The online sample industry started as an alternative to telephone sample, a high cost sample involving manual labor from the creation of the actual RDD sample to the execution of the survey utilizing interviewers.
When the transition to online first happened, clients were happy to pay a reduced cost for online sample as it was saving a considerable amount of money in comparison to phone sample.
But as telephone sample use continues to fade away, online sample is rapidly becoming commoditized with the increase in accessibility, ranging from river sample to in app recruitment, and everything in between.
And like all things digital, the race towards free is inevitable.
Online sampler providers like SurveyMonkey, Google Surveys, and Bing Pulse, whose sample was once considered unprofessional or low quality by professional market researchers, are increasing in popularity because of their low cost. These companies are slowly but surely becoming more widely accepted by purchasers of market research as the lines between consumer-facing market research and traditional MR providers continue to blur.
So how do sample providers make money in the future if sample is free?
Well, there are several business models one can apply to the free economy such as; freemium - give away certain sample and have clients pay for premium sample or charging for another related service (platform).
But a more innovative way to survive in a free economy is to look for scarcity. ThinkNow Research, for example, has identified an obvious void of high quality Spanish-dominant Hispanic sample. I am qualifying Spanish-dominant because Hispanic sample has been commoditized as English-dominant. And while Hispanics are part of every major online panel, large companies have yet to successfully crack the code for providing high-quality Spanish-dominant Hispanic sample.
Why is this important? Because recruiting and maintaining Spanish-dominant Hispanic respondents on an online panel takes a completely different approach than English-dominant Hispanics or General Market panels for that matter. There are differences that have to be taken into account. At ThinkNow, we looked for the opportunity scarcity presented and used it deliver solutions to the marketplace.
Another scarcity in the sample marketplace would be high-quality, invite-only sample. This is something the free model has yet to be able to offer for close to free. It is incredibly expensive and typically out of reach for most private companies making it best suited for government agencies.
So where does that leave those companies not offering Ethnic specific sample or invite-only panels?
Hopefully down the road to acceptance. Coming to terms with the fact that the inevitable evolution for sample is free is a good starting point. The days of buying a URL, getting a pool of respondents and putting up a shingle for an online sample business is over. Extreme differentiation will be the name of the game barring a game changing technological advancement in the sample world.
And don’t forget customer experience. There will be a segment of the population that prefers paying more for a pleasant experience over low price.
But for now, let’s enjoy the commoditization of the sample world while keeping our eyes open for a business model that will allow free to exist while allowing for monetization through other related avenues.