The history of market research is an interesting one, filled with experimental actions, refined techniques, broadened scopes, and technological advancement. Market research at its conception, was a purely quantitative field that aimed to measure advertising efforts and the financial performance of businesses around the world.
Since the birth of the first questionnaire-style survey in the 1920s, we have come a long way in the development and evolution of quantitative research methods; with most of our innovation efforts focussed on it for decades, even leaving qualitative measures behind in favour of the pursuit of statistical data.
Technological innovation remains the foremost aspect that insight professionals have used to innovate and revamp quantitative methods over the last century, and the results have proven to be extremely valuable indeed.
A History of Quantitative Methods
As I mentioned in a previous blog, Daniel Starch could be considered the founder of quantitative research, with his questionnaire survey method to test his advertising effectiveness theory. Starch and his colleagues took to the streets to ask people if they have read certain publications, and what adverts they remembered seeing in those publications, to see if effective ads much be seen, read, believed, remembered and acted upon to be truly impactful. Since then, the industry’s reliance on quantitative data has only grown, developing quantitative tools and techniques to produce the best quality numerical data to use in decision-making processes everywhere.
The main quantitative tools you will have heard of and undoubtedly used most is the survey and quick poll, both of which have been adapted from Starch’s questionnaire method and have developed into impactful tools in their own right today. However, they have undergone a series of changes depending on the needs of insight professionals throughout time.
When technology was limited to those who could afford it, to test the temperature and gain public opinion, insight professionals relied on face to face encounters in order to get the data they needed.
From this, we were able to alter and refine quantitative data collection methods instantly based on reactions from the respondents — an off-topic answer could indicate whether a question was phrased right, and the recording of an answer would show the first indications of researcher bias and the dangers on individual interpretation. But it is only through trial and error that we’re able to discover these faults in the system, and work to repair them and alter our path so we’re able to account for them in the future.
Telephone Quantitative Research
Technology is an ever-evolving monster of innovation, which allows market research to grow through access to more respondents and more data collection opportunities. One of these opportunities was the commercialisation of the telephone, which led to telephone-based quantitative surveying.
Even without the advantage of face-to-face contact, telephone-based research was the incitement of what is now known as mass or Big Data collection — the first true realisation that we now have access to almost everyone in the world if we could persuade them to take part. Through this, ethical quandaries are starting to be realised, as well as the fact that while we strive for more data, the concept of data quality comes into question.
Online Research and Surveys
The next iteration, or large iterative evolution, is the integration of the internet into the insights industry to create online research. The opportunities that this evolution of market research industry has opened up is incredible — from the elimination of geographical boundaries, the incredible new engagement tactics (think gamification, electronically gifted incentives, and much more) has utterly revolutionised data collection and analytical methodologies, researcher-respondent interactions, and insight empowerment techniques.
We have been able to automate a lot of active data collection processes and open up more communication channels than was ever thought possible — take chatbot surveys for instance, they are able to gather initial rudimentary data that allows us to ask more specific questions later on. We are now also able to collect passive data too; the data from website visits and social media has gone a long way to providing the behavioural context that face-to-face and telephone interviews couldn’t quite capture to the same degree.
IoT and the Future of Quantitative Research
Of course, all of these are still used in some form today, but most research is now conducted online. But we still strive for more, better data, and to utilise all communication methods available to us, which is why we are now looking into all of the devices connected to the Internet of Things. Smartphones are used a lot already, but devices such as voice assistants, smart speakers, smart televisions, and other smart technologies are still being explored as potential research channels.
Quantitative methodologies such as quick polls and shorter surveys should theoretically be the easiest to adapt to these new technologies, but as more focus is being put onto other areas of the research process equally now, and we must keep a lookout for the next big breakthrough in commercialised technological innovations.
Technology as a Catalyst for Change
Technology undoubtedly holds a very important key to the evolution of quantitative methodology in market research, but also for other areas too — the development and rapid expansion/accessibility of qualitative data collection methods, data analysis, and insight activation methods to say the least. With perks like instant communication, advanced analytical automated processes and engagement techniques, it’s hard not to be excited for what the future of quantitative research methodologies may bring when combined with technology.
However, data security is now a much larger concern than it was in the 1920s, everyone (businesses, insight professionals, and consumers) is starting to realise the value of their own personal data, what it can do in the right and wrong hands, and so security must be taken into account when looking to incorporate new technologies into the insights arsenal.
There is no doubt that we are due another evolution in quantitative research methods, the entire industry is searching for the path we will go down next.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.