Talking to Your Own

Why talk to strangers when you can engage your own customers or stakeholders on an ongoing basis?If you had a choice between interviewing 600 strangers on the telephone versus an online dialogue with 5,000 of your own customers, which would you choose?

Stated like that, it doesn't even seem like a fair choice. Yet, organizations continue to put their trust in telephone surveys and bypass the research-rich engagement with their own customers.

Tapping the power of databases makes sense to find out what consumers or stakeholders are thinking and affording them an opportunity to offer opinions or suggestions to inform real-time decision-making.

Telephone surveys have and will continue to be an important tool in the marketing or public opinion arsenal. However, online research expands the universe of what's possible, moving you from simple information-gathering to intentional engagement.

The biggest obstacle to harnessing the energy of a database is ignorance. Many CEOs and even marketing directors aren't aware of how much information their organizations already have on file — and how relatively easy it is to accumulate more.

There is consumer and stakeholder eagerness to share their views — if given the chance in a legitimate, credible forum, such as online research. Even more telling, data indicates that online respondents tend to give more honest feedback than they do in telephone surveys. That could be because telephone surveys invariably interrupt dinner or a favorite TV show. Online surveys can be completed on the respondent's timetable.

Another hang-up about research using databases is that it requires a systematic approach to information acquisition, as opposed to a one-off set of questions. Engaging customers or stakeholders takes more than an annual contact. People need to be asked for comments several times, in online surveys of varying lengths and subjects. Other contacts can include sharing research findings or other relevant content. Is it more expensive? Yes, but it also is more versatile and fruitful.

Some still cling to the notion that many people, including whole segments of society, have somehow managed to avoid the Internet. There is ample evidence to the contrary. The bigger questions today are where different age groups and ethnic groups use the web. Online research can accommodate different preferences — whether laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Database research yields more than the relative strengths of key messages or product features. It fits into a broader strategy of aligning your organization with consumers or stakeholders. While random sampling can produce high-confidence findings, it often is unable to add depth and context to answers, which database research can deliver.

You can talk with strangers or talk to your own. Both will give you useful information, but only online research using your customer or stakeholder database will give you the inside track.