History of Market Research

In order to best understand the benefits of qualitative market research, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and understand why qualitative research became a practice within market research in the first place. And to understand that, one must understand the history of market research prior to the introduction of qualitative research.

The 1920s: Emergence of Quantitative Market Research

The history of market research arguably began with the first market research survey. The first true instance of a market research “survey” came about in the 1920s when a man named Daniel Starch and his associates tested ad recall by going up to people on the street and asking if they (a) read specific publications and (b) whether they remembered specific advertisements within these publications. These results would then be compared against readers and circulation to understand how effective these ads were in reaching people.

A man named George Gallup further developed this practice in the mid-1930s and developed the process of aided recall, which asked people to recall ads in publications without actually showing them. This became a relatively tried-and-true method of understanding the effectiveness of not only print but later radio and television advertising.

In essence, these were the beginnings of quantitative market research. That is, this type of research was numeric and analyzed as such. As the years wore on, researchers and marketers continued to rely heavily on surveys and quantitative data to understand not only the effectiveness of advertising but other important pieces of consumer-focused information, such as usage and attitudes.

The 1940s: Emergence of Qualitative Market Research

In the early 1940s, two faculty members at Columbia University – Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Melton – used what they called “focused group interviews” (what we now know as focus groups) to examine the effectiveness of propaganda during World War II.

In the late 1940s, Ernest Dichter (dubbed by some as the “father of focus groups”) furthered the use of qualitative research through a new form of consumer research called motivational research. Through this, he began to apply Freudian concepts to better understand consumer behaviors and is recognized as one of the first to focus on image and persuasion in ad campaigns. In essence, Dichter was not content with understanding only what consumers were doing, but why. And qualitative research enabled him to ask more abstract lines of questioning to get beyond reported behavior.

The 1960s and 1970s: a Tennis Match Between Quant and Qual

During the 1960s, the introduction of technology such as phone systems and computers made it easier to reach large masses of people and analyze numeric data, which brought quantitative market research back to the foreground, but that didn’t mean that qualitative market research disappeared. In fact, some in the field were further refining qualitative research methods.

At around this same time, a marketing academic named John Howard began focusing on consumer behavior and incorporated a number of perspectives from other social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics into this area of focus. His work encouraged others to take multi-disciplinary approaches to understand consumers. Parallel with this, researchers also started to become more interested in understanding the entire consumer experience – yes, buying products but also the experience of owning and consuming. This includes understanding emotions, feelings, and moods associated with consumption. This shift in method and desire for deeper understanding pushed marketers back towards qualitative market research in the 1970s

The 1980s and 1990s: Technology Advancements

The advent of technology such as personal computing, the Internet, and mobile devices has changed a lot about the way market research is conducted. The Internet, especially, has been a driver of a lot of change within market research. Not only has it made it easier to reach the masses but it has brought with it so many more tools to analyze, segment, and interact with consumers. And not only has the Internet shifted the way we gather data, but it has also changed the way consumers interact with brands, products, and media in a way that has forced market researchers to continually change what they deem as important metrics and questions they ask of consumers.

This has proved to be advantageous for qualitative research. Online focus groups have emerged, making this type of research more efficient and the measurement of this qualitative data more structured. And beyond improving existing methods, the Internet (and mobile along with it) has also brought about the introduction of new qualitative market research methods, such as bulletin boards, mobile ethnographies, and communities. The work being done at Invoke to do large-scale qual/quant live research sessions would not be possible without these technologies.

But still, at their core, the main benefits and usage of qualitative and quantitative methods have remained relatively intact even if the evolution of technology has afforded researchers new ways of reaching consumers, gathering data, and developing insights.

Ultimately, the history of market research is still being written in real-time. Technological advancements today will continue to pave the way for new evolutions in the research field to come.

How Is Invoke Different?

Invoke Is Big Qual. An Invoke LIVE session brings every stakeholder together on a consumer-led journey that leads to a real-time decision.

  • Invoke is inclusive, bringing together showrunners, marketing, brand managers, business executives, and market researchers on an hour-long conversation with your target audience.
  • It’s conclusive, enabling you to probe audience sentiment, test concepts on the fly, attain clarity about strategy and message – and make the right decisions, often by the session’s end.
  • Our research is organic and illuminating, offering rich and sometimes unanticipated insights into how your audience views you and their world: the Why behind the What.
  • It’s qual and quant simultaneously, with audiences of many hundreds in a single session.

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