Tim Macer

The new vision of today’s research innovators

Necessity is no longer the mother of invention. The drivers of today’s market research innovations frequently owe more to urgency and opportunity – aided by what technology now makes possible. We speak to four research iconoclasts who bring disruptive change to what research buyers often consider to be a languid and process-bound industry.

Neil Seeman spotted a rare untapped sample source for internet surveys and used the idea to found RIWI, a radically different internet sample provider. From time to time, any of us using the internet will type in what we believe is the correct URL of a website, only to find ourselves confronted with a directory-like page of ads suggesting other sites to visit. Behind these unlovely pages lies an elaborate system of redirections in place for these non-existent or parked URLs worldwide. But Seeman also noticed that these pages were no longer loved by advertisers and had become something of a wasteland on the web – albeit a high traffic one.

Seeman’s big idea was to use these to serve up very short but highly relevant surveys of between three and twelve questions to the visitors to these pages. “Pre-internet,” he explains, “I was a newspaper editor. I was frustrated with pollsters delivering me data that were artificially and arbitrarily segmented by pre-defined cells of researcher-defined interest (such as age or ethnicity or sex). I wanted the data as ‘untouched’ as possible.”

His company patented and trademarked a method called ‘random domain intercept technology or RDIT™,’ which uses browser and IP location detection to ensure that the survey is geographically relevant and served in the web user’s own language.

“The idea came, in part,” Seeman says, “from a passion to solve that wicked problem of how to find global, non-incented respondents and data and a business recognition that the current advertisement models around parked domains’ unintentional traffic were not being monetised as effectively as they once had been.”

The question is, does it actually work as a sample source? Seeman is convinced it does, and he reports that demand has been “overwhelmingly positive and intense” from research companies, panel providers and research clients. It also recently took first prize in GreenBook’s Insight Innovation competition. Curious to know whether it provided comparable results with conventional sources, I asked about benchmarks and was told this work was ‘ongoing’ – though Seeman alluded to several studies that compared well with previously published research data.

However, he comments, “It would be very unusual to expect head-to-head statistical correlation. The internet is literally our panel, and as such our panel is skewed young.” Neither are panels free of bias – but it helps to know your biases in advance.

If you’re an ESOMAR member you can read the full interview in MyESOMAR in the digital copy of Research World. If you are not a member of ESOMAR you can join and receive a free copy of Research World 6 times a year or alternatively you can sign up for a subscription of the magazine in our publications store.