Introduction to Marketing Research
Marketing research is a well planned and systematic approach for the finding truth on how to meet consumer desires and needs. This tutorial explains how Marketing research is carried out in 2019 with the best examples.
Today research is necessary if any type of organization is going to follow the marketing concept of putting consumer needs and desires first. Communications technology and social media are presenting new opportunities for marketing research.
Ethics form a system that helps to determine what is right and good from what is wrong and bad. When ethics are applied to daily life they can be used as guidelines on how to act. A code of conduct is a formal statement by an organization of which actions are allowed and which are prohibited.
If the Car Drives Itself What is the Driver Going to Do?
New technology is going to affect how many existing products are used. For example, the age of self-driving cars is almost a reality. Over 50 percent of cars sold now have some driver assistance safety technology installed. Renault and Nissan are working on selling several models of totally self-driving cars by 2020.
Consumers are interested. Research has shown 32 percent would drive such vehicles on motorways and 18 percent in cities. Why are they interested? Forty-nine percent feel that they would help in traffic jams.
Consumers do have some concerns. According to the survey most do not trust the technology. A majority of drivers state that they would feel unsafe in self-driving care. A third of respondents do not trust a self-driving car to avoid a collision.
These facts make the following participant response rather surprising. When asked what they would do in a self-driving car, 26 percent stated they would take a nap!
If cars are driving themselves, the experience of getting from place to place will change. The research will be needed to determine how consumers will use the time and what type of products they might need to fill the time while the car drives itself.
Question: How can you determine what behavior people will engage in, in a self-driving car?
Defining Marketing Research
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a growth both in the number of universities and also in the number of academic fields being taught. These new academic subjects, including psychology and sociology, were interested in applying scientific methods to social problems in ways that would help to explain human behavior.
However, this interest in applying scientific methods did not apply to purchase behavior and there was, as yet, no academic area of study called ‘marketing’ or ‘marketing research’.
Yet during the same time span, in the business world marketing research became a recognized professional field. Throughout this period of economic history businesses were starting to grow from small local or regional companies to larger national companies.
Since they were now selling their products over a wider geographic area it became more difficult for companies to identify and understand their customers.
Such an early marketing problem was faced by auto manufacturers. Once people who had the desire and money to purchase cars had done so, the manufacturers needed to know how to use advertising to reach additional consumers.
As a result, the research method of surveying was borrowed from the social sciences. However, early research survey studies confronted the key problem of identifying appropriate consumers to include as participants.
So once again, researchers turned to scientific methods and adopted sampling to identify the appropriate consumers to include in studies. This new method was useful when the potential consumer group was large in number, which was indeed the case for auto manufacturers.
However, the research conducted was limited to focusing on finding customers for existing products rather than finding out about consumer desire to improve products.
Market researchers soon discovered that besides surveying and sampling, they could also borrow additional techniques from the social sciences. In 1931 a manual for marketers, Marketing Research Technique, described not only how to use surveys but also discussed interviewing and focus groups as ways of conducting marketing research.
Because of the successful use of these new techniques, interest in marketing research continued to grow during the 1930s. After the end of World War II, there was a pent-up demand from people for the consumer goods they could not purchase during the war years.
However, once production caught up with demand, companies realized their need to learn sales techniques. When such sales techniques did not sell enough products, they then tried to find additional customers and so started to focus on meeting consumer desires for products.
Marketing research was now needed to determine these desires and specialized marketing firms evolved to provide marketing research services to companies. As a result, universities started to teach marketing research as an academic field to provide the necessary professionals.
Marketing Research and the Development of the Marketing Plan
The marketing researcher is now seen as a consultant who can either conduct the research themselves or help organizations learn how to use the new online tools so they can conduct their own research.
The ability to analyze and gain insights from consumer online comments is now an expected skill. Rather than see research as only one step in the process of developing a marketing plan, it should be seen as essential to the entire process.
After all, research is the only way a company can conduct environmental and competitor analysis. The research conducted may involve a large-scale study or be as simple as visiting a competitor’s store and reading the local business news. Research is also the only means marketers can use to understand buyer motivation.
This research may consist of a large formal survey, informal interviews, or both. First, the proper target market segment cannot be chosen without researching the demographics of the consumer marketplace.
Next, additional consumer research will be needed to determine what a target segment needs and wants. Finally, decisions about product, distribution, pricing, and promotion can only be successfully answered after conducting marketing research.
The researchers may find that there is a need for a new product category that was never thought of before.
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Sources of information
A researcher will collect primary data directly from participants to answer a specific research question. Primary data are usually collected from a group of participants called a ‘sample’. This sample consists of selected members from an entire group of individuals, which is called a ‘population’.
These selected members can be defined by demographic characteristics such as age, gender, or occupation. They also might be defined by psychographic characteristics such as lifestyle or opinions. In addition, they can be defined by their geographic location or product usage levels. A description of the individuals in the sample is called the ‘participant profile’.
The population being studied could be current customers who frequently purchase a product with the purpose of determining how a company can improve that product’s design. Past customers could be included in the sample to find sources of consumer dissatisfaction or to determine what other competing products they also purchase.
Rather than current or past customers, potential market segments of interest to that company can also be studied. For example, research can be conducted to determine what type of promotion might motivate older consumers to purchase.
Another purpose of researching a sample of potential consumers is to determine how a product needs to be adapted to offer the features and benefits they desire.
For example, a company that produces camping equipment might include in their sample individuals who are interested in extreme sports in order to learn how to adapt their product to meet these consumers’ preferences.
Planning the research method
Conducting research and reporting findings and recommendations
Finally, researchers will be ready to conduct the research. Once done, the final task is for researchers to analyze the data and report the findings and conclusions. Analysis requires repeatedly going over the collected responses to find common themes, patterns, and connections. Reporting may be in the form of a written report, a verbal presentation, or both.
A written report presenting the results of a quantitative research study will usually have an introduction followed by a description of the methodology. It will also have a section with findings supported with statistics and charts.
These findings will be the basis of the recommendations given in the report. With quantitative research, someone who has not conducted the research can still write the report based on the findings.
A report for a qualitative research study will follow the same outline. However, because there are no statistics or charts different types of visuals will be used to help clients understand the findings.
Some tools that can be used include diagrams, quotes, photos, and even videos. With qualitative research, the person who conducted the research must be involved in the writing of the report.
Even Nonprofits Need to Conduct Marketing Research
Nonprofit organizations, whether they are social service agencies or museums, also should consider conducting marketing research. They often respond to this fact by explaining that doing so would be too difficult and too expensive. Here are two easy and inexpensive ideas that they could implement.
Nonprofits can train their staff to talk to the public who come through their doors. How did they hear about the organization? What do they like about the services provided? Have they encountered any problems?
With this method, someone from outside the organization is asked to visit the organization. After the experience, they could be asked about the ease of making an appointment or buying a ticket, for example. They could also be asked how they would rate the customer service they received.
Using these simple methods can improve the service, which will result in happier clients and audiences!
Question: Can you think of another way that nonprofits can easily conduct research?
Each can be considered as being similar to a different type of toolbox. Each approach ‘box’ contains certain tools or methods that are most useful with that approach. After deciding on the research approach, the company will choose the best method.
For example, if a car needs repair a person will open the automotive toolbox and perhaps select a wrench. If a house needs repair, a carpentry toolbox will be opened and a hammer may be selected as the needed tool. Each toolbox will have a choice of tools that will be needed for a specific type of job.
A company will perform descriptive research when it needs to obtain specific details on its consumers and their purchasing behavior. Descriptive research is used when statistical data are needed on a fact.
The tool used to conduct descriptive research is almost always surveys. The advantage of a survey is that, if the number of people surveyed (the sample) is large enough, it can be said that a fact has been proved and is true of the entire group.
Descriptive survey data can give answers such as ‘37 percent of our customers are over the age of 55’ or ‘52 percent of our customers purchase four times a year’. If the number of people asked to complete the survey is large enough compared to the total population under study, the answer can even be said to have been proven.
Conducting descriptive research can be expensive and time-consuming. However, it is necessary if a company wants to prove a guess or hypothesis about consumers or their behavior.
For example, a descriptive study can be designed to prove that ‘10 percent of all current consumers will purchase the more expensive new product model’. This guess or hypothesis can be proved within a certain level of confidence that the answer obtained from the descriptive survey sample is true of the entire population.
However, descriptive research can also be used to obtain details without relying on statistical proof. Descriptive research is sometimes used to address issues that are just beginning to be explored, such as consumer preferences.
Many organizations have relied heavily on surveys as their only means of market research. This is unfortunate as the type of information that surveys can provide is limited. Yet another reason for rethinking this dependence on descriptive surveys is that it is increasingly difficult to find a sufficient number of people who are willing to respond.
Because people are often pressed for time, and also because of privacy issues, it is difficult to motivate people to respond to a survey. In an effort to make participation in a survey more convenient, email and social media are increasingly being used.
Companies should use exploratory research when a research question deals with finding information on consumer attitudes, opinions, and beliefs. Such exploratory research can be useful even when there is no specific problem to investigate.
For example, a company might use exploratory research to look for marketing opportunities by researching trends or changes in consumer behavior. The research methods available to conduct exploratory studies include focus groups, interviews, projective techniques, observation, ethnography, and grounded theory.
All of these methods use a qualitative research approach. Exploratory research is designed to let participants provide their own answers. The research question, rather than asking for facts, focuses on a consumer’s needs, desires, preferences, and values.
Because so many different answers will result, statistically provable answers cannot be generated, but exploratory qualitative studies, is designed with considerable thought as to what information is wanted and how it is to be obtained, can provide invaluable information to a company.
Such a study may be large and complex or it can be conducted on a small scale. Either way, the consumer information received will provide details and insights that will help an organization adapt its product, price, promotion, and distribution to meet consumer desires.
When using exploratory research tools, the emphasis is not on the size of a sample. Instead, it is about choosing the correct participants and the analysis of the information they provide.
For example, if asked why they purchase a company’s product, even if each individual has a unique answer, common themes will almost always appear.
A researcher will analyze the responses and then group them by these common themes. One advantage of qualitative research is that it can also be approached in low-cost ways that are available to even small businesses.
If a company wants to study the effect a change in its product will have on consumer purchasing or the possible success of a new promotional campaign, it should use causal research. Causal research is conducted to discover whether the change a company is planning to make will have a positive or negative effect on consumers.
Research questions that require causal research have a cause and effect – for example, such questions as ‘Will a new promotion campaign using a celebrity increase purchases of books among young people?’
or ‘Will customers at the cinema purchase more refreshments if we have a new menu?’ These issues can also be explored using experimental research. Even the effect of intangible factors on sales, such as smell and sound, can be researched.
If the change has already happened, internal quantitative data might already exist to answer the question. For example, if a company wants to know whether their new menu has increased sales, it can look at the sales figures. However, this is an expensive way to learn whether a new menu has proved successful.
Better use of research would be to use qualitative research tools before implementing the change.
For example, experimenting by trying the new menu on a small scale first, to see whether customer reaction will be positive or negative. Such experiments should be carefully designed using the proper subjects and an impartial research design so that the results will be accurate.
Once the general approach is understood, the next step will involve choosing a research method and then plan the research. Marketing research methods can be divided into two different types – quantitative and qualitative. For a small study, research methods of only one type might be used.
However, for some large-scale studies, both types of research may be needed. Quantitative research uses mathematical analysis to provide proof of a fact or a hypothesis (guess or assumption).
When properly implemented, quantitative research can answer questions such as ‘How many consumers prefer our new product?’ or ‘Which of these three packaging designs is most attractive to consumers?’
The standard tool used when conducting quantitative research is the survey. Survey questions give participants a selected number of responses such as yes/no or frequently/sometimes/never. The responses are then entered into a computer using a statistical software package.
The software will tabulate if there are enough responses to support a ‘proved’ fact. This proved fact is then said to be true of the group of consumers as a whole (population) even though only a selected number (sample) were asked.
Of course, it is impossible to ask all consumers. Therefore, it is necessary to determine how many people should participate in the quantitative survey to support this proof.
To determine the correct number, researchers use their knowledge of sampling and statistics to construct a sample that contains the required number and type of participants.
This proof of consumer behavior is important when a company is planning a major expenditure, such as the introduction of a new product or a new promotional campaign.
While quantitative studies can be expensive, because they must be conducted with a large enough sample, in some situations they are worth the cost. The cost is acceptable because if the wrong decision is made, even more, money could be lost.
Quantitative vs. qualitative research
While quantitative studies are useful for answering questions such as ‘How many?’ and ‘What?’, they are not as useful when answering questions such as ‘Why?’ or ‘What if?’
A qualitative study is designed to uncover consumer attitudes, beliefs, and opinions rather than facts. Because it is difficult to know consumer preferences before the study is conducted, a quantitative survey form with predetermined answers can result in misleading results.
Instead, a wider variety of qualitative research tools, including interviews, focus groups, observation, and projective techniques, is available. These tools, when used by trained researchers, allow participants to fully express their opinions and beliefs.
Qualitative research uses fewer participants, who are not necessarily representative of all consumers in the population; sometimes they are chosen because they belong to a distinct segment, such as older or ethnic consumers.
The data that result from using a qualitative approach is not in the form of statistics but rather in ideas and quotes expressed by participants and researchers’ notes.
Interpretation of the data requires special skills but correctly analyzed qualitative data can provide a rich source of information for marketing ideas including new concepts for segmentation. Social media content can now be used as a data source for consumer research. The interpretation of these data requires special skills.
What Should You Write About?
Content marketing provides information that is useful and interesting to a company’s target market in the hope that this will then generate interest in the product. But how do you know what your target market will find interesting?
One way to do this is to sign up for newsletters from your competitors to which your target market might subscribe, as these will let you know what they like to read.
If you are selling a pet care product, sign up for any animal-related newsletters. If you notice that many contain articles about pet food that is organic, then you have an idea for a subject on which you can write. Another way is to follow
Twitter users who are interested in a topic and watch to see what content they are sharing. By posting similar content with your company name attached there is a chance that it will also be shared.
Data collection methods
Once a research question has been decided upon and the research approach has been chosen, the next step is to choose a research method. Methods can include the traditional quantitative marketing survey used in descriptive research.
There are more research tools available for conducting qualitative exploratory research, including focus groups, interviews, projective techniques, observation, and netnography.
Surveys are written instruments that ask a series of predetermined questions. These questions can be answered by checking one of several suggested answers, or the questions might be open-ended and will allow participants to answer in their own words. Surveys can be administered in several ways including in person, over the phone, by mail or online.
The benefit of conducting a survey is that a researcher can tabulate and compare responses as the same questions are asked of each participant. Because the questions and answers are standardized, if enough survey responses are collected, it can be said the response is true of an entire group.
Technology has changed the way surveys are conducted, with an increasing percentage now being done on cell phones.
There are disadvantages to the survey method. A well-written survey will take time to develop as the questions must be carefully written so that there is no ambiguity as to what they mean.
To ensure this, a survey form must be tested on sample participants before it is widely distributed. If a large number of responses are received it will be necessary to use a computer database program to record the answers. In addition, it is becoming more difficult to motivate participants to complete a survey form.
Surveys Now Start on a Smartphone
Smartphone usage continues to grow. In fact, from 2015 to 2021 it is predicted that smartphone usage will double globally to 6.4 billion. It is not surprising that as the smartphone has become an indispensable tool for many people, researchers have wanted to understand how it could be used to conduct research.
It was found that of all online surveys, almost 30 percent were started on a smartphone. This means that any online survey must be created so that it can be easily assessed and responded to on a phone.
It was also found that people are more likely to open and complete a survey on their phone than when they are on their computer. But the survey must be designed with small screen use in mind.
Question: What design issues need to be considered for surveys being completed on a phone?
Intercept interviews are often called ‘person-on-the-street’ interviews. They are designed to be short, taking only three to five minutes, and are limited to a specific topic.
To conduct the interviews a researcher will go to a location where participants can be found. The advantage of intercept interviews is that many responses can be collected in a short period of time. The disadvantage is that the method leaves no time for probing follow-up questions.
In addition, a researcher can conduct expert interviews. The participants in these interviews are not potential or current consumers but rather individuals who have specific knowledge. This knowledge will involve the industry as a whole or knowledge about a company’s target market segment.
Projective techniques can be incorporated in both interviews and focus groups to encourage communication or they can be used on their own. These are techniques that obtain information in ways other than a verbal response.
The technique is borrowed from psychology and is gaining increased use in consumer marketing. Some simple projective techniques include word association, sentence completion and cartoon tests. These are also tools that creative people working in marketing should enjoy using.
Word association is simply asking for a participant’s first response to a name, photo or event. The idea is to get emotional responses, rather than intellectual thoughts, about a company, brand name or product. Word association can be used in focus groups or interviews to get respondents to communicate on an emotional rather than intellectual level.
Use of follow-up questions to probe
One of the advantages of a focus group over a survey is the ability of the moderator to ask follow-up questions. When a participant responds to a question with a general comment that they do not ‘like’ a product, the moderator can keep asking for additional information.
The final answer may be that the participant does not like the color, size, taste, packaging or cost. The moderator can then ask what they might prefer.
Combining focus group and survey research
In the past, marketing research was often viewed as an either/or proposition. Either researchers believed in the primacy of quantitative research or they were believers in qualitative research.
Even if researchers prefer using quantitative research, they should consider combining methodologies. Once ideas such as new brand names, promotional messages, and product benefits are generated by a focus group, they can then be further researched using a quantitative technique such as a survey.
This type of two-stage research project uses the advantages of both qualitative and quantitative research by first generating ideas and then confirming them. While taking more time and resources than a single study, such a two-stage study makes sense when expensive decisions are to be made. The cost to a company of a wrong decision can be very high.
Steps in Developing the Focus Group Method
The focus group method consists of the three stages of preparing, conducting and analyzing. Preparation for a focus group requires that researchers meet with management to discuss the research objectives.
The researchers together with management will then develop the research participant profile, after which the participants will be invited and a moderator will be chosen.
Conducting a focus group
A marketing research firm or a large corporation may have a specialized focus group facility. This facility would consist of a reception area where focus group participants would be greeted. A separate room where the focus group would take place would provide a table with comfortable seating.
Also in the room would be projection equipment for showing any video clips the moderator might use. A table for displaying products, an easel with paper for writing and a side table with refreshments would all be in place.
In addition, the room would contain a means for taping the proceedings. Attached to the focus group room would be a side room that would be used by researchers and managers to view the proceedings using a one-way mirror.
While such a setting is very professional, it is also costly, and it is not necessary to have such a suite of rooms to conduct a successful focus group. In fact, it may be argued that it is counterproductive.
This type of corporate setting is the natural environment of researchers and corporate employees. However, it is not the natural environment of most consumers, and many might find it intimidating.
It is possible to have a focus group in any type of location where eight to ten people can be comfortably seated. If technical equipment is needed, it can easily be brought to the location.
For example, if a corporation wants to study the needs of young people, it makes more sense to have a focus group in a bar or restaurant where young people congregate.
Likewise, people from a specific ethnic group would be more likely to speak candidly if the focus group was held in a community center in their own neighborhood. A focus group with children requires special planning to ensure that all legal and ethical requirements are met.
Because of advances in technology focus groups no longer are limited to having participants in the same location.
They may be held online with group members communicating through typewritten messages or they may be held using video with members being able to see each other while they are communicating.
The advantage of having the group solely online is that members do not all have to be at their computers at the same time. Instead, the questions can be posted and the members can answer and respond to other answers at their convenience.
A focus group consists of three stages. The first stage is used to build a rapport. This can be accomplished by having the participants give first name introductions. The moderator can then introduce the subject by asking an easy, non-threatening question. Once a rapport has been established, the moderator will move on to more probing questions on the issue.
During this portion of the focus group, the interaction will be encouraged and follow-up questions will be used. Finally, the moderator will provide a sense of closure by asking a final question or by requesting some last thoughts on the subject.
After the conclusion of the focus group, the moderator will thank the participants for their attendance. Once they have left it is the moderator’s responsibility to maintain all information in an orderly fashion.
Any large sheets of paper should be taken down and labeled. Projective material such as drawings should be collected and placed in a file or photographed so a digital record is kept. Finally, the recording of the proceedings should be labeled together with the date and the topic.
If the focus group was held online there will be electronic files of everything that is said. These files will also be date stamped. One of the advantages of having a focus group online, whether only using text or text and video, is that there is no need to transcribe tapes.
A disadvantage is that it is easy to determine who said what during the session. When sensitive subjects are being discussed, the issue of anonymity should be discussed before the group starts. Such issues of whether video can be used as part of the final report should be agreed upon with the participants.
1. Research can answer fundamental questions that affect the future of any organization. For this reason, even small businesses and nonprofit organizations should conduct research. It can answer questions about the external environment including consumer segments and competitors.
Of course, an organization should always research a consumer’s motivation for purchasing a product. The organization may also need to research the components making up the marketing mix, which includes product, promotion, price, and distribution.
Descriptive, exploratory and causal research methods each have specialized uses. Descriptive is best when details are needed, exploratory when seeking insight, and casual when it is important to understand the effect of a change.
The standard research tools are surveys, interviews, focus groups, projective techniques, observation, and netnography. This blog has given a brief description of each of these, although in future chapters more detail will be provided.
applied research conducted to solve an immediate problem
code of conduct official list of standards of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior
ethics set of beliefs used to distinguish what is right and good from wrong and bad and that result in a duty or obligation to act in a certain way
marketing concept philosophy that states the purpose of marketing is to provide consumers with products they either need or desire
marketing plan description of how a company plans to meet consumer needs by targeting a specific market segment with a needed product at the right price, sold at the correct place and promoted effectively
marketing research ongoing process of gathering accurate information from the external environment and consumers to assist the company in implementing the marketing concept
observational research methodology where information is gathered by watching participants and recording their actions
production concept marketing philosophy that states that the company’s decision on what to produce should be determined by what product can be produced best at the lowest price
qualitative research based on social science principles used when the problem is still vague or when information is sought on feelings, beliefs, and attitudes
quantitative research based on scientific principles used when proof of a fact is needed or when the research question deals in descriptive facts such as who or how many