OPINION29 May 2012

All hail Google, our new digital overlords


Culture of Insight managing director James Smythe on why the launch of Google Consumer Surveys is good news for the research business.

What the… You have ten seconds to explain yourself.
Google makes money by making inefficient businesses better. They sweep aside stuff that’s not done well, but good stuff continues to thrive. Google Consumer Surveys will grow the market research business, contribute to our understanding of consumer behaviour, and improve the standard of research as a whole.

Improve the standard of market research? Have you even read the white paper?
OK, their methodology tramples all over what we’d call best practice. Respondents are ascribed a profile which, if you know about digital ad targeting, you’ll know is not vastly better than random. Respondents being stopped at the entrance to a publisher’s site is hardly random digital location either. And their validation exercise disguises the problem that Consumer Surveys is really interviewing “any household member” by using household media technology as its benchmark.

But Google will learn and improve. They want to do good research like they do good search marketing because it will make them money. They thrive only when their customers make a measurable return. How many of us in traditional research can really say the same?

But won’t this take money away from traditional research?
If research businesses can learn from some of the things Google does well, we’ll actually grow the market. Google’s search business and YouTube haven’t damaged TV advertising, which has out-performed the market even in recession. However, they have taken direct marketing out of our letterboxes and traditional media and put it onto our screens, improving on cost, return on investment and consumer-unfriendly response mechanisms.

Like it did for direct marketing, Google will make consumer research accessible for the first time to a massive number of SMEs. They will also improve on what the current crop of DIY providers can offer by providing sample.

Google are openly targeting online panels with this product, but I believe these companies can keep the trained researcher on-side with arguments focused on sample quality. But the real risk to panels and our big syndicated products is Google’s ability to learn from thousands of surveys to effectively predict intentions and behaviours, and build tools that deliver instant, credible insight.

Hang on, are you saying that Google will own all the Consumer Surveys data?
It’s not spelt out on the site, but it’s pretty clear from the first page of Google’s new – and contentious – terms and conditions that: “When you submit content to our services, you give Google… a worldwide license to use… and distribute such content… for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our services, and to develop new ones.”

The outcome might look something like a hybrid of TGI, Dunnhumby and Experian all rolled into one essential resource for marketers, and 100% owned by Google.

I thought you said there were some positives for market research?
Yes, I think Google’s approach to a painless, user-friendly and positive outcome is something we must work hard to copy. Having online booking for research projects doesn’t commoditise the market, but failing to explain the value of experienced researchers who can oversee the study does.

Similarly, while most big agencies claim to offer dashboards and infographics these days, the average is miles short of the quality of what Consumer Surveys is offering, and our core output is still tabs, reports and presentations.

Whether Google Consumer Surveys will be a disaster for traditional market research businesses depends largely on us. The customer’s instinct will be to embrace simpler and more efficient methods. We can’t train them all to be more thoughtful about research. But if we can merge some of that Google magic with our own quality and effectiveness, people will pay for it.


12 years ago

Bravo - I think you hit the nail square on the head. Google is starting small and keeping it simple - but, with an eye to offering real value to the 3 core constituents - Publishers, Respondents and End Clients (or those looking for insights). The are committed to progressive improvement and will get there. The lack of industry progress towards addressing this issue - providing a truly better experience for the 3 constituents gives Google a terrific opportunity to disrupt an industry that is ripe for disruption. The ball is in our court.

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12 years ago

Google isn't really our digital overlord - Facebook seems more of that. Look at how much effort Google is putting into promoting Google+ to try and capture that market. I think that the idea of getting this structured data is what is so appealing to Google and why they're putting so many resources behind Google+. Without access to structured social data, Google can't continue to refine their search experience further. With access to this social data, Facebook has a legitimate shot of competing in search by using this social data to fuel their search experience. Facebook has captured the attention of the popular culture in addition to businesses: look at how many active users Facebook has, look at how many big brands are promoting their Facebook pages in their TV commercials, look at how many companies their are at http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com that do nothing other than promote Facebook pages...Facebook is really on the right track here even if they deserve a bit of criticism over some of their features. I think that the reason that Facebook is undervalued over the long-term is that they have the potential to dominate search, ecommerce, and other major fields. But this market is so big and valuable that I think there's room for other players to get involved here and take some risks and chances that big companies like Facebook and Google won't take so more companies will ultimately emerge.

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