THE RELEVANCE OF HISTORICAL METHOD FOR MARKETING RESEARCH

For several decades a small group of researchers has recognized that history can make important contributions to the understanding of marketing and consumer activities. Preeminent among this band has been Stanley Hollander. In the past 30 years Hollander produced numerous works that examine such diverse topics as the evolution of retail organizations, repression of traveling salesmen in the United States during the 19th century (1964), the history of consumerism and retailing, the historical dimensions of the service, and historians’ views of consumption (1986).

The reasons for the lack of enthusiasm shown to history have been outlined by Ronald Savitt (1980). While urging marketers to give greater consideration to the role of history in their discipline, he recognized that most marketers favor research based on the operationalization of constructs and on the testing of explicit hypotheses. As a consequence, he argued, they are naturally ill at ease with the majority of historians, who write within the framework of a narrative structure and construct their theses inductively rather than deductively.

Marketing and consumer researchers who have turned to history have readily accepted the importance of understanding the development over time of marketing institutions and consumer behaviors. Many of the papers offered at the Michigan State and ACR conferences have presented brief studies of marketers or marketing practices from earlier eras. Others have sought to acquaint researchers with unfamiliar data sources that might prove useful in reconstructing the histories of certain contemporary marketing practices. And following an investigation using traditional historical methodology, Fullerton (1988) has raised serious questions about the widely-accepted scheme of periodization that divides the business history of the last 100 years into the Production, Sales, and Marketing Eras.

Accepting contemporary theory structures as givens is a risky business for marketing and consumer researchers. By overlooking the evolution of those operating assumptions and the social conditions that have nurtured them, those scholars may base their analyses on what may prove to he unstable and transient foundations. They might be wise to examine more closely the larger issues behind the problems for which they are asked to provide understanding and strategies. In that endeavor, history can be a valuable ally.

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10 thoughts on “THE RELEVANCE OF HISTORICAL METHOD FOR MARKETING RESEARCH

  1. A very thought provoking post. We can all absolutely learn from history – we have all heard the saying “history repeating itself”. Learning from mistakes is essential in business – avoiding them is obviously better, but if there are lessons to be learned from the marketing research or business decisions of the past then companies would be wise to be open to history. I don’t have any reference for this, however I have heard Coke-a-Cola once had the opportunity to buy-out Pepsi, but didn’t assuming Pepsi wouldn’t amount to anything. That was a costly mistake and a valuable lesson not to underestimate your competition in the market – especially today where consumers are so used to new products being marketed at them they are likely to give them a try if they are getting a little bored with their current choices. As consumers I figure we can be a fickle bunch at the best of times and I would think that an accumulation of knowledge and research over time on consumer behaviour is the best way companies have to try and predict their future markets.

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    • Thanks for your kind words.When we try to predict and do any research, the history must be been consider. Businesses want to be able to react faster to market changes to obtain and save qualified customers. One of the most important things is prediction. Consumers are fickle in recent times. Prediction has become more and more difficult. Like you said accumulation of knowledge and research the consumer is indeed one of the best ways that companies can try to predict their future markets.

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  2. As aptly put by Aldous Huxley ‘That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.’
    (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aldoushuxl163193.html#GODXrVDE0oGcKAUy.99)

    On another matter, being a marketing and psychology novice, I a realised whilst reading your blog how little I understood about the operationalization of constructs and found this explanation simple and useful.
    http://anleggett.weebly.com/uploads/3/4/5/7/3457507/7_5_constructs_variables_and_operationalization.pdf

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  3. Why reinvent the wheel? There may be forgotten marketing practices which can be reinstated. The repression of traveling salesman sounds interesting. What was that about?

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  4. History may provide few insights but that too may be insignificant about consumer behavior, taking into consideration the modern consumer environment it may not be suitable. The modern consumer is surrounded by electronic technology all the time, his family environment is different than in the past, government structure is different, his eating habits has changed and the history has drastically changed in the last 100 years. I guess history with respect to consumer behavior and research will not be a good choice.

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    • I agree with you said the history has drastically changed in the last 100 years, but history still affords us lessons that merit attention. According to the history, companies can predict the consumer environment and consumer behavior in the future. Especially, how to obtain and save qualified customers in a constantly changing market is very important, the history provides data to predict it is obvious a good method.

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  5. I believe that history can definitely aid in contributing to marketing strategy for companies. I read an article that highlights how Walmart has learned that being a good community member will gain trust and loyalty, which is always an effective marketing tactic. There are also facts to suggest that historical mistakes in marketing are dangerous to repeat, too. So in both cases I think that looking into history of marketing data is important for marketer to make an informed decision.
    http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/23997/Marketing-Lessons-From-History-Repeating-Marketing-Update.aspx

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  6. A special sight of marketing research. It shows the early stage of the marketing research. From the history we can learn a lot. Whenever the marketing research can give advice to managers. But we should realize that there are different between history and present. So we should receive what we can get and divide the useless one.

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    • Yes, history affords us many experiences and we need to choose what part is useful and receive it. When we do any research we always need to consider the history. The marketing research also needs history data as support that is why I choose this article.

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  7. I think making a distinction between historical methods and historical facts is important. I agree that historical facts should be retained and understood but should historical methods?

    The historical method as you said was very inductive, meaning that results were induced not deduced. This led to section of the market being missed, an example from history (please excuse the sexism it is just a very good example of a past history):

    Argument One: Women stay at home
    Argument Two: People who stay at home clean
    Logical Conclusion: Cleaning is done by women

    This is an induced conclusion and leaves out a section of the market. Where are the cleaning products or services being marketed to single men out of home? They may not stay at home but someone has to clean the house.

    The modern scientific method used by marketing research allows for a target market to be understood not guessed at and allows for the locating of new target markets. This method requires that a conclusion is deduced, which in a population means that a statistical likelihood exist. It is normally done in the reverse of above. A logical statement is made and then questions are posed to test the hypothesis.

    Logical Statement: Cleaning is done by women
    Question one: Are you a woman?
    Question Two: Do you clean?

    The percentage reply of yes/no to the above question can then be used to deduce if there are statistical percentages and therefore find out where a market exists for cleaning products. If you followed the above trial you would find the logical conclusion: neither sex statistically significantly doesn’t clean. A new logical statement would be: Cleaning is done by both sexes. You can then work out, via the same method, what each sex looks for in a cleaning product and tailor to the market.

    It sounds nice to talk on the importance of history but realistically the modern scientific method is better allows for strong understanding of the market and should be taught to the exclusion of the old methods.

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