OPINION25 September 2017

Can ad surveys really provide all they promise?

Data analytics GDPR Opinion Privacy UK

Companies using surveys in display ads should remember the limits of these samples and who they are targeting says Crispin Beale.

Lastminute.com, the online travel and leisure retailer, recently announced the launch of its new Travel Insights tool, which will allow brands to distribute market research surveys within display ads, served on both its own and third party sites.

On the face of it, this appears to be a fantastic opportunity for companies looking for new ways to gain insights on the modern traveller, with questions placed in an online setting where the consumer is already engaged. Executed programmatically, these ad surveys will be targeted to specific audience segments, making them a potentially valuable tool for companies looking to talk to a specific demographic. 

But before brands get carried away with this new innovation, can ad surveys on popular sites really generate the accuracy and reach needed to gain useful results?

Tackling the critics

After a string of inaccurate polls over the past few years ­– most notably around election results – criticism of the industry has been fierce, and any new research technique must be accurate if the industry’s reputation is to be preserved. The impact of incorrect forecasts can be significant, not only for research agencies but also for the brands and marketers looking to gain a competitive advantage through consumer insights.

It is imperative that the market research industry proves the detractors wrong to ensure the industry maintains its position as a key partner. To achieve this, results must be based on accurate data that is not skewed to one particular consumer group, something display ad surveys are unlikely to guarantee.

Straightening the skew

We all know that in the majority of cases, research is only valuable if it is nationally representative. There is no sense in collecting data from consumers only engaging within a particular sector or interest at one time.

While more traditional market research techniques are designed to achieve national reach, online surveys typically focus on a select few websites, meaning surveys are unlikely to achieve nationally representative responses. Failing to accurately understand the views of the many, means companies could potentially be wasting vital funds on ineffective marketing tactics. If companies choose to use these tools they must understand exactly who they are targeting, and take into account the limitations of that sample.

The difficult data landscape

Yet skewed results are just one issue affecting market research. As with much of the marketing industry, the focus for brands needs to be on safety and data security, as new regulations are fitted into place. Companies considering the use of ad surveys need to scrutinise the current data landscape and evaluate how the upcoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) may impact their strategies.

Behind every bit of ‘data’ sits a real person – and a potentially valuable customer – whose views and privacy must be respected. It is essential companies remain compliant with the regulations, although there is a real danger that some data owners may chase the commercial element of this opportunity without adequately ensuring consumers have given permission for their details to be used in such a way. To help ensure that customer data is managed properly, companies should be mindful of the MRS Fair Data Provisions, which include 10 principles market research businesses need to adhere to.

As data owners look to monetise their assets, it is likely we will see more companies offering new research solutions to target consumers in a similar way to Lastminute.com. And with brands searching for new ways to connect with their audiences, it is easy to get excited by these offerings.

While display ad surveys can be useful for brands looking to connect with a specific demographic, they must be fully aware of exactly who their surveys will reach before proceeding. Sitting between the publishers and consumers there are a multitude of options available for marketers trying to engage the public and, to avoid disappointment, companies must take the time to consider whether these are as valuable as they seem. In most cases it is wiser to err on the side of caution than to jump on board with seemingly innovative methods that may in fact hinder marketing efforts. If companies do their research properly and make educated decisions they can be safe rather than sorry.

Crispin Beale is group CEO at Chime Insight & Engagement

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