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Market Research On the Web: Amy Yoffie

If you’re looking for a little slice of America, look

no further than the Web. America is online, and that’s where market

research should be as well, says Amy Yoffie of Research

Connections,

an online market research firm in Westfield. "The Web is beginning

to look more and more like everything else — it’s not just geeks

and techno-freaks anymore, it’s the regular consumer," she says.

A dotcom business can spend loads of money on banner ads and online

promotions, but a small investment in market research can give a firm

more direction, says Yoffie, who speaks Tuesday, February 8, at the

DeVry Institute at 630 Route 1 North in New Brunswick at 8 a.m. Her

seminar, entitled "E-Success: A Case Study in Starting, Growing,

and Selling an Online Business," is sponsored by Technology New

Jersey. Call 609-419-4444. Cost: $30.

Traditional modes of market research, such as the telephone survey,

are fading into obscurity just as online research is fueled by greater

technology and a more receptive audience, says Yoffie. "If your

customers are online you’ve got to be there one way or another,"

she says. "I think people are more receptive to market research

online because they can do it when they want to do it, and they also

have time to consider their answers more. If you have a question

that’s

open-ended, they can write a lot and it’s fun. Most of the time when

we finish a survey, people want to know how to do another one."

A native of Newton, Massachusetts, Yoffie earned a BA at Brandeis

and an MBA at the University of Missouri. In 1986, after moving to

New Jersey, Yoffie began selling PC-based market research tools

produced

by Analytical Computers (now Analytical Group), and developed her

own early vision of the Internet using an electronic bulletin board

to transport research data from survey sites in malls and telephone

centers. That was when she realized that the technology fascinated

her the most. "It challenged us to make it easier for people to

go through the surveys and easier for us to collect the data on the

backend." In 1994 Yoffie bought out the East Coast division of

Analytical Computers, and set to work on developing technology-based

market research even further.

Although she had the tools, finding the people to engage in the

research

presented a challenge. Buying opt-in mailing lists and E-mail lists

became too expensive and also unreliable. "The challenge became

how could I find people," she says. "I decided that I was

going to have to raise capital, at least at $1 million, to buy these

panels." Then last year Yoffie cut a deal with Talk City, an

online

community of nearly 4 million registered users. It was the perfect

symbiotic relationship. "They have about 24,000 unique visitors

coming there to chat any day," she says, "and they needed

a market research division."

But effective market research online is more than just the sum of

the Web and its users — you have to have traditional market

research

discipline, says Yoffie: Her advice:

Don’t ask about something that you can’t do anything

about.

"You will just raise expectations and disappoint your

customers,"

she says. Avoid asking your panel what your next great product or

service would be, and focus on what their current frustrations and

problems are. The results will tell you what to offer next.

Avoid bias in your questionnaires. It’s easy to set up

your surveys to get the answer that you want. For example, if you

ask "What do you like about Product X?" you will get a

different

response than if you ask "What, if anything, do you like about

Product X?"

Keep questionnaires short. Less is actually more, says

Yoffie. One way to determine how an audience will react is to fill

out the questionnaire yourself.

Use sophisticated technology to create surveys, the same

kind of sophisticated technology you would employ for E-commerce.

"Just as you need to control the way people move through the

purchase

process," says Yoffie, "you need to control how they move

through your survey. Otherwise, they’ll answer questions that they’re

supposed to skip, and skip the questions they are supposed to answer.

Or they’ll look ahead to see what’s coming and tailor their answers

accordingly. The results will be lots of useless data."

— Melinda Sherwood


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