The evolution of market research

By Heidi Dietzsch

Market research has evolved dramatically along with the evolution of communications technology. Today there are a wide variety of data collection methods available. That means one of the toughest decisions to make when developing a market research campaign is which data collection techniques to use. Should it be more traditional techniques such as face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews? Or would it be more beneficial to conduct online research or mobile phone research?

With effective market research, businesses can gain invaluable information about their competitors, economic shifts, demographics, the current market trends and the spending traits of customers. To make an informative decision on the best market research method, businesses should have a thorough understanding of the different methods available.

The history of market research as a discipline goes as far back as the 1920s. The first commercial research company, National Analysts, was created by the American Charles Coolidge Parlin, who coined the term “commercial research”.  This term later developed into “market research” as we call it today. Parlin is credited as the founder and a pioneer of market research. The face of market research has changed drastically since then. One of the earliest methods of quantitative data collection was paper and pencil interviewing (PAPI).  As one could imagine, PAPI posed a number of challenges. It is a time-consuming and error-prone method of research data collection. Data integrity could be compromised in a number of ways. For instance, the non-anonymity of this method could cause some respondents not to provide honest answers. Furthermore, interviewers might unintentionally influence respondents.

Computer assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. These two interviewing methods had considerable advantages when compared to PAPI and streamlined the research process tremendously. With the onset of the internet, market research’s scope changed yet again, opening a wide range of new possibilities. The advantages of collecting data online are numerous. For instance, it costs less than traditional methods, surveys can be distributed easily and data output is more accurate.

Today, the majority of people have a mobile phone and the rise of the smart phone since 2007 has enriched the market research landscape even further. The era of mobile research has arrived faster than anyone could have anticipated. There are now a number of rich and colourful ways in which to engage with respondents via mobile technology. The convenience and ease of access can assist businesses in learning even more about customers and their behaviours. It is also estimated that more people use mobile phones than computers and therefore it just makes sense to reach respondents via mobile phones.

It is clear that the market research discipline is evolving faster than ever before.  The industry has experienced more change in the last ten years than the previous 70 years combined. Data collection methods have shifted dramatically to technology-based solutions in the past decade. Mobile-based surveys are set for dramatic growth as a result, and may in time become the primary channel companies use to find out information about their market places.

  • Heidi recently joined the Intellidex team to beef up our market research capabilities. This field has become increasingly dynamic with the advent of social media and Heidi conveys some interesting thoughts on its evolution.