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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 2, 2000. All rights
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
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
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
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
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
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
discipline, says Yoffie: Her advice:
"You will just raise expectations and disappoint your
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.
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
response than if you ask "What, if anything, do you like about
Yoffie. One way to determine how an audience will react is to fill
out the questionnaire yourself.
kind of sophisticated technology you would employ for E-commerce.
"Just as you need to control the way people move through the
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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