The past, present and future of market research

Every child knows this: if you really want to learn, ask.
And with all its different methods and theories, market research essentially boils down to the same thing: Organizations, brands, and politicians have questions and researchers find various ways to ask them. All with the goal of finding out what matters to people and to guide decision-makers in the right direction. In this article, we want to briefly lay out the history of opinion and market research and where it is now.


Key moments in the history of market research 

The first opinion polling in the 19th century happened without much methodology or filtering. It simply relied on surveying the largest possible amount of people, mostly to predict the outcome of presidential elections in the USA.

A major shift happened in 1936 when the American Institute of Public Opinion carefully selected 50.000 people with different profiles to create a representation of society and achieved much better results in their surveys. Market research today is still based on this idea of representativeness.

At around the same time, marketing agencies started to be interested in consumer’s attitudes and experiences and first began asking people questions on the street and then by telephone. The first focus group was invented in the 1940s, to get qualitative data by asking people to give detailed opinions about a product or topic. And a decade later some people already had recording devices on their televisions so that TV channels could estimate how many people actually watched their shows.

Since then market research has developed into a science of its own, using different quantitative and qualitative methods from online surveys to eye tracking while watching videos, sending participants products to test at home or collecting shopping receipts from supermarkets. 


history of market research
New consumer behavior requires new methods in market research.


New methods for a new type of consumer

With the omnipresence of the internet today, market research faces new challenges. How do you know how many people watch a show if everyone watches it on different devices? And what convinces people to buy a product? Advertising in print, TV or from influencers?

But the internet hasn’t only changed our consumer behavior, it has also introduced new types of products and services. Sharing (e.g. apartments, cars, bikes) has become an economy of itself and there is an unlimited offer of free apps that want to make your everyday life easier. 

That is why market researchers like us at Nicequest are moving toward a more holistic approach and finding new ways of observing people’s behavior. With technology that tracks how people use websites or apps or how they move through their cities, large amounts of data are gathered. 

However, that doesn’t mean that there is no need for qualitative methods. After analyzing these sets of data, it is still important to confirm hypotheses or test out new ideas. At Nicequest for example we invite our members to participate in online communities or to review products at home.


history of market research
With more apps and possibilities, privacy concerns are increasing as well.


Privacy – more important than ever

With more and easier ways of gathering data online, privacy concerns are also increasing. You might have heard of the phrase: “When you’re not paying for a product, you’re the product”. While this is not always the case (many apps generate income with ads) some apps, for example, collect and sell location data from their users. And as only a minority of users actually read the terms and conditions to see what happens with their data, this often goes unnoticed and users may feel exploited.

Since market research is also interested in this kind of information, although, for research instead of targeted ads, it is essential to keep the trust of participants. The European Society for Opinion and Market Research (ESOMAR), in which Nicequest is a member, sets a strict code of conducts and ethics for the industry. Communities like Nicequest have to lay open their Privacy policies and be transparent about the kind of information that is collected. Additionally, as a Nicequest member, for example, you are always able to pause or stop any participation when you’re uncomfortable with a question or a project. 


At Nicequest we are happy to count on the participation of over 2 million members worldwide. Only with engaged participation of people with different profiles are brands and organizations able to know, what people care about and can develop products, services, and policies that really matter.


Do you participate in market research communities? Tell us what you like about giving your opinions and sharing your experiences!

Add a comment


  1. Kim Mooney | 19 October, 2019

    I’ve always loved filling in surveys, It’s good to have my voice heard and be able to contribute to decisions made.

  2. Deborah | 4 October, 2019 going to the surveys read the blogs and relook at them from 2018. I love all the ways to interact with others.

  3. debby shepard | 4 October, 2019

    alwasy try to get involed in my community. It helps awareness of so many things and social media lets us all connect

  4. Andrew D Miller | 28 September, 2019

    If we give our honest opinions on things we can improve things, make things better. I think this applies not only for products but life in genaeral

  5. Kim Mooney | 28 September, 2019

    I do some but have yet to receive an invitation from you. I used to belong to GFK the Television survey site, I loved having my voice heard.

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