Market research has a fascinating history, full of innovative ideas, refined methods, expanded scopes, and technical advancements. At its inception, market research was a strictly quantitative area whose aim was to assess promotional activities and financial results of companies all over the world.
We've come a long way in the creation and evolution of quantitative research methods since the first questionnaire-style survey in the 1920s, with much of our innovation efforts focused on it for decades, also abandoning qualitative initiatives in favour of the pursuit of statistical results.
For the last century, the most important factor that insight practitioners have used to invent and revamp quantitative approaches has been technological advancement, and the findings have proved to be highly useful.
A History of Quantitative Methods
With his questionnaire survey method to test his advertising effectiveness theory, Daniel Starch could be considered the founder of quantitative analysis. To see how successful advertising could be used, read, believed, remembered, and acted upon, Starch and his colleagues took to the streets to ask people if they had read those publications and what advertisements they remembered reading in certain publications. Since then, the industry has increased its focus on quantitative data, developing quantitative methods and techniques to provide the highest quality numerical data for use in all decision-making processes.
The survey and quick poll, both of which were adapted from Starch's questionnaire system and have evolved into powerful tools in their own right today, are the most popular quantitative tools you've probably heard of and certainly used. They have, however, undergone a number of improvements over time in response to the needs of insight professionals.
When technology was limited to those who could afford it, insight professionals relied on face-to-face interactions to get the data they needed.
We were able to adjust and refine quantitative data collection methods based on responses from respondents in real time – an off-topic response might indicate whether a question was phrased correctly, and recording an answer would reveal the first signs of researcher bias and the dangers of individual interpretation. However, we can only find these flaws in the system through trial and error, and then try to correct them and change our course so that we can account for them.
Telephone Quantitative Research
Market research will expand its reach by gaining access to more respondents and more data collection opportunities thanks to technology's ever-evolving beast of creativity. The commercialization of the telephone was one of these opportunities, which contributed to telephone-based quantitative surveying.
Also without the benefit of face-to-face communication, telephone-based research sparked mass or Big Data data collection – the first true realisation that we now have access to almost everyone in the world if we can convince them to participate. As a result, ethical dilemmas are beginning to emerge, as well as the fact that, while we search for more data, the definition of data is changing.
Online Research and Surveys
The incorporation of the internet into the insights industry to generate online analysis is the next iteration, or massive iterative evolution. The possibilities that this transformation of the market research industry has opened up are amazing – from the removal of territorial barriers to the incredible modern communication tactics (think gamification, electronically gifted rewards, and much more), data collection and analytical methodologies, researcher-respondent interactions, and insight empowerment strategies have all been completely transformed.
We've been able to automate a lot of active data collection processes and open up more communication channels than we ever imagined – for example, chatbot surveys will collect preliminary data that allows us to ask more detailed questions later. We can now gather passive data as well; information from website visits and social media has gone a long way toward offering the behavioural background that face-to-face and telephone interviews couldn't quite catch.
IoT and the Future of Quantitative Research
Of course, all of these are still in use today in some form or another, although the majority of research is now done online. However, we continue to search for more, better data and to make use of all available communication tools, which is why we are now investigating all devices linked to the Internet of Things. Smartphones are widely used, but other smart technologies such as voice assistants, smart speakers, smart televisions, and other smart technologies are still being investigated as research avenues.
Technology as a Catalyst for Change
Without a doubt, technology plays a critical role in the evolution of quantitative approaches in market research, as well as other areas such as the growth and rapid expansion/accessibility of qualitative data collection techniques, data processing, and insight activation methods, to name a few. It's difficult not to be excited about what the future of quantitative research methodologies can bring when combined with technology, with perks like instant communication, advanced analytical automated processes, and interaction techniques.
However, data protection is now a much bigger issue than it was in the 1920s; everybody (businesses, insight experts, and consumers) are beginning to understand the importance of their own personal data and what it can do in the wrong hands, so security must be considered when incorporating emerging technology into the insights arsenal.
There is no question that quantitative research methods are due for another evolution, and the entire industry is looking for the next step.