This is true not just for individuals, but for companies too, as they need to interact with customers who are totally different from those of a decade ago. The main point of discontinuity with the past is represented by the fact that companies lost their ownership on conversations about their brands and products, as today they are no longer unilateral and take place in the new digital spaces regardless of their will.

Knowledge and access to information is essential to gain a competitive edge, develop your business and achieve commercial success, now more than ever. Countless examples could be made, but here I would like to focus on one, which has basically remained unchanged over time: market and/or marketing researches.

Some authors believe that the two are synonyms; others instead differentiate them, not just on a terminological basis, but in terms of their respective objectives and activities.

Since there are minimal differences between marketing researches and market researches with regard to their aims, here we will treat them as synonyms, even though slightly improperly.

In general, we can say that market researches mainly pursue two objectives:

  • To provide information and statistical data needed to take decisions;
  • To develop new knowledge.

The following are the main stages of the research process:

  • definition of the problem;
  • objectives;
  • planning;
  • economic evaluation;
  • data collection;
  • data processing and analysis;
  • final reporting.

The data collection process constitutes the central part of the activity, as the efficiency of the research program is measured by the reliability and validity of the information obtained.  This is a critical stage as it absorbs most of the time and budget. It also plays a fundamental role in case of errors in the results.

There are several data collection techniques, ranging from surveys to observations and motivational researches. However, regardless of the method chosen, face-to-face direct interview is still considered the most effective technique.

The main point of advantage of this method is its flexibility: any time the answers are not completely clear, in fact, the interviewer may step in and clarify the questions, providing additional stimuli that allow obtaining more accurate and timely responses.

Face-to-face interviews allow reaching a high level of in-depth while, at the same time, obtaining a greater amount of quality data, as the answers provided can be integrated by the analysis of body language and gestures (facial expressions, hand movements, feelings, etc.).

However, if, one side, the physical presence of the interviewer is an advantage, on the other, it may also prompt interviewees to provide answers that are not true, but “socially valuable” or appreciated by the interviewer. It can also happen that interviewees decline to answer or significantly change their answers if questions are considered too embarrassing or personal. In addition, the interviewer can influence the interviewees with his/her way of asking questions, obtaining thus answers that do not exactly reflect their opinion (answer distortion). Several researches showed that age, gender, social class, character and manners of the interviewer can influence the answers.

The same distortion may occur within the so-called focus groups engaged in motivational researches, where the objective is not just to measure the intensity of the subject investigated, but rather to understand its “underlying reasons” (hence the name motivational researches).

In this case, the distortion and influence on the answers of some members of the group may originate from within.

For instance, the presence of a strong personality with clear leadership skills could influence, even unintentionally, the rest of the group. If interviews are generally expensive (selection, training and remuneration of the interviewers, consumables, trips, etc.) and produce a quality of the output lower than expected, why continuing on this road, without seeking an alternative?

In a world where people express their opinions freely and spontaneously on social networks and media, all we need to do is to listen to what they say and receive their opinions according to the research drivers sought.

Easier said than done, you might say.

The necessary condition is to be able to listen to what people say about a given topic on the web and then run a so-called Opinion Analysis.

The following might interest you: “Sentiments are not opinions”.

The advantages of market research carried out by listening to the social networks and the digital arenas in order to understand opinions expressed by people (Opinion Analysis) can be summarized as follows:

  • cost savings (less than a quarter of the cost of traditional researches);
  • absence of influences on answers. This is one of the most important aspects; on social networks people tend to express their views spontaneously and, for this reason, it is more than reasonable to think that they are sincere;
  • high number of opinions collected (sometimes millions, depending on the survey range), and this actually annuls or makes negligible the differences between quantitative researches (aimed at measuring the size of phenomena) and quality researches (aimed at comprehending reasons, opinions), making the latter relevant both on the sample examined and from a statistical standpoint.

This does not mean that traditional market researches should be replaced by the new techniques described above.

First of all, these methods should be evaluated according to the subject of their analysis and the reference target. Secondly, the best option is often to integrate the two types.

This is confirmed by the exit polls of the last general elections in Italy in 2013. On that occasion, no research institute predicted that the Movimento 5 Stelle would get 25,56% of the votes. Although plenty of researches were carried out with the usual rigor, no one listened to the new and unconventional discussion places, which added a new dimension to the new party: social networks and digital spaces.

Here too, it would be a mistake to dismiss traditional researching methods, just like it was a mistake not to consider the new ones.

The moral is that sometimes leaving the old road for the new one gives us the opportunity to acquire knowledge that otherwise we would never get.