As more and more people turn to online resources for everything from news to product reviews of all sorts, fresh marketing money pours into the realm of web-based publications. Although the absolute size of most budgets may not grow, but rather shrink (at least in the world’s benchmark market, the US), manufacturers of goods start to realize that the consumers aren’t necessarily where their ad money is. So they want to change the balance between online and offline spending. Problem is, how do they know where to go? In the society of the printing press, circulation numbers used to be the holy grail of marketing assessment. With magazines giving away more than half of their print run and two thirds of their paper paved with advertisement, the suspicion arose that quantitative data may not really have so much to say anymore.
In the online world, reader attention can theoretically be measured with great accuracy. Unique visits can be counted, and it is even possible to determine how long readers stayed on certain websites. Mighty tools such as compete.com and websitegrader.com do induce a feeling of power. However, it can only be a good sign that even these services warn you not to blindly trust their data. Combining data sources with qualitative research is what’s called for. The mere time a website is open in a browser window doesn’t tell you very much about the communication going on. The number of hits on a website can only vaguely hint at its relevance for certain target groups.
With this post, I want to kick off a series talking about possibilities to create a methodology for the integration of qualitative and quantitative analysis that could help find ways for better assessments while raising awareness for the complexity of the matter.