Google online survey tool - Invasion of privacy or marketing miracle?

Your boss has just asked you to survey a representative sample of all dog owners in the US to help decide between one of two new logo’s for a new line of dog food. No pressure, just a make or break decision that might impact the rest of your career. And by the way, you have only 3 days to get the data and a total budget of $500.

For years (or maybe even centuries) marketers have faced the knowledge dilemma. Getting really good statistically valid data to inform good decision making from potential customers takes a long time and is expensive. The time and money allocated to gathering this type of data is frequently an afterthought and is rarely enough. This leaves marketers stuck with less than perfect data (usually gathered from friends, “personal experience” or the ever popular “WAG” technique).

When Google quietly launched their online survey tool (http://www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys/) earlier this month they ushered in a new era in market research – one that promises accurate, timely and affordable information to guide nearly any marketing decision. The most surprising part of this news wasn’t the creation of the tool, but rather the low key way it was announced. As you understand how the tool works the reason for the “soft launch” may become clear.

For website owners, the google survey tool offers a new way to monetize website traffic through the creation of a “survey gate” in front of protected content. The google survey tool allows website owners to force website visitors to answer one survey question in order to proceed to view the content on their websites that have been “survey gated”. This promises to generate revenue from traffic in a less obtrusive fashion than requiring payment and a more consistent fashion than the traditional low paying “pay per click” ad units.

For web visitors the act of answering a simple survey question to proceed to interesting content seems like an easy trade off – so everyone wins. Sort of.

The catch to all of this is the fact that Google pairs the website visitor’s DoubleClick cookie information with the survey answer. This means that even though the website visitor only answered one question, the survey tool can pair this answer with the demographic information that Google can glean from the DoubleClick cookie. What sort of demographic information?

In addition to raw data, charts summarize responses and insights highlight interesting differences. Using the DoubleClick cookie and the respondent’s IP address, Google Consumer Surveys infers demographic and geographic information for each response so you can easily segment by age, gender, location and more.

To see what Google means by “more” take a look at an actual survey that Google has made publically accessible:

You can see that Google has determined the survey respondent’s income level, gender, location (urban or rural) and age – all without the survey respondents having to answer a single demographic question.

As is frequently the case with Google tools – as a marketer I’m excited by the prospect of inexpensive and accurate information. As a consumer I’m concerned about the information that I’m essentially giving away online. I suspect that we will be seeing other companies follow suit with similar products and the concept of a “survey gate” will gain increasing popularity.