6 November 2023 900 words, 4 min. read

Online surveys : not always the best choice

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
There's more to market research than surveys. This article explains why a survey is only part of the puzzle, and other complementary techniques are necessary.

Market research is much more than an online survey. Market research is much more than that. Yet this message is hard to get across. For years, the market has been polluted by a marketing approach that puts the interests of market research institutes ahead of those of customers. This is not true with our agency, so I wanted to draft this provocative article.

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Online surveys: all the points of attention in a nutshell

  • A survey is a quantitative market research technique.
  • A survey is just one step in conducting market research.
  • The simplicity and speed of an online survey should not overshadow the importance of asking the right questions.
  • We strongly advise you to start with a qualitative phase (semi-structured interview, focus group) to determine which aspects need to be confirmed quantitatively.
  • Questionnaires conducted without the support of a preparatory phase require reworking at least 50% of the questions.
  • Choose a market research firm that proposes all methodological approaches. Otherwise, you run the risk of being proposed a methodological approach that is not suited to your project.

The survey market is on the increase … because it’s an easy shortcut!

The market for online surveys has exploded in recent years. It accounted for 24% of market research in 2017; by 2023, it will be 62%. Why? Because opinion surveys make it possible to get quick answers on anything and everything.

Many companies proposing online survey solutions have rebranded themselves as “market research firms.” They only propose one of many methodological approaches. And inevitably, if you turn to them, they will only propose something they have in their catalog. The online survey has, the online survey has, therefore, become a misguided shortcut adopted by many customers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

Since market research is necessary at every stage of a company’s development (creation, financing, geographical expansion), there are many opportunities to fall into the trap.

I’m used to being transparent with our customers, even if it costs me a project. My message to them is simple: “Market research is complex, and there’s no miracle solution for doing it effortlessly and in little time.”

It’s an illusion to think that you can grasp the complexity of a market by asking a few questions. That’s different from what an online questionnaire is for.

online surveys opinion


What is the purpose of an opinion survey?

questionnaire (online or offline) is a quantitative tool. It belongs to the family of techniques used to quantify (hence the name “quantitative technique”):

  • the size of a market
  • a price
  • The validity of a hypothesis
  • Target audience interest in a new product/service

The Internet has made it easier to administer online surveys.

Making effective use of them nevertheless requires:

Defining these questions requires using one or more “qualitative techniques” (interviews, focus groups, etc.) or, at the very least, documentary research to define hypotheses.


Defining the questions to be asked is much more important than sending out and administering the survey.


What most people don’t understand about online surveys

Most people need to understand that defining the questions to be asked is far more important than sending and administering the survey itself. Finding the right questions to ask requires you to have developed an in-depth knowledge of the market, its players, and their motivations. You must consider the qualitative market research phase to ensure you administer a good online survey.

When we must conduct projects for which a questionnaire has been defined without going through a preparatory phase, we often find ourselves in a cruel situation. Many essential questions must be included, and the measured constructs are only sometimes right. Ultimately, it’s not uncommon for 50% of the questionnaire to have to be redone. Regarding market research, getting 50% wrong is unfortunately unforgivable.

Online surveys qualitative and quantitative research

Do I always have to do both qualitative and quantitative research?

It’s only sometimes essential to conduct qualitative research, followed by quantitative research. You can also use serious desk research to determine the following:

  • which aspects of customer behavior have been sufficiently covered by previous research
  • which specific points of your market research require the formulation of new hypotheses.

Nevertheless, a series of semi-structured interviews is often beneficial. The people you interview will often have a complementary point of view, and if you know how to listen to them, they’ll open your eyes to unsuspected aspects of your market. It’s a remedy for the knowledge corridor.

This qualitative phase is, therefore, an excellent investment, whether you’re a small business or a large company.

Online surveys market research

Advice for your market research

We have several pieces of advice for you.

Firstly, you need to get it out of your head that an online survey is all you need to do as part of market research. Market research is a set of techniques for discovering a market’s truth. An opinion survey is just one step in the process. You can find out for yourself by consulting our guide to conducting market research.

Secondly, combining methodological approaches helps to confirm results. This is what we call triangulation. Observing differences between one market research stage and the next is common.

Thirdly, if your market research is B2B, the qualitative phase is an excellent way of generating leads. Qualitative interviews enable you to establish personal contact with potential prospects and interest them in your project.



Posted in Marketing.

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