Four Ways to Collect Consumer Insights Online – Beyond Surveys

While most of the country has been quarantined at home, people are finding new ways to stay connected while staying apart. More and more consumers are interacting with friends and family online beyond commenting on each other’s social media posts. They are using tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts to meet for morning coffee, have virtual happy hours, book club meetings and birthday celebrations.

A full 81% of Americans own a smartphone, a number that climbs to 92% for 30-49 year olds and 96% for those aged 18-29, (according to a 2019 Pew Research study) which means that they have online access literally in the palm of their hands.

Meeting consumers where they are when doing market research has always been important, and while conducting research online is nothing new, the increased focus on connecting virtually is making an even stronger case for taking your research efforts online. But fielding online surveys is not the only way to learn more about who your customers are and what they want. Here are a few additional ways you can study your target audience, during a time when they are undoubtedly spending most of their time online:

Online Focus Groups

I have done my fair share of in-person focus groups, but for the past several years we have been taking the discussions more and more online. Beyond the obvious benefit of saving both time and money from eliminating travel to host groups in different locations (and the current barriers for doing so), you also get the added benefits of being able to bring together consumers from different regions in the same group.

Online focus groups can be done either synchronous or asynchronous.

  • In a synchronous group, you have all your participants log on at the same time to have a live discussion – often done in a video-conference setting. You can all see each other and a moderator will facilitate the discussion just like an in-person group.
  • In an asynchronous group, you can use a discussion board format where participants log in during a multi-day study at times that are most convenient to them for answering your questions. Even though they might not all be online at the same time, a good moderator can still facilitate great discussions between participants and get much more contextualized and comprehensive answers that you cannot always get from a survey. An asynchronous group is especially great if you want to gather insights from customers in different time zones and from those with busy or varying schedules.


Interactive Interviews

Just like with focus groups, you can easily take one-on-one interviews and observations online.These can be done as online chats that are purely written conversations or as video conferences. If your research topic is related to online behavior, you can create screenshare options and observe how they shop for certain products online, navigate through websites or complete different online assignments. With the vast majority of U.S. consumers owning a smartphone, you can also have them video chat with you while they are engaging in any offline activities you want to observe like going through their morning routine, doing laundry or making dinner.

Social Media Listening

Social Media listening is tracking online conversations happening on Facebook and Twitter, and in discussion forums or on blogs to name a few. It is a great way to track brand mentions to understand how consumers are talking about you and your competitors, however, to get even more value from listening to these online conversations you should also know what broader topic discussions your target audience is having. For example, if your target audience is parents with small children you should track what topics are popping up on parent discussion forums. What do they worry about? What are their pain points and daily stressors? What gets them excited or makes them proud?

Data Analysis

You might already have access to a ton of customer data from either your website traffic or recorded sales data, but have you thoroughly looked at what exact data are you collecting and how you are analyzing and using it?

When looking at website traffic, you should be looking beyond just the number of sessions and clicks as you can get great insight on your visitors’ behaviors tracking what sources brought them to your website, what pages they are engaging with the most and how they progress through your goals funnel.

For your sales data, you should not only look at which products or services are your top sellers but also track how often they are purchased, what products or services are often purchased together and if there are seasonal patterns in your customers purchase behavior. Depending on the data you collect, you can also analyze regional differences and even segment customers by their purchase behavior. Especially now, this would be an important exercise to identify any trends you can leverage for your business.

As always, it is important to know your audience before deciding how to engage with them, and this applies to research as well. You will get the best results when you meet them where they are and by using the methods and devices they are comfortable with. And right now, they are online. So, if you are looking to do market research or looking to understand how your consumer’s mindset has changed during this pandemic, now is a good time.


Written by Maria Cammack
Director of Marketing Research and Strategy


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