Market Research Tutorial: Quantitative Market Research Methodologies

Quantitative market research methodologies refer to the data collection methods employed to solicit data from respondents. They can also refer to the analytic plan for the resulting data, some of which are highly sophisticated and only infrequently used, and require a rigorous and specialized question/survey format. The market research tutorial will not concern itself with this aspect here and focuses instead on the data collection methods.

Two data collection methods predominate in today's quantitative market research methodologies: telephone and online surveying.

You may have (and probably have) received calls from market research firms asking you to participate in a survey. Legitimatemarket research firms with identify themselves and clearly state the purpose of the call. "Hello, this is Bob calling from XXX Research, a national market research firm. We are talking with persons like yourself to get your thoughts and opinions about [the subject of the study]. We are not selling anything and your participation will not be used to generate sales calls to you. The survey takes about X minutes."

Given that the heart of quantitative market research methodologies are statistical reliability, such telephone calls are usually placed randomly. That is, if a business is looking to interview persons in a given geography, the sample (a list of persons or telephone numbers that could be called) would be randomly drawn from a pool of all such available persons or numbers and then each person or number would be randomly apportioned to interviewers to attempt a call.

Samples are obtained from sampling houses, businesses that specialize in maintaining list of persons and are often capable of providing a list with specific characteristics, such as 35 to 49 year-olds, or homeowners, or the like. Telephone surveying is also used by companies wishing to interview their customers, in which case the sample would be provided by the business and thecalling facility would ensure the randomness of selection for calling from the list.

Legitimate market research firms employ numerous controls to ensure the quality of the data they are collecting on your behalf. Calls are not placed after 9 p.m. local time, except as requested by a respondent. Interviewers are specifically trained to conduct market research and to minimize any bias that might be introduced by "leading" the respondent (that is, implying that the interviewer prefers one answer to another).

As of the time of this writing (December 2007), legitimate market research is exempt from the national do-not-call list.

Online surveying is becoming a widely acceptable form of quantitative market research methodologies among market researchers.

Some market research firms have specialized in developing lists of potential respondents (persons who have agreed to receive survey invitations) in exchange for specific demographic and behavioral data from the respondents. Using this data allows for a random selection to be drawn that is balanced to the underlying population desired.

In what circumstances would you use telephone surveying or online surveying? How do you choose which quantitative market research methodologies?

Both methods are relatively fast in terms of the time it takes to collect the data required. For most market research projects, online surveying can be more timely.

Advantage: online.

Both methods offer different advantages to respondents. For some people, answering questions by phone involves minimal effort on their part and might not put in the effort of answering a survey online. Others prefer to anonymity and privacy of completing a survey online at their leisure and without the potentialinterruption of a telephone call.

Advantage: draw.

Both methods are reliable to a point. Both methods have issues with the refusal of some individuals to participate. With telephone surveying, it is presumed that respondents generally are truthful in their answers and one person is indeed completing the survey. In online surveying, it is currently not possible to ensure that the individual asked to participate is indeed the person participating.

Advantage: telephone.

And the issue of cost. Depending on the survey and the difficulty of reaching the desired population of respondents, both methods can range from being relatively inexpensive (on a per interview basis) to quite costly. Our advice is to draw up your survey specifications and compare.

Advantage: draw.

So, finally, again, how to choose?

It's really a judgment call. Obviously, cost is a major factor. And the length and complexity of the survey instrument is another. The quality of the online sample list is another. These factors all need to be considered and weighed in making a final decision. Truly, it's a survey by survey decision.

Finally, a word on one other quantitative market research methodology: mail surveys.

Mail surveys are primarily still used because of a perceived cost advantage. (They're cheaper, much cheaper!) However, our experience tells us that this is simply no longer true. Indeed, the mail surveys we have priced (versus phone) have invariably come in at a higher cost.

Add to that the fact that mail surveys is painfully slow (it takes a month at least to collect the surveys) and that surveys are often incompletely filled out by respondents and we are hard-pressed to understand why anyone seriously considers this methodology anymore.

Perhaps a story (a true story by the way) will best explain our reluctance: a friend of ours purchased a brand-new andexpensive sports car. The dealer told him that he would be receiving a survey from the manufacturer about his purchaseexperience. And the dealer further said that if our friend would give him the blank survey to complete, the dealer wouldgive our friend two free oil changes. (Oil changes for this vehicle average $100 each.)

Okay: pop quiz!

What do you think our friend did?

And how valid was the data that the manufacturer received?

'Nuf said. On to choosing the right methodology for your study.

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