FEATURE12 January 2016

The qual revolution

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Features Impact UK

Our special editorial celebrating 70 years of market research continues with John Downham’s look at the revolution in qualitative research. 

Immediately after World War II, market research in Britain consisted of fairly straightforward usage and attitude surveys. By the 1950s, however, the emphasis had moved increasingly into developing research’s ability to explain, and not simply to describe. Attempts to uncover why consumers bought particular products and brands were given extra impetus by the growing concept of brand image. 

On the technical side, the development of attitude-scaling methods and other work in the US, by sociological researchers such as Paul Lazarsfeld, led to the use of more complex (and longer) questionnaires – and of more advanced statistical techniques, such as factor analysis. But, on the whole, this was a process of evolutionary development rather than revolutionary change. 

In the middle of the 1950s, however, came two potentially game-changing developments. One was the advent of computers into research agency work. Over time, this dramatically altered research activities, initially in the fields of media and panel research. Even so, the main impact ...