100 Years of Market Research History

Today, anyone can get online and fill out a survey, answer questions, or even attend a virtual focus group. Market research is so accessible now that people sometimes aren’t even aware of how much data is being transferred around the world. However, this wasn’t always the case. 

Just over 100 years ago, there was no such thing as market research. The way people buy and sell goods is vastly different from how it was then, and today, things are much more personalized. Companies can target specific demographics now, for example, while salesmen in 1920 could only rely on themselves to get a sale.

Where It All Began

Market research did not exist until the first instances in the ’20s, when a psychologist named Daniel Starch developed a theory that all advertising had to go through several stages to become effective: seeing, reading, believing, remembering, and acting upon. Daniel Starch lead several of the earliest market research studies by asking people on the street what publications they read and if they remembered the ads in them.

A man named George Gallup expanded upon Starch’s research, using it to develop a theory called aided recall, which was used in research interviews to prompt people to recall an ad when it hadn’t been shown to them again. These methods were adapted later to measure radio and TV advertising effectiveness. In 1936, Gallup was able to use his methods to predict the outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election, thus increasing people’s trust in survey research.

Qualitative Data Begins

In the ’40s, some of the first focus groups were conducted. Originally called a ‘focused interview’, these groups were used to explain WWII to Americans and attempted to convince them to go to war. Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton, two researchers at Columbia University, developed the first ideas for these interviews where they tested small groups of people that were asked to listen to broadcasts and decide if they liked or disliked them. After gathering this quantitative data, they would then ask the participants why they chose their answers, this gathering qualitative data as well.

Motivational Research

Though controversial, Ernest Dichter’s motivational research has certainly been a cornerstone for modern advertising methods. Developed in the ’50s, Dichter believed that every product or service had a ‘soul’, driving a buyer to make a purchase not only for the item’s obvious use but also for the value it embodies. Dichter’s methods were highly inspired by Freud’s psychological research, and his research influenced the way that many brands advertised in the post-war consumerist era.

Technology & Growth

Through the ’60s and onward, technology slowly took hold, then began to take over the world. It became easier and easier to gather quantitative data with the development of new technologies like phone systems, computers, and then the internet. Quantitative data was pushed aside for a time, though research never halted.

A man named John Howard worked to bring methods from psychology, sociology, anthropology, semiotics, economics, and more into his research. Working in marketing, Howard’s work began to encourage many to use multi-disciplinary approaches as they gathered data. In the ’80s, researchers began to look at not only how to get customers to buy products, but also their experiences with owning them. Once again, the popularity of focus groups began to rise.

Today’s Digital Era

There are so many ways for brands to collect market research today, that gathering data is not typically a problem. When it comes to quantitative data, for example, throwing a quick three-question survey at the end of a purchase is as easy as the click of a button. We have access to so many pieces of technology, from laptops and computers to smartphones, tablets, and more.

Not only are there many platforms that researchers can use, but there are also numerous methodologies and tactics that have been developed over time they can employ. Whether it’s the classic survey method that dates back hundreds of years or a newly integrated data-scraping digital method, researchers have countless options to choose from.

Looking for Reliable Market Research?

At Decision Point Consulting, market research is our specialty. If you or your business needs help to navigate the ins and outs of marketing, we would be happy to help! We are a passionate and driven team committed to helping you make the most of your business strategy, marketing, and legal decision-making. We offer focus group facilitation, digital market research, consumer panels, data capture & analysis, recruiting, and much more. To get started, give us a call today at 440-263-5362 or use our online contact form to get in touch. Let’s get started today.

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