Special Report: Market Research: Smart technology gives researchers The Edge

Despite the hype surrounding concepts such as multimedia and interactivity, the effect of technological innovation, at least in the short term, will be felt more profoundly in the way traditional marketing tools are affected.One such tool is the customer survey, a...

Despite the hype surrounding concepts such as multimedia and interactivity, the effect of technological innovation, at least in the short term, will be felt more profoundly in the way traditional marketing tools are affected.

One such tool is the customer survey, a form of marketing research that new technology has made faster, cheaper, and more effective.

The Edge, a market research company based in Janetville, Ont., has used technology to improve both the speed and the cost-efficiency of such surveys, by using computers to reduce the number of steps involved in the administration and processing of customer surveys.

The secret behind The Edge’s efficiency is the software package on which Jane and Brian Jamieson, the company’s president and director of communications respectively, have chosen to base their operations.

The software, the name of which they will not reveal for competitive reasons, allows the company to operate with a speed and accuracy they say larger, more structured market research firms would find difficult to match.

The Edge’s scanning system allows the computers to retrieve data from survey forms, either faxed or on-site, by reading a series of filled-in circles that correspond to specific answers.

The scanner can also read letters printed into rows of boxes on the form, and for open-ended questions, the system has the ability to read and store handwritten notes.

Handwriting is both interpreted as text and stored as a graphic of what was actually scrawled on the page.

The fact that both versions are recorded means the entry can later be verified by a human through a brief comparision of the data.

Another strength of the system is that it allows surveys to be assigned to a specific person through a matrix code box, a particularly useful feature when the surveys are returned via fax.

‘I can assign a specific [survey form] to a specific person, and it will monitor whether that person has responded, and if not, they will be issued another questionnaire,’ says Brian.

This feature, usually exercised in business-to-business surveys, saves time by allowing the recipient to bypass the step of filling in such information as name, position, company, address and fax number, because all that information is accessible through the code box.

The faxed survey responses can also be time-coded, to allow tracking of responses over time.

At a shopping mall, conference or trade show, a portable scanner and computer can be used to collect and analyze data as it comes in.

The information is placed in a suspended database until it can be verified by Edge staff.

As an example of the savings The Edge can offer, Brian cites a scenario in which a client wants to conduct a survey involving 25,000 people throughout North America.

The costs for a traditional survey might typically include return postage, as well as the expense of having someone at the research firm open the envelope, read the survey and type the information into a database.

Based on 3,000 responses, Brian estimates the cost of such a process would be in the neighborhood of $30,000, or more than $10 a response.

With the set of tools The Edge has at its disposal, Brian says the cost of a fax survey can be reduced to under $1 per response, including the time of the person who double checks the data.

Wayne Shantz, a category manager in the frozen drinks division of Coca-Cola Foods, says he has used the services of The Edge a number of times in the last seven months.

Shantz explains that the speed with which The Edge can supply survey information was crucial to the testing of frozen orange juice products and packaging.

‘We were right in the middle of our marketing plans and this information made a huge difference in where we put our resources,’ he says.

‘Basically the minute they’re done their field research they can give me top line results right away…A more structured market research house might have taken another two to three weeks.’

As well, Shantz figures a customer survey by The Edge costs only about 60% as much as it would if it were being done using traditional methods.