The July August 2005 issue Quirk’s – Marketing Research Review contains a very interesting seven page article by Harvey Lauer, president of American Sports Data, Inc. The article titled “You say evolution, I say devolution” and sub-titled “Has data collection improved or gotten worse?” Mr. Lauer covers the history of consumer research during the last half century, starting with the door-to-door research, telephone research, mail panels and finally internet research.
Mr. Lauer raises some serious concerns that are shared by many of us old timers. While he raises concerns about how the attitudes of panelists can and do affect our data, I would like to raise a few concerns about the operational procedures of some of the new methods. For instance, when it comes to internet research, we know that:
We need to ask ourselves if those who are not involved in internet research were included in our study, would their data affect our conclusions? If those who had the option to participate in our research, and did not, were included in our study, would their data change our conclusions? If the data from those who stopped before completion of the study were added to our final data, would the conclusions be different? If we could separate out the good participants from the bad, would the conclusions change?
Internet research is fast, easy and cheap, that in itself makes the method very attractive. Every time I hear “fast, easy and cheap” I am reminded of two other words, reliable and valid. If the technique is not valid or reliable, what is the real value of the research?
There are times when internet research is appropriate and times when it is not. It is our responsibility to be aware of the variables affecting our data and to select the most appropriate research tool be it internet, mail or face-to-face.
What is the relationship between internet research and the Street Light? It is an old down home joke about the Hillbilly who was on his hands and knees at an intersection under the street light. A stranger came by and asked him what he was doing. He replied that he dropped his car keys and could not find them. The stranger proceeded to get down on his knees to help look for the keys. After about five minutes he asked the Hillbilly just exactly where he was standing when he dropped his keys. The Hillbilly replied that he was down the street next to his car. The stranger asked why then was he looking for the keys at the corner. The Hillbilly replied that there was more light at the corner than in the middle of the block where his car was parked.
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