Commercial Economic, Sociological, and Educational Research

SIC 8732

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification includes establishments primarily engaged in performing commercial business, marketing, and other economic, sociological, and educational research on a contract or fee basis. Noncommercial economic, sociological, and educational research establishments funded from endowments, grants, or contributions are classified in SIC 8733 Noncommercial Research Organizations.

Members of this classification gather and interpret data in the areas of business and economic research, educational research, market research, public opinion, and sociological research. Utilized to track such varied phenomena as product launches, television viewing habits, and political popularity, this industry has become an increasingly integral part of the sociological landscape of the United States. Demographic surveys and poll results are used to determine everything from a publication's advertising focus to the popularity of legislative initiatives under consideration. Indeed, the plethora of polls and surveys came under increased criticism from observers who charged that such polls, particularly with regard to politics, were in themselves forces that influenced public opinion. During the late 2000s, a new industry of online polling was emerging. In 2008, 14,712 establishments operated in this industry classification, employing 164,352 people and earning a combined $18.8 billion in revenue.

Market research, routinely utilized by companies involved in myriad industries nationwide, grew and changed rapidly between the 1930s and the 1990s. The philosophical underpinnings of this growth were based on a consumer, market-driven orientation. Thus, the emphasis was on discovering the needs and wants of the consumer and creating a product that fulfilled those needs and wants, as opposed to a product-driven philosophy centered on creating a product and trying to sell it without first consulting the marketplace to determine the appetite for the product.

In order to systematically gather such information and analyze it, larger corporations support marketing departments. Through a variety of means, especially surveys, these departments evaluate a product's acceptance in the marketplace and track its sales. Many other corporations, large and small, contract with commercial research companies that specialize in such demographic studies.

Though some critics claim that the scientific method cannot be applied to inexact sciences such as anthropology, economics, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology, sociologists continue to use advanced mathematical statistics and other quantitative methods, as well as computer technology, to evaluate and interpret data. Much of their information derives from a variety of sources such as census reports, government studies, and questionnaires from large samples of people. Commercial nonphysical research firms also employ qualitative methods such as direct observation and historical research.

As surveys and polls have become widely used tools for gathering demographic and other pertinent information, some of the best known firms in this industry, including AC Nielsen, Gallup, and Harris, have become familiar names to the average consumer. The largest market research company in the world is the Dutch company The Nielsen Company, B.V., which owns U.S.-based media measurer AC Nielsen; in 2008, Nielson reported over $5 billion in revenue. Information Resources Inc. of Chicago works with the consumer goods industry and had revenues of approximately $700 million in 2008. Arbitron has headquarters in New York City and is the leading provider of radio listening ratings. It had revenues of $368.8 million in 2008.

During the 2000s, the marketing research industry underwent a transformation. Traditional methods of focus groups, telephone surveys, mail surveys, and in-store surveys, which were time consuming and labor intensive were, if not replaced, generously supplemented with instant access, highly manipulatable Internet-based surveys and research. Online marketing research is also more affordable. From fully professional services provided by marketing firms to simple, consumer-generated online surveys, by the late 2000s, the Internet had opened an entire new universe through which marketing research could take place.

For the industry as a whole, spending on marketing and public opinion research was down across the board during 2008 and into 2009 due to a downturn in the economy that had businesses cutting back on costs. However, according to a BtoB survey of business-to-business marketers, four out of ten planned to increase their marketing budgets in 2010; 47.5 percent expected marketing expenditures to remain level, and 13.3 percent planned to decrease spending.

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