does this involve the need for quantifiable data? Do you need more in-depth information from a conversation? Do you need to watch how someone uses a product in a particular environment? And if you do need to reach out to collect data:
  2. Who do you need to reach? Where are they located? Are they in the same area, or spread across the country? How much time will they have to participate in the research? Does it make sense to segment them into different audiences? Are they a high-touch audience?
  3. Are the people you’re trying to reach actively online? Do you need to the research to be representative of the larger population? Will the people you can reach online actually be representative of said larger population? (One of the biggest drawbacks to online research is that online sampling isn’t robust enough to do general public survey research as the results generally can’t be projected to a larger audience due to the nonrandom nature of the sample.)

These are some of the initial questions and issues we’d discuss with our clients in deciding an approach to methodology. The point is that there are a lot of factors involved in deciding the best approach to answering your questions, and the best approach won’t necessarily involve an online component.

I’m declaring this myth TROUNCED! Online options have expanded our quantitative and qualitative research toolboxes. Many research professionals can vouch for the importance of flexibility in methodologies, based on the types of questions their clients would like to have answered.