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Far-fetched? With today's proliferation of Web sites and start-up dot-coms, more than farmers may be scratching their heads wondering where to click next. Once the realm of freewheeling entrepreneurs, internet-based businesses are increasingly turning to traditional business and marketing practices for guidance. Market research is no exception.

Market research for Internet offerings is not business as usual. As with any client and industry, the research processes must be tailored. Dot-com start-ups and organizations entering into internet ventures for agribusiness are unique clients requiring specialized approaches. The reality is that marketing basics still apply. Organizations with Internet offerings and dot-coms still need to know their customers, create brand awareness, and deliver value.


Account managers who successfully partner with clients on new dot-com ventures and Internet initiatives are energetic, quick to respond and willing to experiment. This does not mean that the account manager compromises professional standards or discards the fundamentals of market research. Rather, they are open to evaluating how the market research industry does business and taking a different approach, while still remaining attentive to detail and effective methodology. For example, the accelerated approach for a dot-com may include investigating product interest, brand positioning and usability simultaneously rather than sequentially.

Many clients venturing onto the Internet are new to market research. Typically an advertising agency or consultant advises them to "find out what their customers want." In more rare instances, they were advised to develop a "branding strategy."

Initially, the clients may be resistant to market research. A push-back often surfaces based on the client's strong belief that "a customer could not possibly know as much as me." After all, the head of the dot-com often created the concept, captured investment capital and toiled to make it this far. Or, the leader of an organization's Internet initiative may be technology-savvy, not marketing-savvy. Again, the account manager plays a key role in moving the dot-com entrepreneur and technical expert to the point of understanding the role of market research and how it can contribute to success on the Internet.

Regardless of the type of client, the account manager is called upon to educate and advise. The ability of the account manager to communicate the reasons for market research or for specific design approaches and to handle objections in a positive, facilitative manner creates the environment for research to progress. Dot-com entrepreneurs and internal leaders of Internet initiatives will quickly back away from researchers they perceive as objecting to new ideas.

To address this, a long-term market research plan can be developed as part of the education process. This presents the overall flow of the research and demonstrates the value added at each step of the development, launch and ongoing operation of the Internet offering. The plan is based on likely alternatives and builds in decision points to re-evaluate the next step. These are not plans to sit on the shelf and gather dust. They are direct and relatively short; that is, short on words but rich in content.


The Internet world is often highly time-sensitive. Clients will not wait weeks for data to be collected, analyzed and reported. That's why the market research process must be accelerated. As a first step, many Internet clients are more comfortable with qualitative than quantitative research. Surprisingly clients are still more amenable to in-person rather than online methodologies.

Whether qualitative or quantitative, Internet clients are looking to speed up the process. These clients are already well into the next research project when more traditional clients are just reviewing their results. AM


Susan Spaulding is founder and president of Market Directions, Kansas City. Deni Kogan is account director of Market Directions and directs the St. Louis office.

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