NEW YORK: The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) has defended survey research as a crucial part of information gathering, despite marketers' increasing focus on using online "buzz tracking" to monitor consumer opinion.

In his new book Foundations of Listening, the research group's knowledge solutions director Steve Rappaport advised firms to increase their spending on gathering data through "listening" to unsolicited consumer opinion on products and services via online portals such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, Rappaport also highlighted the importance of maintaining spend on traditional research methods and suggested that overall opinion-gathering costs should be spread among corporate departments.

PR, marketing, product development, quality control and legal were all seen as taking a share of the financial burden.

The migration of communications from landline telephones to cellular phones and the internet over recent years has had profound implications for research gatherers.

Potential participants in telephone surveys have become more difficult to reach, while the publication of unsolicited online opinion direct from customers have become more and more widespread.

In the forward to Foundations of Listening, ARF president Bob Barocci reflected the disquiet these trends have caused among marketers, citing comments from a "Listening workshop" held in November 2009.

"All but a handful of speakers seemed to be preoccupied with the obstacles to effective listening - no budget, nobody in charge, where is the statistical rigor, is it project-able, tough organizational issues, hard to sell internally, ROI tough to determine, legal has major issues," Barocci wrote.

"The singular opportunity to tap into the brain of today's newly empowered consumer in such a natural way that what we hear is the purest 'research' ever is buried in nay-saying."

Recent research from Ed Keller, principal of Keller Fay Group, has also highlighted an apparent disjunction between findings of traditional survey research and online tracking, with just 25 of the 50 most talked-about brands online making the offline top 50.

Similarly, a strong correlation between online and offline "buzz" was found in only one in three of the cases analysed, with a further third having negative correlation and the remainder displaying no clear relationship.

Data sourced from Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff