The expanding universe of market research

Date of publication: September 1, 1999


Market research is a relatively small part of the professional and business services sector. Commercially available revenues in 1998 were roughly $1bn (£7bn) worldwide, representing only about 0.1% of overall sales value. However, its economic and social impact is highly significant and my thesis is that this importance is growing and the scope of research is continually expanding. In making this case, it is useful to look first at how research has evolved to its present state. Research, as we know it, developed in the first half of this century but expanded most rapidly in the late 1950s and 1960s. The post-war drivers of this were companies and their brands operating in competitive environments in which consumers/customers had choices. Product development had always drawn heavily on research but the arrival of commercial television as a highly effective but very expensive means of brand communication catalysed a big leap forward in research spend. At this time (the 1960s), commercial survey research was dominated by FMCG clients. About one third of expenditure was on market and media measurement, through retail audits and household panels. Two thirds was spent on custom/ad hoc projects, both qualitative and quantitative, largely product development and communications research plus U&As. Then, as now, there was also a much smaller part of the research scene accounted for by social, political and public opinion studies.

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