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Google Consumer Surveys and Disintermediation: A Client Perspective

Google Consumer Surveys accomplishes what we've known we should be doing but had neither the resources nor motivation to pursue. Google has disintermediated all of us.


Editor’s Note: The blogosphere has been full of great posts regarding Google’s new Consumer Surveys offering, with the opinions running the spectrum from good to bad. A few to take note of (besides our earlier posts by Simon Chadwick, Jeni Chapman, and myself) are the product review from USamp, the thoughts from Kinesis Survey Technologies, a great review of the “Big Data” aspect from Neil Gains, and a nice objective overview on the InsightsByDesign blog.

In my post I had referenced last year’s much read analysis by Jason Anderson of Blizzard Entertainment on the increasing level of disintermediation occurring within the traditional market research industry due to the rapid development of self-service technology solutions. Today Jason chimes in with a client-side view of Google Consumer Surveys. I won’t say you’ll enjoy it, but I hope everyone will read it and think about the possible strategic implications  of Jason’s view. It’s bitter medicine, but often that is the best kind.

By Jason Anderson

Market research buyers and sellers, technology providers and consultants: can we take a private moment and be brutally honest with ourselves? Thanks.

Google has disintermediated all of us. (OK, maybe not the consultants…you’re a wily bunch with keen survival skills.)

Google Consumer Surveys has severed a dependency between research client and research vendor. They offer transparent pricing, a crisply defined methodology, integrated analytics, and real-time reporting for the majority of research questions. There may be some more complex scenarios that still require the pricing and processes defined by the status quo, but the order of magnitude difference in cost will motivate any reasonably informed buyer to re-evaluate our options.

Are you a panel sample provider? My condolences. We all know that there’s no way you’re going to be able to compete on price, which means your only selling points are geography, specialized targeting, client relationships, and integration with existing systems. But you will never overpower Google’s long-term technological edge, and unfortunately all of those advantages will eventually be matched or become irrelevant. That’s OK, though — we all know in our hearts that the system was ripe for change.

Are you focused on qual feedback? “Whew!” you must be thinking right now. Sadly, it’s not that simple for you either. I can now choose between running a focus group, for example, or getting 20,000 responses. Between an online moderated chat with 50 people or 10 directed questions with 1500. The need for qual research isn’t going away, but there are good arguments to be made for a shift in the mix.

Google has also severed the dependency between the corporate research department and their internal stakeholders — the marketers, strategic planners, and mid-to-senior management layers that are the audience (and ultimately, the funding source) for our work. Simple research scenarios can be executed directly by any renegade or smart person with a credit card…and it will probably be a corporate card at that.

Google Consumer Surveys accomplishes what we’ve known we should be doing but had neither the resources nor motivation to pursue:

  • The consumer feedback process is integrated seamlessly into the web experience. It doesn’t reside in an awesome-but-proprietary silo, and it doesn’t require a web developer or knowledge of HTML or other web services APIs.
  • The survey experience, from the respondents’ perspective, is exactly what I want as a web user. It’s fast, doesn’t require a 30 minute commitment, is compatible with any of my web-enabled devices, and provides immediate gratification.
  • The survey experience, from the researcher’s perspective, is exactly what I need at least 50% of the time. I have a specific question or two I’m trying to answer, that I must wrap with 20 pages of typing tool boilerplate and demographics data collection. Will I need to simplify my questions? Yes. Will this simplify the analysis? Yes. These are both positive consequences.

Google has made much of my job cheaper, faster, better. Unfortunately, they have done this so well that I now have to work twice as hard to define my role among the myriad internal competitors who would rather take full ownership of the research process. You think it was hard to clamp down on competing research from rogue SurveyMonkey accounts? Good luck shutting this down.

The silver lining is that Google’s initial offering, while thought through very well, still has some holes. They can’t help me with my research needs in Europe or Asia, they haven’t resolved multi-language issues, and there is no qualitative feedback component. They only have seven question types, and there’s no practical solution for larger surveys of highly engaged users. I see all of these as temporary issues, however, that will be rectified in the next few years.

If you disagree with my assessment, you may want to first talk to a Yahoo! employee about Google and see how they feel about it.

Our new market participant was founded on the power of Big Data, and they continue to find new ways to show the world how powerful data can be. Their world depends on measurement, analytics, and scale; that world is currently worth around $206 billion. Our entire industry is worth less than $40 billion. Google will capture billions in new revenues from this service, and some of that is money previously planned for other research vendors.

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8 responses to “Google Consumer Surveys and Disintermediation: A Client Perspective

  1. I believe it will move shape the MR industry but not destroy it. The real added value of an experienced senior researcher is not in power tools. It is in the many judgement calls that must be made to create accurate, actionable information within real-world constraints and client priorities. As you say, the consultants will survive — maybe even thrive, since more budget may be left over for this type of value-add.

  2. Jason. Interesting post – you paint a picture of radical change, “the end of market research as we know it…..” but at the same time point out some – as yet – radical limitations. Just one example – “they can’t help me yet with my research needs in Europe or Asia”. I need to check how much of the world’s population resides within either of these two geographies. I find the Google play exciting, fascinated to see where they take it, but it doesn’t make me think of Star Trek.

  3. Where Google is at the moment is interesting but small beer – particularly for Google – and they have a history of trying things out and then abandoning them later. But once it runs to two-three questions per go then it starts to be really interesting. And if you add on more targeted sampling related to searches and behaviour such as “Anyone who searching for ‘new kitchen'” then I think it’ll have an unassailable niche – not the whole MR thing, but a strong part of the toolkit.

  4. I don’t agree that online sample suppliers can’t compete on price. We’re already within the range of google, if not significantly cheaper in many cases. Yes, if you want 1000 responses for a single question, balanced by Google’s cookie/IP targeting, then it’s cheap. At uSamp we run tens of thousands of research projects a year. Hardly any need this type of targeting, so I’m not really concerned. When Google can target 18-24 hispanic males in the Los Angeles DMA that drink red bull and play XBox and charge $.50/question answered, then maybe I’ll be concerned. Until then, our business is in tact.

  5. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of fear here because it is Google. Don’t get me wrong, they tend to know what they are doing when it comes to game-changing technology and this is certainly a firm nudge in the side, if not a full wake-up call, for the MR industry but don’t be fooled that this spells the end for providers of access to sample. If anything, firms with (DIY) solutions and technology at the heart of their offering should sleep relatively easily because this is proof of concept in many ways and democratises access to research, something that many of us have been proponents of for some time and said it would happen.

    If you actually analyse the Google pricing model you will see they are competitive at the low-end and (basic) high-end of targeted online sample but actually expensive when stacked up against the main market segment for sample requirements. This is effectively an omnibus offering from Google with very competitive omnibus pricing. The UI is slick, the work-flow process simple, and the analytics and output powerful but that doesn’t make me convinced that Google is about to take this forward into mass market data collection. They will have their own challenges with their Publishers on the pricing model in a war with ad words for starters.

    My advice to anyone would be rather than spend too much time second guessing Google’s next move (if they move big and with intent they will win out anyway), focus on getting your own house in order, find a niche and ensure you have technology or a platform to drive that growth. There is a lot of that $40 billion market value up for grabs, Google or no Google and innovation and automation will win out.

  6. I think you underestimate the level of information Google already holds on individuals, their online behaviour via cookies, their demographic profile, location from GPS tracking, how they access the web (i.e. via their Playstation, Xbox etc) so it’s more a matter of their desire to offer this than their ability.

    The gap is more the ability to cross analyse questions which is a core part of what traditional MR approaches allow. Having said that with advanced statically based data ascription models this too is something easily overcome.

    Underestimate at your peril !

  7. It’s a bit sobering to think that the entire MR industry with its 10s of thousands of employees is only worth 40x with its 15 employees!

    A long tail strategy in MR, leveraged with servers and automation will probably not provide the human touch (ever try getting support from Google on *anything*?) or the deep insight of knowledgeable, experienced humans. However the extreme leverage will generate more value.

    In my estimation (based on various public traffic data), SurveyMonkey is already conducting more quantitative online interviews yearly than the rest of the research industry *combined.* Google will add another zero to that.

    Very interesting perspective Jason, thanks!

  8. I sat in on the Google webex and I had a different take. I think the tool is interesting for sure – its a smart move for Google and makes sense for publishers. But for researchers, I mean its pretty basic – 1 or 2 questions with little control over bias and a real lack of investment on the part of responents mean that it may work well as a quick poll application but I don’t see much use beyond that. I think it’s definitely a good replacement for companies currently conducting polls on Facebook, but I don’t think it can be seriously regarded as a a research tool.

    I wrote about it on my blog, if you want to check it out:

    Thanks for the great post!

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