The news shouldn’t have come to a shock to anyone; I and others had been predicting it for years and Google had announced the Beta months ago. Nonetheless the announcement that Google had launched a formal market research offering sent shock waves through the industry today. What was surprising wasn’t that they did it but how well thought out the offering was. This isn’t half-baked; they seem in it to win it and where things go from here are interesting indeed.
This is the very definition of game changing folks. I and others have stated for years now that data collection has become a commodity and this is the ultimate example of that; market forces dictated that this happen one way or the other.
Let’s dive into what I think this all means for our industry. First, here are the details: VentureBeat has the best coverage so far. Here few excerpts from their article.
The quid-pro-quo system works as follows: Brands, small businesses and marketers use Google consumer surveys to conduct online market research. Google then places the questions in front of targeted web denizens when they land on a premium content page in Google’s publisher network. The brand pays per response ($0.10 to $0.50 per response depending on targeting preferences), and Google and participating publishers pocket the money made from each response. Even the would-be content viewer benefits, as she doesn’t have to pay or sign in to access news articles or videos that might otherwise be locked behind a paywall.
Here’s why this strikes us as a crafty idea: Google isn’t selling a full-service market research service, but instead a hybrid of the cheap, do-it-yourself online survey products and the expensive, hands-on approach offered by a traditional firm.
On the do-it-yourself side of things, the brand or marketer is responsible for creating the microsurvey questionnaire, determining the type of audience (U.S. only) it wants to target, and identifying the total number of responses it’s seeking. Then, the customer takes a backseat as Google drives the sampling, weighting, and analysis pieces of the process.
In so doing, Google is offering the best of both worlds — convenience, affordability, sample balancing, and analysis — and monetizing publisher content in a way that doesn’t discourage readership and traffic.
Of course, one has to wonder if Google’s controversial new privacy policies are allowing the company to pull from cross-product data to better identify folks to complete microsurveys. Google said this is not the case. The product allows for specific targeting by gender, age group, and geographic regions based on inferred demographics, and custom audience targeting through screening questions. All responses are anonymous, Google said, so they’re not tied to a user’s identity or used for future ad targeting.
It’s that last part that is most interesting, for a few reasons. Google explains their sampling model like this:
Google automatically aggregates and analyzes responses, providing the data back to you through a simple online interface. Results appear as they come in, not days or weeks later.
Results & insights
In addition to raw data, charts summarize responses and insights highlight interesting differences. Using the DoubleClick cookie and the respondent’s IP address, Google Consumer Surveys infers demographic and geographic information for each response so you can easily segment by age, gender, location and more. See which results are statistically significant or order additional responses if your initial sample wasn’t sufficient.
Methodology & accuracy
Unlike other online survey platforms which send questionnaires to predetermined “panels,” Google Consumer Surveys takes a new approach to survey sampling, data collection and post-stratification weighting. This produces a close approximation to a random sample of the US Internet population and results that are as accurate as probability based panels.
The cookie-based tracking system that underlies their sampling model is not going to fly in Europe as is, so for now the offering is U.S. centric. At first glance that may seem like a reprieve to many firms, but I think it will be only temporary, and this concern is a non-issue in developing countries so look for rapid expansion globally after the U.S. live beta.
Here is the next thing to think about: Google also owns Android and Chrome. How long do you think it will be before before this platform is deployed globally via those ecosystems? The implications for mobile sampling are particularly stunning, especially as they flood the markets in BRIC countries with low cost handsets running their platform. The incentive system can be applied to apps within the ecosystem as easily as it can be to content providers, maybe even more so. And the survey platform itself, especially the one question at a time model, is almost ideal for the mobile paradigm.
To top it off, there is the “Big Data” aspect here. Arguably, Google collects more data on consumers than any other company on the planet. The amount from search is staggering alone, but when you add in Google+, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Wallet (that one especially!) and every other offering the potential to deploy a big data driven dynamic survey system is truly within reach. Only being able to ask one question at a time may seem like a limit, but it’s not when you already have much of the data you would normally have to ask for in the traditional research model. The analytical power to deploy that may be in question today, but many companies are tackling that issue and it is likely that the combination of processing power and analytical systems needed to make this happen will be brought to market in the very short term future.
A few folks on Twitter compared this to the short lived LinkedIn research offering, but I think that it is nothing like that. LinkedIn was simply trying to sell sample with a very defined use case system in place that market researchers would not conform to. They threw their hands up in disgust and walked away because we failed to change our ways and since they didn’t control the whole value chain they couldn’t do much to influence us. Google owns the whole chain: data collection, sample, and analytics. They can and have defined the model from soup to nuts, the only question now is will there be uptake. I would argue yes, and all we need to do is look at Survey Monkey and every other self-serve player in the market. Make no mistake: clients will be flocking to this in droves because it is cheaper, faster, and easier than anything else available. To add to the value proposition, think about the almost certain integration with other data sources and Google platforms. The opportunity is simply too powerful to ignore. As Jason Anderson wrote in his prophetic post last year “we have been disintermediated”.
OK, so now what? Is there a silver lining in this apparently oh so dark cloud? Yes, I think there is and here is my take by industry segment:
- Sample Providers: For those with a global reach, for now you have some time to drive revenue and adapt new strategies. Niche targeting, B2B, API integration with internal client systems, “Big Data” initiatives, trackers and syndicated products are all probably safe for a bit longer and smart CEOs will begin building new business models around those opportunities quickly.
- Full Service: This wont replace trackers or more complex surveys anytime soon, nor will it replace many existing traditional projects. Much of the industry is still driven by the design & analysis anchor points of the research process and this won’t impact those offerings. Many firms are already transitioning to “strategic insight consultancies” and this should just add fuel to the fire. Ultimately it will force researchers to focus on adding real value with our brains, not our methods.
- Qual: This will be a boon to qualitative researchers who like a bit of quant to spice things up. I see only upside to this for now, although don’t get too comfortable since Facebook is ideally positioned to do something similar with a variety of qualitative methods.
- Social Media and Text Analytics: Again, only upside. For now at least Google Surveys only deal in structured survey data, although I do expect that to change. In the meantime, market researchers need to find ways to own the integration of social media and free text analysis as part of strategic insight delivery. This was a huge topic at this week’s ARF Re:think conference and the CEOs of the largest MR firms in the world all agreed with this model during the opening session with Robert Bain.
- Specialty and niche providers. For most this will be similar to qual: just a new way to inexpensively augment their offerings.
- DIY solutions: It’s tougher to see the benefits to this segment. They do have entrenched users and there will be a ramping period for Google to hit their stride. Like Panel companies, this should give them time to revise their offerings and create innovative new solutions in bluer waters. What those opportunities may look like remains to be seen, but I am quite certain the entrepreneurs behind these companies will figure it out.
During the webinar on SoLoMo I moderated today with Charlie Rader of P&G, Steve Rappaport of The ARF and Andrew Jeavons of Survey Analytics we discussed how the rise of Behavioral Economics seems to have coincided with the emergence of social media/text analytics and mobile as well as the decline of traditional quant surveys. I expect to see that overarching shift continue, with more work being done to apply these models to an ever increasing tool kit of data collection techniques, including Google Surveys. Innovation and experimentation will be the new name of the game as an imperative to prosper.
Of course, I may be way off base; only time will tell. What is unequivocal is that there is now a new major (to put it lightly) competitor within the market research space and the tension created by their entrance will create new challenges and opportunities for many. It will be interesting to watch this unfold and I for one hope that it helps to spur even more rapid innovation within our space.
Here is their marketing video: watch it and think about what I’ve said then tell me what you think.