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Google Consumer Surveys Unleashes G Force Change

Google Consumer Surveys just revealed the next phase of their growth plan which was to say the least, aggressive, with clear intent to own as much market share as possible.

g force


Editor’s note: It’s no secret I am a fan of Google Consumer Surveys and am on their Advisory Board, and this week everyone else should have figured out why I support them; they are very, very smart. During their GreenBook webinar “What’s Next For Google Consumer Surveys” they unveiled 3 impending changes to their model that left many of the over 1,100 registrants alternately excited or frightened, depending on whether they were client side or supplier side. Based on my review of the registrants, there were roughly as many client side registrants as suppliers, indicating the high degree of interest from both sides of the table in what Google had to say.

What did GCS reveal?  The extension of up to 10 questions, the roll out into the Android ecosystem, and the combination of both an integrated programming experience regardless of web or mobile and flat pricing for any study over 20% incidence ($1.50 to $3.50 sliding scale based on number of questions) have potentially massive implications for online survey-based research.

Here is my quick take before we get into the much deeper and more strategic view from Ellen Woods.

1. Trackers, Testing, & Conjoint done easy & cheap: With 10 questions combined with the ability to do modular surveys (10 surveys of 10 questions each, over 10,ooo respondents for instance) Google effectively just created a commodity priced model to do most any type of consumer focused tracking study, a variety of testing projects, and yes, even basic trade off studies. The methodological utility for using GCS has been expanded exponentially.

2. Sample has bottomed out: $1.50 to $3.50 per complete for 20% incidence and above. Do I need to say more? If the sample part of our business wasn’t already a commodity, it sure is now.  Why do you think virtually ever sample provider around is scrambling to reposition themselves with new product and service offerings? They see the writing on the wall.

3.  All-in-one efficiency: Program for PC or mobile at once in an incredibly easy and intuitive interface with integrated analytics and reporting.  All literally at the press of a button. All that is missing is automated report writing, and I bet that isn’t too far off.

4. Global reach coming soon: For now the GCS PC and mobile solutions are limited to US, Canada & the UK. After that will be in every other English speaking country and then will come the rest of the world. It’s just an issue of translations. By this time next year it is likely that GCS will be a truly global solution.

5. Single source & Big Data: With the shift into mobile, no more inferred demographics. They KNOW who each and every Android user is. Since it’s an App integrated into the Play marketplace, they also (likely but not confirmed) will have access to virtually every other type of data available on phone usage. Imagine targeting by app usage or type combined with geolocation. The ability to precisely target and engage respondents globally is simply staggering, and no one else (not even carriers or Apple) can do the same.

The bottom line? Combine this with all of the other info coming out about companies like Axciom, Twitter, IBM, etc… launching a variety of competitive approaches to traditional MR and it certainly paints the picture that he industry isn’t just changing IT HAS CHANGED ALREADY; all that is left to see is how that change will shake out. Beyond any doubt if you are on the supplier side and make most of your money via online surveys (especially trackers) then it’s time to rethink your business model, especially revenue streams. I simply don’t think the existing model will be sustainable for much longer, although on the flipside you can start using GCS or other comparable solutions for your field work (like Harris Interactive has done). It’s time to embrace other emerging approaches and move upstream.

To view a recording of the webinar yourself use this link:

Here is Ellen’s take on the Google webinar.


By Ellen Woods

There’s no question that Google’s role as an ISP has provided them a unique view of digital communication and that they are the iconic company of the last two decades. Within the business world, only IBM and SAS could claim a similar impact, and their market dominances were much slower to take form. Google, who arguably has access to the world’s largest capture of data, has escalated their pathway to success by using proprietary data to underpin a time honored business formula defined by:  calculated risks, supporting each product entry with incremental revenue, and focusing on sales of their products.

In March of 2012 Google announced that they were entering the market research arena with a program that was fast, easy, and affordable. There’s no question that Google understands the power of the data they collect and the mindset of consumers. Following their basic formula, they first introduced the process through a vendor to test viability in a low profile effort, and a few months later in 2012 introduced an internally supported, branded “slice” of their capabilities to watch market reaction.  Since they don’t make a market entry without thoroughly researching the viability of a product or service, it was clear that this “trial” was to identify the path of highest profitability before they made a full market entry. When they do strike, it is with G Force change.

In the webinar they hosted on September 25th, they introduced their next steps, which were to say the least, aggressive, with clear intent to own as much market share as possible. Their webinar had one of the largest attendances of any webinar in recent memory and there was a general sense that their plans were well thought out.

Google understands the mobile space very well and they have prepared for capitalization of it much longer than most organizations. They understand mobile limitations and have a very strong plan for the mechanics of data collection across a platform that is rapidly replacing more traditional devices. They also are driving a more visual approach to surveys which newer Smart Phones support well, and which are easier to view and more entertaining than traditional grid surveys.

The real difference though is that they aren’t encumbered with the weight of techniques or tired sample; they focus on meeting the clients’ needs, not on techniques that differentiate themselves from other vendors. They are playing an end game where sales drive the process. As they move into a more full service approach, they will encounter some of the barriers associated with traditional research, but it will be different for them because Meta data is a part of their DNA and their access to sample allows them to simplify processes back to the days of RDD measurements. True, it isn’t census based, but that doesn’t really matter anymore because there are no true block aggregates. They may struggle a bit with stratified quota maps but so do traditional vendors and in fact, they probably have a better chance of hitting low incidence sample than most panels.

Much of their staff also comes from more traditional backgrounds, so they have monetized methods to avoid scope creep and other issues that often sink the profitability of projects. They are providing options that let the buyer decide how much risk they want to take up front. The transparency has to be refreshing to many research buyers who are weary of the back and forth that occurs internally and externally.

Google also monetizes both the research process and the respondent because their incentives generate advertising revenue that is then apportioned back to them. They have very little risk and it’s only a tiny fraction of their business model, so there is no real downside, and their profitability model will generate positive revenue almost from the start. It works great as long as they can maintain response rates, which will be a factor at some point. Once the dust settles though, they are likely to find that their average projects remain relatively small and that the profitability will be in volume sales, where they sell blocks of studies or questions.

Yesterday’s webinar likely left many researchers with a lot of questions about what the future holds for traditional research. They are right to be worried. The industry has been heading for a showdown for quite a long while and may have finally arrived at the OK Corral. However the Google offering plays out, successful or not, the industry will be impacted. Research has already moved toward a more internal and strategic function in many organizations and unless a firm provides value through insights, they are likely to find client relationships eroding. It doesn’t help that many have gone back to seller doer models where the focus is on the project value not the client. While there is still value in statistical research, the days of large trackers and giant market studies that tethered clients are quickly moving into the past. Sampling and speed are culprits, but the biggest change is with Smart Phone usage. It’s also fair to say that many consumers and businesses aren’t really sure of the relevance or value of quantitative research. Fortunately, that’s not the case with more qualitative insights such as communities, ideation, innovation and product research. VOC is still also an important component but is becoming a component of community research, while satisfaction if finding greater relevance in IVR and point of sale collection.

The real lesson here is not about what Google has done or will do but what the market research industry hasn’t done. It’s clear that focusing internally isn’t driving the dollars and probably fair to say that clients care more about the quality and the timely delivery than the process. Pinpoint sample may not be a strong suite of Google (at least not yet) but there is a trust that the sample is viable and the collection process is simple and quick and cheap. It validates their qualitative findings and it can be fed into their dashboard data to inform the larger picture. It’s about listening and getting answers that sell products and services… and that is sales 101 or in this case, the key to survival.

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18 responses to “Google Consumer Surveys Unleashes G Force Change

  1. Yes, Google is an ISP – but only in Kansas City, for now. 🙂

    Thanks for an excellent analysis of the potential impact of GCS on traditional MR models. One potential future road block could be the move towards a more equitable incentive model. A great read.

  2. Most reactions I hear from MR peeps is fear. However, it’s not all bad news for MR industry. In my opinion, this is the best thing that could happen for MR in a long time!

    For decades, MR Industry has had a low awareness problem, a boring-to-the-bone problem, and an over-complicated-pseudo-scientist problem (to name just few). As a result, many potential clients shy away from MR because of it.

    Google Consumer Surveys bring research back on the headlines and into minds of millions of small & medium size companies. Once those guys get a flavour of GCS, they would need some qual analyses, communities etc. This is a huge chance for the rest of us.

  3. When GCS originally launched, I warned readers to avoid being the frogs in slowly boiling water. The water has now started to boil. And yet it is not as if Google has been secretive about its plans. In an interview I did with Paul MacDonald for Research World shortly after the launch, he explicitly said that GCS had been designed from the get-go for mobile platforms and that the PC launch was a test bed. He was also not shy about sharing their international expansion plans.

    Lenny is right: business models will have to change because the industry has changed – irreversibly. Whether we like it or not, we are now living in a world where the definition of research, insights and analytics has mutated to a point where data itself is almost free, the kinds of data available numerous and diverse, and the quantity of data immense. No-one building their business model on the collection of data – especially survey data – will be immune from significant pressure going forward. It is only if we see this as an opportunity and embrace all the new disciplines as being part of OUR industry that we will thrive.

    The train has left the station – are you on it? Or are you a frog?

  4. I don’t understand why anyone would think that what they are building on the mobile side is anything but a multi-country mobile panel. With all the biases of a traditional panel and a few more of their own (Android only, limited to countries where Google sells paid apps – China is not on their list). When you don’t have representation in the largest country on earth you can’t call yourself “truly global”. When you create an app that recruits people to join a database of people who get incented to share their opinions, you replicate what everyone else in research calls mobile panels.

    I just finished a blog on the topic that will be out tomorrow… I’ll have the link posted.

    1. Fair point Grant, although I think a panel is a bit of an oversimplification; at the very least it would be the world’s largest single source network. Agreed China may be an issue as well. As another company that is doing micro polling at global scale I think you would agree that the model that both RIWI and Google (as well as Civic Science and a few others) are pioneering is transformational for the industry.

  5. SurveyMonkey should be worried too – if Google makes their survey engine useable outside of their network by customers (why wouldn’t they? Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Maps etc etc), then SurveyMonkey and tools like it will have another (stronger?) competitor with access to a larger/cheaper sample.

  6. Google is great, Google is good. We all know that. But if you’re a heavy user of Google products you also know they are fallible, and that often product development and enhancement gets dropped in favor of the latest cool thing, this week’s technological BFF. Hello, GCS as king of the world!!! Remember Google Voice? Remember how awesome that was? I jumped on the bandwagon, and converted my phones to the Google Voice system. Well, this morning, before I even read this post, I decided to drop Voice. It’s unreliable and because of that, useless. Google Music? I can’t use it on my Android phone, it crashes it every time. It’s a Galaxy S3, not some also-ran piece of junk. I’ve loaded over 10,000 songs onto the system and now I have to find somewhere else to put them so I can actually listen to my music. Chrome? Again, crashes my computer and my phone constantly. Should we mention Plus or any of Google’s other attempts to own the social media market? How many other Google products are there that have been left behind in favor of a new best friend? Google has become a company with a serious case of attention deficit disorder, and the customer is not its focus anymore. How long before Google burns the survey market for another option? It’s a somewhat different strategy than Microsoft had 15 years ago, but it has the same effect. Destroy the competition but leave the marketplace as a desert, void of quality offerings because you’ve either bought them off or killed them.
    John Mitchell – you can try me on 973-937-8474 but you probably won’t reach me. Try 973-967-0032 instead…

    1. Fair enough points John, and who knows what the future will hold although my suspicion is that they are getting more focused and building a deeply integrated platform of core and complementary functions. Since GCS is fundamentally an effort to build revenue for publishers (and it is working) I suspect it will be here to stay. But, who know’s? BTW, I use a Samsung Galaxy Note and don’t have any of those issues; I use the hell out of Chrome and Google Music (LOVE IT!); maybe it’s a bum device?

  7. Provocative. This is what Google does best. I’m excited about these enhancements as I’ve been mulling over how to best use the single question tool. It reminds me of the shift from mainframes to distributed computing, or PCs. Yes, I remember it. I remember all of the objections but for the life of me cannot remember the name of a mainframe computing company. Let’s not get caught in that boat. Embrace change, ride the waves, be fearless.

  8. I would agree with Lenny as they seem to have invested in the survey idea over a long period of beta testing that optimized where they want to go with their tools. BTW, I have a Galaxy S4, Galaxy Tab, Samsung laptop and use chrome for everything. I haven’t had any issues other than with sites that require Internet Explorer. There is a tendency with Samsung to try and integrate devices, so there may be an issue with redundancy loading (I linked Outlook with my other email and had a problem with an app that also carried the email across all my devices). It tends to suck up memory and that may be why you crash.

  9. Mike,

    I understand your sentiment that access panels need to be replaced, but I’m confused by you seeing GCS mobile product as an alternative. How is this NOT a mobile access panel? As someone who accessed this article using Google Chrome and got updates of this conversation via Gmail and is a huge fan of Google’s Android platform, I have no doubt that this will be the worlds largest, most game-changing mobile panel in the marketplace.

    Here is a pretty good definition of an access panel that I just ‘Googled’…

    Access Panel. A database of consumers who have agreed to take part in surveys. Typically, these consumers register and share information about their households; this information will be used in sample selection.

    What about their methodology suggest they are not an access panel? Their US/UK/Canada GCS platform that does surveys with a pay wall inducement is completely different and is not a panel in any form, but this, is a panel.

    Lenny – regarding “world’s largest single source network” – I completely agree that it will be and with Google’s drive for innovation, I imagine this is only the start. However, If I can make an analogy, calling a Ferrari a car is an oversimplification but saying that a Ferrari isn’t a car is denying its fundamental nature.

  10. When online research first came along most researchers saw the low price and speed of turnaround to be so appealing that it was either get with the program or get run over. The experience with Online and Access Panels from an honest insider perspective has been for clients to fall in adulation before the low price fast turnaround model and for suppliers to turn a blind eye to what are serious methodological and quality concerns about panels. I could go on about that for hours. Yes I turned a blind eye too, but I sure as hell know crap when I see it. Now the Google thing is a whole other ball game. The offer of fresh samples at low cost is just a major game changer and everyone is going to be impacted. The good news is hopefully the DIY market will die a death. Perhaps it will see the return of real professionals who can actually write a ten question questionnaire. This process will not stop at 10 questions. Google will develop huge opt-in panels at some point. This time around there will be no questions about panel quality or representation. I can hardly wait until this rolls out to Asia and beyond ten questions. All you professional out there holster up because this will potentially drive the dross out of the industry. And please can we stop with the gratuitous comments about what MR hasn’t done. I have heard this for many years. Get your head around it. We cannot be all things in the research sphere. Big data, brand consultancy were never going to be the areas where MR had a role even though we know how to do it. These are picked off by professional consulting firms who specialize, talk the talk and enter at C-Suite levels. Well done Google I can hardly wait to represent you in Asia!!!

  11. This is laughable. I don’t know where to start!

    “The real lesson here is not about what Google has done or will do but what the market research industry hasn’t done. It’s clear that focusing internally isn’t driving the dollars and probably fair to say that clients care more about the quality and the timely delivery than the process”.

  12. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I think Google is a force to be reckoned with when they decide to enter a particular marketplace, but as another poster pointed out, they also tend to have a short attention span. At the moment it seems like every sample provider is in a mad rush to build up their database of respondents as quickly as possible. This is where Google has an interesting advantage over the competition. I’m excited to see how this all plays out.

  13. @chris – I’m not sure if you are suggesting that MR should just keep doing what we always have done or whether your point is that sample is a critical and main issue or both. Whether you’re a fan of panels or not (and clearly you are not) the issue is in response rate,s and panels only improve those. I wouldn’t look to Google to be a game changer but more of a short term reliever. Mass marketing started to falter when big box stores took away ground level contact between people and products. Marketing has always defined their role as bringing the horse to the trough, not making him drink. Mobility and global diversity have changed the way business is done. Even if you can execute 20 minute studies and have them fulfilled to exact sample specifications, it’s still statistical research on past behaviors in the face of hard data that is often presented in real time. Senior manager have a preference. Google will be successful and they definitely have a seat at the table, but it’s not going to shift the momentum and return MR to a definitive source. If you do the same thing over and over expecting a different result, you will likely be <>. Not exactly the quote but I respect my fellow humans too much to term their comments “laughable” or otherwise.

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