First Sit Back and Observe Women Online
Just as the content and style of the most popular women's magazines are good beginning points for off-line research, so are the content and style of the Web sites most popular with women for online research. Whether it's DailyCandy.com for the scoop on what's hip and happening in big cities like New York and Los Angeles; a site like Tickle (at web. tickle .com) that feeds their entertainment needs; or a site that simply serves their buying needs well, like Amazon.com, there's plenty to learn about what attracts women online and keeps them there.
Using the Internet for prelistening makes it much easier to build the foundation for more detailed research. What's available online, to even a passive observer, can deliver a fairly thorough profile of your marketplace before you even start to develop your own online survey. This preparation will save you time and money to devote to the expensive, fine-tuning that will go on later in your research process.
A few passive online research tactics include:
Pattern observation. What "floats up" when you examine where women are flocking online? What do they do once there? Which tools are they using? What pages seem to be most popular? Do you notice a passionate and active feedback section? What patterns can you discern through casual observation? If there is a message board or chat area, are women using it, and, if so, what are they talking about? What seems to get them riled up, and on what days and about which topics is there a flurry of activity? What is missing from the sites women frequent? Are there fewer pop-ads or banners?
Content, color and design review. Take a look at the top ten sites your women-of-interest are visiting (include industries unrelated to yours) to see what other companies have already discovered about marketing to women.
When you identify the online focal points that seem to resonate most with women like those in your own marketwhether those points involve product selection, e-commerce technology or copy style (among many other things)you'll have gained clues to better serving your own customers. It is not hard science by any means; but this preliminary awareness-building research prepares you for getting the scoop directly from your women customers via online quizzes and surveys.
Then Ask and You Shall See (Through Their Eyes)
Thanks to the Internet, surveying and polling have gotten much simpler, and the ability to process and use the data more sophisticated. Because of the growth of the online marketing industry and the ease of online participation, people have become much more comfortable taking surveys and sharing their thoughts.
Let's start right off by admitting that online polling methods are far from perfect. Their anonymity can be great for the consumer participant, but how do we know that the respondent is really a thirty-five-year-old mother of two? And, when you are not interviewing face-to-face or on the phone, you lose important visual or vocal cues, like facial expressions and body language or pauses and clipped tones. We just have to take these limitations and variables into consideration as we evaluate the information we gather online.
In general, the Internet's anonymity means survey or quiz participants likely feel more comfortable answering personal and profiling questions. And, they'll be more likely to respond honestly too. The Internet also makes it comfortable for a consumer to participate, because she can decide when to take the time to answer the questions (which may mean at midnight).
QUIZZES AND POLLS
Online quizzes and polls are more likely to be lighter in tone and are meant to gather more wide- ranging consumer lifestyle information than more formal research surveys ”prompting women to participate more for the fun experience. Women may well not even need an incentive or a prize to feel motivated to participate. Rather, it's all about whether they feel they are discovering something about themselves while they answer the questions.
Furthermore, the self-discovery quiz stimulates women's sharing and comparing that can expand the number of participants and the information you learn in a viral way. The idea is that once you learn about yourself by taking the quiz and seeing the results, you may be more inclined to share revealing information with friends and get them inspired as well.
Tickle.com offers the best examples we've seen of fun self-discovery quizzes. The capability to share and compare with friends is an attractive option that gets quiz takers returning to the site again and again. With fluff tests (like "Who's your celebrity crush?") to Ph.D.-certified quizzes (like "What's your career personality?"), Tickle.com has transformed self-discovery into an enjoyable and satisfying pastime. Even though it may be geared toward a more Gen X or Gen Y audience, there was inherent value and fun in taking the quiz even for those of us who were older. (Just finding out that our personalities matched our dogs' was all the reward we needed.)
The RealAge.com test is another online quiz that delivers value to participants, especially women focused on their health. We have found this test unbelievably compelling ourselves , and know that many other women feel the same way: The patented private, free test provides your RealAge, your body's biological age based on how well you've maintained it and your personal lifestyle. The test also indicates your age reduction benefits (what you are doing right) and makes age reduction recommendations (a personalized three month plan of what you can do to be younger , including appropriate lifestyle changes and a personalized nutrition analysis to improve your diet).
There's the benefit of increased health awareness and education from participating in the RealAge test, for certain. But, there can also be a sense of pride in finding out that your biological age may be 50, while your RealAge is only 42! (Should we pause here while you go online to take the quiz?)
The incentive for a RealAge test taker, beyond the great reports and advice at the end of the test, is that all along the course of the fairly lengthy survey you watch your age being recalculated: getting pushed up or knocked down by a few years. So, if you check the box that says you've moved in the past year, look out, you've just added a few years to your RealAge, and you learn that even before you advance to the next screen of questions. It can almost feel like a game.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of online quizzes or full surveys like RealAge's, are polls ”one- or two-question quick-hit surveys that usually automatically recalculate to give you the sense that the brand is right there listening. Seeing how your answer compared to others' is fun as well. The questions in a poll may be straightforward, if not simply "yes" or "no," but they still offer entertainment value to the participant while they deliver data to the brand.
The weekly poll on StartSampling.com (see more about them below) is an example of how these polls work. The day we tried the poll the question was, what was the last thing you baked? Our answer, cookies, was the most popular response at that moment in time. Major news? No. Quirky bit of entertainment that helped us compare ourselves to others? Yes. Finally, was that poll a way for the site to collect general profiling information about its visitors ? Indeed.
FEEDBACK AND PROMOTIONS
Feedback should be considered unsolicited nuggets of knowledge with twofold value: (1) You get insights directly from your customers who kindly volunteer their time to share their thoughts. (2) Your customers greatly appreciate being provided a way to submit their comments, especially if you make it clear that their input will be taken seriously. Feedback usually takes no other incentive to generate. Most people, especially women, will gladly share both the positives and the negatives , all of which are ultimately helpful for your brand's further development.
Sampling or sweepstakes offers can help begin a customer-brand connection by literally rewarding participants rather than only delivering value. StartSampling.com, for example, founded in 1998 in a suburb near Chicago, is a marketing and promotions company that has established itself as the leading online sampling company by linking brands with consumers. By offering samples of products from Nesquick Very Vanilla, Folgers and Worth magazine, StartSampling describes its service as "your ˜voice' conduit to manufacturers," and encourages members to be candid with their opinions .
StartSampling claims it can target consumers efficiently because its shoppers and members give demographic information at registration that helps it tailor the offers they'll see on-screen. Then, a limited number of samples are offered on-screen during specific parts of the day, targeted by demographics and geography. Shoppers get samples first come, first serve, and the limited supply keeps people coming back for more: They want to be one of the first one thousand to get whatever is being given away free.
Some of the most successful tactics StartSampling has used to gather new names over time have been contests that encourage referrals. With "frequent-tryer" mile awards as prizes, StartSampling enhances the goodwill and on-site interactions. For example, someone may need to refer a few more people to get that extra number of "tryer" miles to earn the prize; so they'll keep referring. Some of the favorite gifts members have acquired through their accumulated "miles" include a Bell + Howell 35mm camera and a Home Depot 1-2-3 home improvement guide. Contests interest new members first, and then the rewards help customers realize that their feedback is indeed valued by the brands represented by StartSampling, a company that is practically a marketing-to-women best practices case study.
E-MAIL ADVISORY BOARDS
For those companies that have already compiled a database of interested consumers, there is incredible worth in continuing the conversation and maintaining that positive bond. To build an e-mail advisory board you might draw from female consumers who have participated in the course of your research, or you can invite those already actively posting feedback on your Web site. No matter how you collect these angels of insight, they can provide a wealth of information as an online advisory board.
Many customers value becoming regular "consumer advisors," perceiving and greatly appreciating the company's interest in their opinions. However, they also like feeling in-the-know, especially for the brands they love. Even though you may have paid them initially to participate in a focus group , the women who actively give you their feedback will likely continue the relationship with your brand with no further incentive. They like being heard .
Just Ask a Woman, the marketing consultancy headed by Mary Lou Quinlan, started a powerful e-mail research network they named the "Just Ask a Woman Collective," which evolved organically. Because they had met and felt valued by Quinlan in the course of her talk-show-style research and personal interviews, these same women were inspired to continue the conversation online. To express their respect for these continuing online participants, Just Ask a Woman ensures that no names will be sold and reminds participants that they can opt out of the network at any point.
While most companies do conduct research by talking directly with their customers, possibly in focus groups and sometimes on the street or on the phone, that's usually the end of the connection with any particular customer. The process of listening to your customers should be ongoing , not just a one-time affair. Once you've engaged a woman enough to gain her insights, she'll feel more like a part of the marketing team and naturally stay aware of your brand from then on. You'd be remiss if you let a resource like that fade into the sunset. So, build and nurture those (informal or formal) consumer advisory boards.
Generally used to gather specific product or brand feedback, as opposed to overall consumer lifestyle insights, traditional surveys may be a hard draw for women consumers: Surveys are less fun than quizzes or focus groups held in a day spa, for example. By reputation a survey doesn't deliver value or fun to the participant (except for examples like the RealAge test we mentioned above). Unless there is a prior connection or reward for participating, it will be very difficult to engage women to take lengthy surveys.
That said, online survey firms like SurveyMonkey.com and Zoomerang.com have raised the bar for do-it-yourself surveys (for Fortune 500 and small businesses and nonprofits), by providing powerful software and educating marketers on how to develop questions and control survey flow, among other things. Using their services, a marketer can elicit answers to any particular question embedded in a group of less important questions, control the flow with customized skip logic or limit bias by making answer choices more random. The colors and layout of a survey can also be easily customized as well. The quick results and analysis provided by online research tools like those of SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang are great boosts toward determining your customers' true expectations and needs.
Sites like Epinions.com and Amazon.com provide the capability for peer reviews. Especially for women, the word of someone who is not with the company or profit-motivated can be worth its weight in gold. For example, used-car research usually involves a lot of asking around with friends who own a certain make and model, and Epinions helps expand the base of opinions that can be gathered. If you are looking for a 2000 Subaru Outback Wagon, head to the Epinions site and read experienced owner comments like: "Love the height of the outback. I don't feel like I am lying down on the floor (like a lot of wagons) and yet there's no jumping up to grab the steering wheel to get in."
In the same way, Amazon makes it easy for readers to review books and share their thoughts with potential buyers . (This can be done anonymously, so an honor system generally must prevail.) Amazon has also wisely smoothed the way for potential buyers to learn more about a particular peer reviewer, through their book reviewer ratings and the voluntary "more on me" reviewer profiles.
By encouraging or allowing for a "here's my opinion, what's yours," sites like Epinions and Amazon are building a sense of community that resonates with women. There's just something about being made to feel comfortable enough to share honest opinions.
Pose questions in a fun, conversational tone.
Package the experience as self-discovery and entertainment, where possible.
Make it simple to sign in and get started.
Know the incentives that will inspire responses.
Express appreciation for participation.
Value the participant's time. Allow opting out of surveys at any point.
Keep initial surveys or interactions brief. (Gather more customer profile information later, when the participant has learned to trust you.)
Use their e-mail addresses only for the originally stated purposes.
Ask for too much personal information at the start, or ask for unnecessary personal information at all (like telephone numbers ).
Make your questions stiff or clinical.
Spam them later once you have their e-mail address.
Make surveys or quizzes too long.
Abuse their generosity by requesting their feedback too often.
Provide irrelevant or worthless incentives.
In order to feel compelled to continue to share her insights, a woman must feel that her participation is more than an exercise in futility. To gain a woman's trust and truly honor her time in taking your surveys or quizzes, you should frequently express your appreciation for the value of her input.