Factionalization imperils market research groups

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Since the advent of online marketing research, a dialogue has gone back and forth as to the merits and shortcomings of both online and offline marketing research. Which is better? The discussion typically asks for winners and losers -- with no meeting in the middle.

Recently, a new marketing research organization was proposed. It's called the Interactive Marketing Research Organization and is designed exclusively for online marketing research groups -- a safe haven, if you will, from the other side and its phone surveys, mall surveys and direct mail questionnaires.

The fact is, whether online or offline, all marketing researchers come from a traditional research heritage. This is important to the question of whether or not IMRO should be supported or Internet research policy efforts should be focused in existing organizations, such as Council of American Survey Research Organizations, Advertising Research Foundation, American Marketing Association, Marketing Research Association, American Association for Public Opinion Research, etc. The question is a serious one for the research industry -- both the offline sector, where marketing researchers grew up, and the online sector, which is the new frontier.

The formation of IMRO marks a pivotal moment in the development of the entire industry. As online marketing researchers decide whether or not to accept an invitation to join IMRO, and possibly cut ties with existing research organizations, there are a few things to consider.


Are online marketing researchers, who professionally live for Internet research, capable of thriving as a "breakaway republic" or an adversarial spinoff?

Is the inevitable transition to Internet research necessarily a zero-sum game? For one to win, another must lose? Is this a scenario where new economy players must replace traditional companies and organizations, or in the least remain independent?

Are those threatened putting shackles on online research?

Unfortunately for the prospects of IMRO, the answer to each question is no. Some in the industry are creating and pushing for the change now and some are fighting for the right to change in their own time. But two facts are inescapable:

* Even though some of us were early adopters, that does not de facto suggest we have sufficient wisdom alone to move the industry forward. Nor are we the gatekeepers.

* The history of successful innovation teaches it is better to assume we are painting a huge landscape, and so we need all the artists we can find to be a part of this. Inclusive is bigger than exclusive.

Although IMRO brings well-needed policy focus on Internet research, there are compelling reasons why breaking away from existing marketing research organizations would not benefit the industry:

* Internet research leaders will shape the marketing research industry, and bring advancement and positive change, from within and not from without. The changes brought by the Internet to our industry are so sweeping that we must think inclusively.

* There are already too many organizations in the marketing research industry. At a time when consolidation and combining forces seems the right road, this is yet another splinter organization -- dividing industry resources, attention and the house called "marketing research."

* The existing organizations are in fact on the right track regarding the Internet. Recently, CASRO's board of directors approved the Internet Research Standards Statement to submit to members for approval. It's a solid effort.

Yes, things should move faster and more should be done. If researchers want to accelerate progress, they should leverage existing assets, members and policy architecture, not create a new set.

* Ultimately clients decide what happens when. Clients have always been the venture capitalists of the research industry -- they pay marketing researchers to explore, validate and establish. The ideation process is mutual, but in the end clients sustain a business or an industry innovation. To win, wouldn't marketing researchers have to convince many non-technology clients to add IMRO to their other myriad organization memberships?

* Lastly, there is a higher calling for those in the Internet/online research field. That calling is to save the marketing research profession from laggard ruin.


This industry is in crisis. Recognition of the problem is the first step, right? Indeed, the Internet may be a key source of revitalization. Everyone understands what the Internet means to the industry -- and yes, some have a hard time saying it publicly.

Here's a bold move that IMRO can make that would be truly effective: Work within existing organizations. IMRO should talk with those who have expressed an interest in joining the organization about turning back to work with existing organizations. Researchers should all push hard for consolidation, restructuring and inclusive progress. We can work better together than we can apart.

Marketing researchers should respect our legacy and stand shoulder to shoulder with it. We should not cut out but instead help adapt to change and strengthen and energize market research for the future. We should answer the call and rise to the leadership challenge.

Builders contribute more than conquerors. It will bring greater satisfaction to join together and start a rising tide that will float all ships than it will be to break away, "arm up" and sink a few old barges in their moorings.

Mr. Gonier is president-CEO of America Online's Digital Marketing Services, Lewisville, Texas, an Internet-related marketing company, and senior VP of AOL's Interactive Properties group. He is a director of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations.

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