by Joanne F. Gucwa
This is the third and final article in a three-part series based on my part of the presentation "Two Killer Apps and Their Strategic Epicenter" given in San Diego on November 5, 1998 at 20/20 Foresight, MRA's Fall Education Conference.
We explored capturing information that's already out there in the first article; last time we discussed isolating the information you need from the almost-unimaginably huge storehouse of bits, bytes and html that makes up the Internet. This final article focuses on creating new information. As we noted last time, this is not just any information, but that which results in Business Intelligence, the foundation for making good business decisions.
Reams have been written in the past year on electronic business, on how organizations must leap on board or be left forever standing on the station platform. Being the incurable optimist that I am, I do believe catch-up is always possible. But why ignore tools that allow you to leverage your time and talents to create Business Intelligence "faster, cheaper, better" than the traditional methods? 3. THERE'S AS MUCH, AND MORE, ON THE WEB AND THE INTERNET THAN MEETS THE EYE .....(AT FIRST GLANCE)
The Internet is surely changing the way people interact, and even think. For market researchers, the implications are enormous. But despite the quantity of new research options now available (and continual to emerge), the standard resources haven't disappeared, although they may have taken on new forms. I like to think of the Internet as a tripod upon which I set my investigative camera, it's three legs being:
Many of the standard secondary information resources are available on the Web: SEC filings at the Edgar database, the Thomas Register, among others. We listed these and many others in our previous article (April).
How can you use the Web to create information that you might only be able to do with great difficulty using paper-based resources? Here's an example of a process we used recently.
An organization wanted to locate companies with expertise in a particular technical area. Fortunately, they were able to provide us with one relevant patent number, along with its title and the inventors' names.
One of the very best sites for this kind of research is IBM's (yes, that IBM) patent site: http://www.patents.ibm.com/ which allows searching by key words, including Boolean, and patent number. Using the Advanced Text feature, you can specify dates, the inventor, assignee, title, attorney or agent used, class, claims, examiners, status...among others.
Since we had a patent number, that's what we used to start the search. Within seconds, we not only had the details of the filing, but also the abstract, related patent applications (with hot links), a table of U.S. reference patents (48 in all, complete with number, inventor names, date issued and title, with direct links), the notation that no patents referenced this particular one - it was just issued a few months ago- and the entirety of the first claim. A link was provided to the remaining 17 claims.
A table with references to 59 foreign patents and in the same format as the U.S. patent table appeared next, followed by a bibliography of 26 related articles appearing in various trade and professional journals.
By clicking on the one of the four IPC (International Patent Classification) Class numbers, we found 174 patent matches (with links to the patents, of course). Clicking on one of the Class numbers, we found 300 patent matches.
In less than five minutes, we were able to (1) assess the patent activity surrounding this particular technology and (2) pinpoint which countries were the most active - in this case, Japan.
In less than an hour, we were able to rapidly access all the reference patents, copying and pasting the names of large companies (size of firm was part of the requirement) into a spreadsheet, saving relevant pages on disk for future reference and printing, and e-mailing the preliminary results to the client.
Needless to say, the icing on the contract cake was in the "next steps" of the research: further investigation of the most promising strategic partner/licensing candidates to create a "short list" and then major due diligence on that list.
Well, you get the idea.. IBM's site is not alone in its capability to become a "turn-key" research site for creating new information by combining an analyzing existing data and information. Check April's article and the sidebar for additional research "finds".
[When I think back to the days of technical literature searches...boring, tedious, tiring. Sigh!]
You know that you can also use the Internet to conduct standard primary research , via e-mail and the Web: interviews, surveys, even focus groups - of customers, suppliers, prospects, employees, and others. In the first quarter of 1999, I received at least one e-mailed request each week to complete a Web-based survey "just click on the link below and your name will be entered into a drawing" for wonderful prizes, ranging from cash (up to $1,000) to a hand-held Palm Pilot. What's interesting is that the surveys can be tailored to take different routes, depending on your answers. In one case, I was "cut off" after the 4th question because I didn't fit the required demographics (but the last screen still offered a thanks and a notice that my name would still be entered into the drawing).
Plenty of excellent articles have been written and talks given on electronic (Web and e-mailed) surveys and even on-line, real-time focus groups, so I won't cover them here, except for one hint: survey your lost customers, those who defected to a competitor. Send them a brief e-mail, expressing regret that you disappointed them (the wording is important; you don't want to accuse them of making a bad decision...that'll just nail the door shut) and ask them 3 or 4 simple questions such as: what was the precipitating factor in your decision to change suppliers; were there any other issues troubling you; may we keep you informed as we improve our service?
Some other, less obvious, ways of deriving Business Information electronically from primary resources include:
We covered these in our March e-mailed newsletter. Briefly:
Product opinion. What better time to elicit opinions on your product than when it's "top of mind" at the time of purchasing or registering a product? Instead of the boring "what do you think about our product in terms of (check all that apply) price, performance, blah blah, try this. Ask the buyer to check one, giving a range of opinion options from "absolutely flawless" to "positively awful". Since they've bought, you know they won't give you the lowest mark. But they probably don't thing you're perfect either, so respondents usually check the next-to-highest rank. Now you've got them. Ask why they've marked what they did. Instant advice for your next product release.
Trade shows. What better time to get comparative (competitive) information than when people are surrounded by your own and competitor offers? Construct a mini-survey for your Web site and ask visitors to your booth to fill it out for a small give-away premium. Hint: be sure to face the monitors AWAY from the aisle so your competitors have to walk all the way around to the inside of the booth to sneak a peek. ;-)
It's the new resources that are really exciting in terms of increasing efficiency, reducing cost, and enabling us to find information that was virtually impossible before. We're part of the so-called "New Economy" of the electronic commerce age.
In our March article, we talked about deriving information from competitor Web sites. Plenty has been written on deriving important market information by evaluating visitor behavior at your own Web site...by people who do this for a living (which I don't). Here are just a couple of things we've noticed that seem not to get a lot of attention.
Guestbook. We ask people to sign our Web site's guestbook, and about 1% actually take the time to do so. It asks the usual demographic information, but the real fun (and great market information) comes from the final, "extra credit" question: "If there were one thing you could change about your organization, what would that be?" Not only do we get valuable insight into what's on people's minds (by segment, no less), but we also have a great opener if we choose to contact them as a prospective client.
Rapid testing of variables. In less time than it takes to down a cup of coffee, you can evaluate the effectiveness of rotating banner ads, find out if people are interested in (or avoiding) certain content pages or those with heavy graphics, and upload different prices to estimate pricing elasticity on different products. Fast, easy, cheap. Not so with traditional media.
As we discussed in our March article, the Web yields implicit as well as explicit information to those who know where to look for it and how to read between the lines.
Personalized information delivered to your desktop or via e-mail. I use a number of "personal pages" which I change according to my current research interests and subscribe to more than two dozen daily, weekly and other periodic e-mailed newsletters.
Yahoo and other Web "portals" let you customize the look and the information you see when you log onto the Web or browse to their sites. This is in addition to the standard searching functions we noted in our last article. "My Yahoo" for example, even lets you track your investments. All you need do is personalize your page by typing in the names and numbers of stock you own. My Yahoo also allows you to customize the headlines you see according to the subjects you select. Major customizable portal sites include:
My Yahoo: http://www.my.yahoo.com
My Netscape: http://my.netscape.com/
Let's say you're tracking how customer service measurements are moving toward improvement of customer loyalty vs. the traditional customer satisfaction evaluation. Go to several of your favorite search engines and type in the two phrases: "customer loyalty" and "customer satisfaction." How many documents have you found for each phrase? These will be both companies that are touting their capabilities and articles or white papers written by consultants and other organizations. Check every couple of weeks. Over a 2-3 month period, you should have a pretty good idea of customer service trends. Just think how much more information you'll pick up by actually reading some of the articles you find!
Track new business entries in a market by searching Yahoo or other "directory" databases in specific industrial categories, e.g. computer consultants or outdoor clothing. Since updates occur daily in most cases, you can learn very quickly which industries and markets are hot.
If you want to know what technologies are likely to be developed over the next several years, check out the technologies that interest venture capitalists (in terms of their investments). PriceWaterhouse Coopers provides an extensive break down by industry, 18 geographic locations of funded companies (further identified by state), type of financing. It's located at:
VentureOne reports on e-commerce investments by dollars invested and number of companies financed across major industries between 1995-98. The "freebie" report (others are on a fee basis) on the 4th quarter of 1999 breaks out information technology, health care, Retail & Cons./Bus Prod/Services and "other" at:
To sum up, I'd like to compare the Internet's research resources with the off-line world in terms of a dozen C's. They are, in no particular order:
- Quick (OK, so I cheated. Sounds like "C" though)
You can send dozens of e-mail with your research questions around the world, instantaneously, with the click of a mouse. Sometimes replies come back within minutes. E-mail's also a perfect way of talking with your clients. Let's them know you care and that you're on top of things. Non-intrusive, respectful of their time while it's saving yours. Good for business.
Chat areas - you can learn a whole lot about what people are thinking and can pick on trends FAST. Chats tend to reduce the anonymity of the Internet. People get to know each other, even if only by their on-line handle. The moderated, focused forums generally yield the best information.
Real-time conferencing with your clients and real-time focus groups may not be quite like being there, but the immediacy of the interaction gets everyone in a helpful mood and wanting to build on others' contributions.
Ask a question and ye shall receive a dozen thoughtful answers. Active members of discussion sites give away information that others pay thousands of dollars in consulting fees for.
Like the sidewalks of New York (or a certain bank, advertising its on-line services), the Internet never sleeps. Sleepless in Peoria? Someone in Seattle probably is awake as well (after all, it's two hours earlier there).
Geographic and political boundaries are fading fast. About three hours ago I sent a message to a London-born friend who has lived in Norway the last several decades and just now received her reply. I regularly correspond with people who live under governments radically different from our own democracy, but you'd have a hard time discerning that from the content of their messages.
Long-distance phone calls and faxes, "extremely urgent" deliveries...our costs are down about 90% from pre-Internet days.
Many bemoan the grammar, spelling, punctuation, abbreviations and emoticons (those cute sideways smiles and frowns, among dozens of facial expressions), not to mention the lack of proper salutations (whatever happened to Dear Mr. Smith?). That may be, but sloppiness is not a new phenomenon. The good news is, the commoner is just as able to correspond with the White House and titans of industry as royalty.
Does it EVER! (Have characters, that is).
Whether it's up-to-the-moment stock quotes, the latest business and promotional news releases, or the most recent buzz on who's watching what on TV, the Internet delivers.
It's new. It's experimental. It's growing. Slice, dice, mix. match and compare what's going on today with what happened yesterday. If you came up empty today, never fear; you'll think of a new resource tomorrow.
Finally, it gets down to efficiency. Time is money. To you, to your clients.
Is this an endorsement of leveraging the vastness and speed of Web and e-mail ? Wholeheartedly and emphatically YES!
But with this endorsement comes a caveat: you MUST do research multi-media. Thou shalt not rely upon any one research medium, even one as broad and diverse as the Internet. Do you recall one of the ten "Megatrends" of John Naisbitt, published 'way back in 1984? "High Tech/High Touch" which notes that because we live in a multi-media, high-tech, wired world, we've got to get mental and psychological balance in the physical, high-touch, off-line world. Translation for researchers? Sometimes you've just gotta pick up the phone and call someone...Hopefully, you won't get their voice mail.
Reprinted with permission from the Marketing Research Association, PO Box 230, Rocky Hill, CT 06067-0230, © 1999, MRA, 860-257-4008, www.mra-net.org
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