Industry Snapshot


Market and social research means the systematic investigation of the behaviour, needs, attitudes, opinions, motivations or other characteristics of a whole population or a particular part of a population, in order to provide objective, accurate and timely information to clients (government, commercial and not-for-profit organisations) about issues relevant to their activities, to support their decision-making processes.

Market and social research provides accurate and timely information on the needs, attitudes and motivations of a population:
It plays a vital social role, assisting governments and businesses to develop services, policies, and products that are responsive to an identified need. It contributes to Australia’s economic wellbeing, by ensuring that organisational responses to these needs are relevant and properly targeted.

Consumers of market and social research include State and Federal government agencies, companies and non-government organisations – in fact, any organisation that needs to better understand the community, trends of any kind or its own customers will use research. Research projects educate the response of decision makers to a range of important issues, including planning for major transport and infrastructure projects, responses to climate change, taxation policy and many other areas.

The process of market and social research includes specifying the information required to achieve the research needs of the client, designing the method for collecting information, managing and implementing the data collection process, analysing the results, and communicating the findings and their implications to clients. Methods of collecting information in market and social research include postal or mail surveys, e-mail surveys, internet surveys, telephone surveys, door-to-door surveys, central location (e.g. shopping centre) surveys, observational techniques, desk research, and the recruitment and conduct of group discussions, in depth interviews and series of interviews with panels. Market and social researchers may also use publicly or commercially available data, such as published statistics or sales data, to provide advice to their clients.

Market and social research differs from other forms of information gathering in that the information is not used, disclosed nor transferred either to support measures or decisions with respect to the particular individual, or in a manner that results in any serious consequence (including substantial damage or distress) for the particular individual.

Market and social research is not marketing and cannot be used to “push” a product or service. Under the Trade Practices Act and the Privacy Act, it is illegal to pretend to be doing market or social research if the real purpose of the call is to sell something. Any information gathering activity in which the names and contact details of the people contacted are to be used for sales, promotional or fundraising activities or other non-research purposes (e.g. debt collection, credit rating) directed at the particular individual can under no circumstances be regarded as market and social research. In addition, any activity that attempts to impart information to individuals rather than collect information from individuals (e.g. push polling) can under no circumstances be regarded as market and social research.

The market and social research industry operates under strict, government-approved codes of conduct that ensure ethical behaviour and professional standards are upheld. Complaints can be investigated and sanctions applied by AMSRO and AMSRS.

The Market & Social Research Fact Sheet (PDF)

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Provided by the late Mike Larbalestier, Past Chairman - Federal Council - Australian Market & Social Research Society.

Market Research generally had its origins in social survey research in the United Kingdom. Some people even like to pretend the Doomsday Book was the first bit of systematic research - it may have been the first census but it was not a sample survey. Social sample survey research came from the enquiring minds of the great English liberal social reformers who were horrified by the conditions in which many of their countrymen were living and used carefully compiled factual reports to drive home the situation to their compatriots. The classics in English social survey research were: Mayhew's "London Life and London Poor" (1851), Charles Booth's monumental 17 volume study of "Labour and Life of the People of London" (1886), Rowntree's "Poverty: A study of Town Life" (1901) and Arthur Bowley's "Livelihood and Poverty" (1912).

In the meantime mathematicians in Europe had been developing sampling theory (originally for genetic experiments, then for agricultural purposes, and finally for quality control purposes in factory production processes), and bright young Dr Hollerith had been developing punched card equipment for the US Bureau of the Census. Freud had stimulated a great deal of thought about psychological processes and in particular the learning processes, so by the early 1900s not only the theoretical concepts, but also the practical tools were at hand for the first generalised use of social survey techniques in the marketing area.

As is not unusual, it was the advertising profession that led the way, with Claude Hopkins publishing his book on "Scientific Advertising" in 1912, although it was another 13 years before Daniel Starch brought out his book on "Principles of Advertising" (1925). By the 1930's, the large consumer companies in both the UK and the USA were into market research in a reasonably big way. Media research was recognised in the UK with the establishment of the BBC Listener Research Department in 1936, the same year that public opinion polling became a distinct sub-branch with the formation of the Gallup Poll.

Australia was not, in fact, far behind. The first recorded consumer study was carried out by Rudi Simmatt of J Walter Thompson in 1929, who also organised a study of the automobile market in 1930. J Walter Thompson was the original training ground of Australian market research pioneers Sylvia Ashby and Bill McNair, the latter of whom initiated the first studies of the radio audience in Australia in 1934. Sylvia Ashby opened the first independent market research company in Australia in 1936, with the McNair Survey being registered in 1944. The Roy Morgan Research Centre was established in 1941 to carry out Gallup Polls.

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The Research Industry Council of Australia is the authoritative voice for the market and social research industry in Australia. It is a joint venture of the Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS) and the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO). The RICA Council is comprised of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of both associations and the AMSRS CEO and AMSRO Executive Director.

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