Magazine article Marketing

Getting on the Right Omnibus

Magazine article Marketing

Getting on the Right Omnibus

Article excerpt

A rash of new omnibus research services are meeting the mood of the budget-strapped marketplace, writes Robin Cobb

Marketers are increasingly being invited to hop on an omnibus for their research needs. Omnibus surveys, in which space can be bought on questionnaires for in-home face-to-face or telephone interviews, are growing in both number and variety.

Apart from surveys which are run among demographically balanced samples of adults, typically numbering from 1000 to 2000 more specialist versions have appeared. These cater for such markets as children, young adults, mothers-and-babies, the "grey market" and motorists. Pan-European omnibuses are starting to appear and the first business-to-business surveys have also been launched.

The providers are mostly market research companies with a full portfolio of services. Sometimes they are able to suggest the omnibus as a cheaper alternative to individually tailored ad hoc research.

Advantages are a relatively large sample size, shared interview costs, and a fast turnround - witness the story in Marketing, April 16 issue on consumers' views on economic and family financial prospects immediately after the election. This was based on data collected specially for Marketing by NOP: the questions were asked over the weekend after the election, and the results were available on the Monday.

Against this, the omnibus is inflexible in its timing, with predetermined dates for fieldwork and the issuing of analyses. It is not normally suitable for in-depth open-ended interviewing.

The most frequent applications are for tracking movements in attitudes, product awareness and before-and after studies to evaluate the effectiveness of promotional campaigns. As well as marketers, users are often advertising and public relations agencies seeking ammunition for a new client-pitch.

They can also be employed as pilots before an ad hoc survey and to provide preliminary information on new product development ideas.

The normal method of charging is on a per question basis, possibly taking into account the length of time each question and answer is likely to occupy. There is often a discount if only a small proportion of the sample is likely to go beyond the first question in a set (eg. "Do you drink herbal tea?"). On top of these charges, there can be a "joining fee."

Generally, the telephone omnibus costs less than face-to-face and analyses are completed more quickly. Most telephone interviews are conducted at weekends and research companies will accept questions for inclusion up until midday, sometimes later, on the Friday.

Of course, logos and other visual prompts can only be employed in face-to-face interviews, at least until BT's new videophone is in general use. Assistance in framing the questions so that they will not bias the answers is offered, where required, by the research companies.

A new entrant in this market is Research Services (RSL), with its computer-assisted personal interview (Capibus) omnibus. RSL says it has invested about 1m [pounds] in technology.

Interviewers are equipped with portable computers, on which the questions are stored, instead of the normal typescript questionnaires. Answers are keyed in and transmitted at the end of the day to a central computer via modem, resulting in a fast turnround time. …

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