Online research: questions that need answers
Advertising clients who use media to communicate their advertising messages expect – entirely justifiably – some evidence to show that their efforts are worthwhile. And this evidence has to be based on reliable research data. Traditional media have never been able to meet this requirement in full. Despite all the work that has been done, the number of questions has usually remained greater than the number of answers.
At first glance, digital media would appear to be in a much stronger position. Because technology allows us to measure every type of internet usage, and because there is such a wide range of opportunities for online recruitment and surveying, a whole online research industry has developed in a relatively short time.
Researchers are now producing answers to all manner of questions, and are doing so at a high tempo. Thanks to the possibilities of the web, they can also get these results to the groups that need them, wherever they are in the world, in pretty much real-time.
However, closer inspection shows that this over-production is not always an entirely welcome thing for advertising clients. Looked at as a whole, the new abundance of answers turns out to be anything but consistent. In fact it can be downright contradictory, again throwing up as many new questions as answers.
Can quality keep pace?
First, whether the quality of output can keep pace with the sheer quantity is a matter of great interest. There is some uneasiness about the fact that digital media research has so far been driven mainly by new technological processes of data accumulation and aggregation, while efforts to create theoretical foundations and comply with established methodological standards have taken a back seat.
Is independence guaranteed?
Secondly, it is still unclear to what extent the new research industry can guarantee its independence from the vested interests of specific market players.
What about comparability?
The third main question is which of the research outcomes actually provides a fair comparison of the effectiveness of advertising across different media.
Until this question is answered, mistrust of online research will increase, and the digital sphere will lose one of its most important trump cards.