namanThis is a guest post by Naman Sarawagi, Co-Founder & CEO of FindYogi – a product search engine. You can follow him on @NamanSr

Google until recently has been mostly about click based ads and generating leads for marketers. Given Google’s share of the digital ad market, this has reflected on how the marketers perceive the web at large.

Last year, we saw some initial steps from Google towards changing this perception, with the introduction of few new metrics to account for the brand value delivered through display ads. That was one major leap that will start showing effect in the near future and as a result, will bring major share of branding dollars to the digital world.

The other major pie of the marketer’s budget that was untouched till now was market research. From ideation stage focus groups to post launch feedback – the market research industry is huge. This industry has mostly been a function of extrapolation of small sample size, bulky paper forms, and months of execution time. The sheer cost and amount of work required to execute a 10 question survey is so huge that iterating the process is never even asked for.

Google is aiming to change all that with its new product – Google Consumer Surveys (GCS). GCS utilizes its publishers’ reach to collect survey responses from users on behalf of marketers. The data is then used to derive insights without exposing any personally identifiable information.

There are 3 elements that a market research system needs and Google seems to have it all.

  1. Access to real people i.e. distribution network
  2. Targeting technology
  3. Analysis and insights – big data et al

Let’s not confuse Google Consumer Surveys’ ability with Survey Monkey, since the latter is only a survey hosting software, and not a distribution network. Google brings the ability to deploy and analyse a survey, end to end, within few hours while market research agencies still haven’t achieved this kind of turnaround time yet.

google

The Google Consumer Surveys could have been a simple banner ad with button for each option of the survey question but instead it is an interstitial screen blocking the reader from accessing the content on the page. There are other notable features of GCS which has the potential to open up bigger markets and deeper integration with publishers for Google.

– An interstitial screen that acts like a wall: As said earlier, GCS is a basically an interstitial screen that blocks the content the readers want to access, unlike the regular display ads. The screen gives the reader only two choices – either log in or answer the survey question.

– Deeper integration: This allows for deeper integration between Google and the publisher and with time, this might possibly give Google access to the whole paywall ecosystem and an opportunity to integrate micro-payments the way it is doing for Games.

Near 100% High CTR: By giving no other option to user, Google has secured a very high response rate for its questions. User is either going to bounce off or respond. A small percentage will log in/pay, and this will reduce even further with time.

Premium publishers: For now, the solution is open to premium publishers only. I don’t think this means much since it is too early to open it up for all kinds of publishers. Also, in this case, the fill rate matters a lot more than display ads that have alternate network ads. Since this is an alternative to paywall, there has to be some kind of revenue guarantee. Fewer publishers with 100% inventory coverage is better for now.

But again, since the system is integrated to the paywall, the content being targeted itself is assumed to be premium. Alternatively, once this service picks up amongst marketers, there will be more content passed on as premium. In a way, Google is creating a new market of premium publishers, like it has created a whole network  of content/data publisher supported by its AdSense network.

Access to branding based display ads: Interstitial screens have been traditionally used for branding ads. Control on this gives access to branding based display ads that have equally high payouts for publishers and also more demand from deep pocket marketers.

Pricing: GCS service is currently open only to US audience and starts at $0.10 per question, with demographical targeting at $0.50. I am expecting most marketers would use the targeting option. So if 68% of that revenue comes to the publisher (as Google claims for AdSense), it will account for some serious revenue from a channel that was otherwise under sold. However, one would expect Google to open up the economy to a fair demand/supply mechanism through bidding of target audience.

Issues:

Polls vs. Surveys: Google Consumer Surveys is being criticized for being a polling system instead of a survey, owing to the fact that each user is asked one question at a time. For marketers, what matters is a set of questions being completely answered by a single person. Multiple people answering the questionnaire partially doesn’t help.

However, this might also change as the integration might allow you to earn credits to access the publisher’s content for say a month rather than just that one article. Although this might potentially invite a whole new set of spamming issues.

Google has positioned GCS to be more of a standalone opinion polls solution rather than a full blown market research solution, although the latter is where the moolah lies.

Demography Data: Google uses demography data from its ad network which is again is based on a lot of signals and not definite. This is again heuristic but in case of market research, the accuracy of respondent’s demography profile matters a lot. Given the exhaustiveness and accuracy (socially verified) of data that Facebook has, it might be in a better position to pull this initiative off. The Facebook Questions feature with the Post Boost (pay to promote) might be a good competition to GCS, since marketers are already in love with Facebook for all branding, engagement and feedback needs.

Opportunities:

Alternative to market research – The survey system is not limited to collecting market research data but can be used for generating pre-launch engagement and possibly social media buzz if used creatively. By letting the user decide what the new packaging colour should be or who the new brand ambassador should be, the brand has a bit of user contribution now, which is a strong case for consumer engagement.

Artificial intelligence task – The network could be used for low level human intelligence tasks – the typical Amazon Mechanical Turk kind of HITs. The only constraint here, is that a typical task is worth a fraction of what marketers would pay for opinion. This might be a helpful alternative to bring the not so premium publishers to the system.

Offline extension – In India, ZipDial* has used its user network to conduct polls, feedback and surveys for Gillette, Cadbury’s and MakeMyTrip among others. The system was based on similar lines of either providing access to content (cricket scores) or some other incentives (freebies, entry into sweepstakes). A similar extension of surveys where the response analysis platform remains the same but the distribution is offline through TV and print media among others, might make business sense in developing economies.

Startup Competition? In-site engagement widget startup, WebEngage has mostly focussed on e-commerce sites to help them engage users through feedback surveys and deal notifications from the website itself. By embracing content publishers and getting them to host market research survey for other brands might be a big market for them. They already have the targeting and analysis platform already and I believe a lot of publishers would sign up to explore alternative sources of revenue. Obviously, the bigger problem of getting marketers onboard still needs to be solved here. This is quite similar to what they are already doing, only now they act as a survey network rather than a standalone survey widget.

* Disclosure: The author was part of the initial team at ZipDial.