What 15 Years of Online Market Research Has Taught Us

By Chris Martin

15 Years of Market Research

The history of market research is complex and differs vastly depending on who you ask. According to Lawrence Lockley, author of Notes on the History of Marketing Research, market research can be traced back to ‘The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian’ of 1824. The AMSRS, on the other hand, recognises Mayhew’s 1851 ‘London Life and London Poor’ as the first published example of market research.

Over nearly 200 years, the market research landscape has changed drastically and it shows no evidence of slowing down anytime soon. From qualitative interviews to social media listening, market research is a diverse practice that requires a skilled team for maximum effectiveness. Our experts have a wealth of experience managing research projects of all sizes. These are just a few of the key takeaways from what 15 years of managing online market research has taught us.

Innovation Will Always Prevail

There was a time where online market research itself was considered innovative; where a simple web based survey was sufficient. But over time, as technology has improved, so have the methods available to research teams. Now, innovation has become somewhat of a buzzword used to describe everything from new services to software. But true innovation comes from those who push the envelope of technology to provide clients access to better insights.

Every researcher’s dream is a large scale ethnography: a deep-rooted understanding of customer behaviours combined with quantitative analysis of wants, needs and habits. But research on such an extraordinary scale is expensive, time consuming and impractical. Technology, however, provides opportunities for businesses to get closer to consumers at lower costs and greater scale. In recent years we have seen the emergence of new tools: social media listening, creative scrapbooks, heat maps and more. But the future holds even more possibility, promising leaps and bounds in sentiment analysis, gamification and even virtual reality. Technology drives innovation, and innovation will always prevail.

Be Careful Who You Believe

As the marketplace has become more diverse, an increasing number of thought leaders and research experts have emerged. Of course, many of these are at the forefront of the industry – driving discussion, debate and innovation. For some of the best, take a look at Ray Poynter’s list of 10 Smart Researchers to Follow. But, of course, not everyone is held in such high regard. Everybody has an agenda, and there is no ‘right’ way to approach market research. Be wary of those who offer only one solution and suggest it is right for every research problem.

The truth is much more complex and a carefully considered combination of research tools will always offer more insight than a single study. Whether it is online or in person, qualitative or quantitative, agile or longitudinal – all agencies have a specialty. But the dangerous ones are those that believe there is only one way. It is these agencies that are usually looking for a quick sale, rather than looking out for your best interests. A trustworthy agency will recognise your needs and understand how they fit into your research solution, with a view to working with others to develop the best possible insights.

There Is No Quick & Easy Answer

In its early days, there was a popular myth that online market research was a ‘quick and dirty’ approach to insight generation. Unfortunately, to this day, there are still those who cling to this quickly outdated perception of online methods. Once upon a time this myth was grounded in the truth, but online research providers have worked hard to improve service quality and offerings, to the point where quality is a staple of online research.

Now, online market research consists of a wide range of tools, each with a unique benefit and place. From the collaborative nature of an online focus group, to the longitudinal and retrospective opportunities provided by community panels. ‘Online research’ is no longer just the bargain basement of the research industry, but a flourishing hub of innovative tools and methods. There are no quick and easy answers to research problems. Every project must be considered in context, in depth and against a range of possible options to determine which methods will deliver the best business impact.

A Combined Approach is Best

The question we are (by far) most frequently asked is: which is better – qual or quant? Quantitative research tends to be considered objective and scientific, while qualitative research is subjective, creative and individual. So the question quickly becomes: which is valued more: individual experience or numeric analysis. While there are some situations in which the choice is easy (for example, formulating a hypothesis vs. testing a hypothesis), is most cases the line is blurred.

A combined approach develops two perspectives of the same issue: a powerful way to galvanise business action. Statistics may be shocking, but it is stories which stick with people over time. In our experience, we have found that presenting both the broad overall picture and personal individual experiences to stakeholders is the most effective way to drive change within an organisation.

However the benefits of engaging in qual and quant research extend far beyond the presentation of results. In many cases, the two can paint starkly different portraits of the same problem. Overall customer satisfaction may be high, but focussing on individual experiences can pinpoint areas of service that still require improvement. By understanding both sides of the same coin, businesses are able to better prioritise budgets for maximum effectiveness.

Fifteen years of market research has taught us a lot about the industry, but we know there is still much more to learn. What do you wish someone had told you about market research years ago? Have your perceptions of research methods changed over time? Most importantly, how do you imagine the future of research? Let us know in the comments below and join the discussion.

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Christopher Martin

Chris Martin- Marketing Specialist

Personal Bio: With a relentless focus on consumer experience, Chris is uniquely skilled in managing online communication channels. Combined with an in-depth knowledge of the digital era and a sharp analytical mind, he is able to creatively develop the FlexMR brand in accordance with a constantly evolving industry.




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