Scaling Techniques in Business Research

by Vanessa Cross; Updated September 26, 2017
Marketing surveys frequently use quantitative scaling tools.

Scaling is a quantitative measurement tool frequently used in commercial marketing research studies. In business marketing, for instance, survey or focus group respondents can communicate their opinions and preferences regarding a particular object or between a select group of objects. This information can be categorized by unique properties into variables and used to gain insights on market demand preferences.


Nominal scale is the placement of data into categories without order. The names or labels used for the categories do not suggest a continuum or relationship among the various categories used. For instance, a market survey that uses a simple "yes or no" scaling option is nominal because the options do not represent a continuum, order, or distance between the two options.


A classification that implies an order is described as an ordinal scale. A simple market research tool is a ranking of a respondent's preference among a list of items. For instance, a researcher may ask a survey respondent to rank a list of breakfast cereals by order of preference. In this example, the researcher gains insights on the preference order, but not on the degree of preference between any of the two brands.


Interval scaling is developed when a survey respondent is asked to provide feedback on individual merchandise or service. It is frequently used in commercial marketing research studies. An example of an interval rating scale is to ask a survey respondent to try a product and to rate their preference on a zero to 10 rating scale, with zero representing unfavorable and 10 most favorable.


In market research, comparative scales are developed when a survey respondent is asked to compare products or services. Paired comparison and dollar metric comparison are two types of comparative scale techniques. Paired comparison seeks to find out the most important factors driving the demand for a product by presenting a respondent with a choice of two or more factors. Examples of the types of factors used in a paired comparison scale are "too expensive" or "too difficult". The dollar metric comparison scale is similar, but also seeks information on the amount of money respondents are willing to pay for their preferences.

Unity-Sum-Gain Technique

The unity-sum-gain scaling technique is used to determine which product options are likely to be the most successful in the market. In this technique, researchers offer respondents a list of features that could be offered as product options. Each option is listed with its additional retail cost. The researcher observes how the respondent chooses among the product options based on being given a limited amount of resources to allocate to the optional item listings. This scaling technique is used to determine consumer preferences among a given set of options.

About the Author

Vanessa Cross has practiced law in Tennessee and lectured as an adjunct professor on law and business topics. She has also contributed as a business writer to news publications, including the "Chicago Tribune," and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Cross holds a B.A. in journalism, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in international business law.

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