The world of market research is undergoing a rapid transformation as a result of online survey technology. But marketers need to make sure that they are providing a survey experience in line with consumers’ increased expectations.

It will be clear to anyone who reads our recently published 2007 Online Surveys and Research Buyer’s Guide that there are now unprecedented opportunities for companies to gain insight from their customers via the internet. To quote from our report:

“The beauty of online research methodologies is that they have given many companies a more accessible way of understanding what their customers think of them.

“Information from customers is more easily digestible and cheaper to gather, whether for the purposes of strategic decision-making or for tactical changes resulting from specific nuggets of customer feedback.”

Online research tools are increasingly being used as part of the research process. According to Esomar, online accounted for 20% of global data-collection expenditure in 2006, up from 9% in 2005.

Consumers are much more familiar with the internet and the consequence is that companies have a convenient means of getting representative information via an online sample.

However, marketers need to be careful to ensure that they are providing an engaging experience which reflects well on their brands.

Tim Macer, an independent commentator on market research tools, said:

“At a time when companies are experiencing declining response rates, there are good research arguments for making online surveys more compelling,”

“Respondents need to feel that a certain degree of effort has been made in putting a survey together, especially when there is so much online which is visually impressive competing for their attention.”

Organisations are now understanding that in the world of Web 2.0 there needs to be a different way of engaging customers. David Jackson, founder of Clicktools, has previously written on this blog about the notion of customers as active participants in a dialogue (something which is central to the world of “Customer Management 2.0”).

On a similar theme, Graeme Lawrence, business development director at Virtual Surveys, says in a DM Weekly article published last week that consumers will increasingly reject “the traditional command and control approach to research, transferred from offline to online approaches”.

This is very true. Marketers must recognise that there are major ramifications for their brands if they do not present their research in the most appropriate and engaging way.

At the same time, the principles of best practice market research must not be forgotten just because it is now easier for in-house teams to set up a survey to get customer feedback. Whatever the methodology or channel, the emphasis must be on generating actionable insights rather than collecting interesting but potentially useless data.

There is plenty of discussion about market trends, tips and pitfalls in our buyer’s guide, plus 18 profiles of leading online survey tools and market research agencies.