Market Research: the Past, Present, and Future 

In the digital age, marketing comes in all shapes in sizes. Some organizations have their own internal marketing department executing on dedicated, ongoing marketing campaigns. For many startups, marketing takes place at least in part with the help of an external agency. In both cases, there are a lot of balls to keep in the air at once: email marketing campaigns, social media marketing (SMM), search engine marketing (SEM), content marketing...the list goes on. 

But whether you’re talking about a startup or a well established organization, there’s something that all effective marketing has in common: thorough, accurate, and relevant market research. All too often, startups launch new products without doing adequate market research ahead of time. Taking the time to thoroughly understand your customers is essential to success, especially in highly competitive industries. With the growth of big data, throwing together a few cliche customer personas and calling it a day simply isn’t an option anymore. A detailed, nuanced understanding of who your customers are and what they want can make or break a business, particularly when it comes to a new startup. In this two-part blog series, we’ll take a look at both the history of market research as well as where the industry is headed. In part one, we take a deep dive into the evolution of market research, highlighting both how far we’ve come -- and how far we still have to go. 

The History of Market Research 

Whether you’re a startup looking to make use of market research or one of the many companies engaged in offering market research services, this is an exciting time. The industry has come a long way, and there’s still a lot of potential for growth and innovation. A look back at the history of market research makes this clear. Prior to around 1920, the concept of ‘market research’ was completely foreign to businesses. Between 1920 and 1950, however, pioneers like Daniel Starch and George Gallup began to conduct research into the efficacy of advertising messaging as delivered via print, radio, and (eventually) television. Beginning in the 1950’s, companies began devoting more resources to the task of understanding their customers. By gathering information directly from consumers via interviews, market analysts could use various statistical methodologies to produce valuable data related to customers’ preferences and purchasing habits. 

With the improvements in technology that followed in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, market research became increasingly interdisciplinary. Now more than ever, marketers wanted to understand how customers thought, felt, and behaved. All of this culminated in the post-Internet tech explosion of the 2000’s and 2010’s, which takes us up to the highly complex, big data-driven market research world of data. 

Market Research Techniques: Past and Present 

Over the years, market research has been conducted in various ways. As new technology developed, new research methods were introduced. Some research methods have proven to be more effective than others, and they all come with both advantages and disadvantages. The in person survey is perhaps the oldest method of data collection, going all the way back to the days of Starch and Gallup in the first half of the twentieth century. This interview style obviously lends itself to gathering lots of highly detailed information, and can lead to an incredibly in-depth understanding of a particular customer. There are major downsides to be considered, however. For one thing, in person interviews are extremely expensive to conduct. Imagine trying to gather data from thousands of individual customers, one at a time, all in person. 

This would require a huge team to accomplish, and would be cost prohibitive for all but the largest organizations. But it’s not just cost that has to be considered: it’s also a question of efficiency. The level of detail provided by in-person interviews is rarely needed for effective market research -- and gathering this amount of detail is incredibly time-consuming. Telephone surveys eventually emerged as a faster, cheaper way of gathering information directly from consumers. On the one hand, it’s easy to see the advantages of the telephone survey as compared to conducting in-person interviews. 

A single interviewer can reach hundreds of potential respondents, all while working from a single location. Nowadays, however, the effectiveness of telephone surveys has waned considerably. Why? Consider your attitude towards receiving a phone call from a stranger. When your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number, do you even answer? If you do, you’re likely ready to hang up at the first hint of a telemarketing sales call. Most consumers are completely turned off by anything that even remotely resembles a telemarketing call, and will refuse to engage in phone surveys. 

In fact, Gallup research shows that the phone survey response rate has plummeted from 27% in 1997 to just 5% as of 2015. Surveying consumers via mail is another option and one which some researchers continue to engage in. Depending on the industry and the type of survey being conducted, mail survey response rates can exceed those of phone surveys. The opposite is also true, however: mail surveys can result in dismal response rates. And, of course, the sheer cost involved in conducting mail surveys is often prohibitive. 

The Growth of the Online Survey 

In-person and mail surveys can be cost-prohibitive, and telephone surveys are often ineffective. But over the past decade, a new method of collecting market research data has emerged which promises to cut costs and improve response rate: the online survey. Online surveys are quick, easy, affordable, and convenient for respondents. Consumers can complete them in a matter of minutes. By offering a small incentive, market researchers can dramatically increase response rates. Plus, online surveys can be quickly tweaked and adapted as needed. Unfortunately, the evolution of the digital survey landscape hasn’t been entirely positive. There are far too many providers out there, along with a lot of very bad surveys. As a result, respondent screen outs are at an all-time high. The problem is simple, really. Researchers have lost sight of what leads to quality responses and high response rates: they’ve forgotten that they have to put the respondent’s experience first, rather than simply focusing on results. 

TheoremReach: A Leader in the Online Survey Space 

At TheoremReach, we understand just how important it is to balance user experience with considerations of cost, response rate, and response quality. Our user-first platform produces better results for market researchers, and our guaranteed payment structure achieves an ideal balance for respondents, publishers, and researchers alike. 

Want to learn more about working with TheoremReach? Click here to contact us today. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series, where we’ll take a look at the future of market research and the enormous potential that exists for researchers and mobile publishers.

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The Evolution of Market Research: Part 1 of 2
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