QUALITY market research is a powerful tool for any business. But it comes at a cost.Harvesting information is labour intensive and requires access to as many minds as possible if any depth is to be achieved.Local research group Market Equity has developed an online panel as a new pool of talent to interrogate.The panel currently features more than 3,000 households from a variety of different demographics.The important feature of these participants is that they have agreed to be involved in online surveys, which overcomes any privacy issues.“One of the key things that is driving change in market research is the cost of collecting information,” Market Equity director Dean Harris said.“An online approach affords you the chance to collect information in a far more cost-effective way.”The online panel also enables Market Equity to carefully profile the survey sample group.Clients interested in targeting a specific demographic can undertake research within a very narrow section of the population.“We’ve overcome some issues of validity in terms of who we speak to and who answers,” Market Equity account director Natalie Randall said.“Everyone has agreed to be involved and we can track them in terms of age, gender, household income or households with children.“And as the panel grows there is more information we can collect, so we can target subsections of the population.”The online panel has dramatically reduced the labour cost in the research process, not just from an information gathering perspective but also in terms of inputting data, the cost of which has almost disappeared.“The most successful use of the Internet is based around information exchange,” Mr Harris said.In an online environment the participants undertake the data inputting as they respond to the survey.It’s not just a reduction in the cost of research, it’s also a quantum leap ahead in terms of the speed and accuracy of the process, Mr Harris said.“The biggest cost in research is the human time and we’ve stripped that out, which makes this research accessible to small businesses,” he said.“There are a number of retail industries that might want to analyse the perception of the business and this provides an easy and cost-effective way to do this.”Within just seven days a company can have results of an online survey delivered in a report. Initial data is available even faster.“It’s dramatically faster,” Mr Harris said.“In a study we did recently looking at credit cards we had 140 responses within one hour.”The speed of the service is obviously invaluable for companies following a launch, or for government departments looking to track public response or formulate effect-ive marketing material.The State Government’s new Find Thirty campaign was developed in conjunction with research utilising the online panel.The Department of Health tested the new Find Thirty campaign ahead of its public launch.This was done as an online advertising test, where an early version of the ad was embedded in the survey as a jpeg file.The research allowed the department to tweak the concept and ensure it achieved the maximum impact.The online survey format allows participants to chose when they respond to the survey.The highly personalised nature of e-mail communication makes it possible for Market Equity to nurture these relationships and make sure respondents are happy.Market Equity employs a staff member to deal with communications from members of the online panel.With plans to expand the online panel nationally this role might require even more personnel.“We’re also developing specialist panels for clients in specific industries like a national panel of general practitioners for clients like a pharmacy company,” Mr Harris said.
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