Marketing research is an organisation's
information link with its customers and competitors.
You have a new product that your
company is certain will be a winner. Your advertising agency guarantees you that
a costly advertising and promotional campaign will be effective for a service
you want to revamp. The client servicing people tell you that they know the
customers whose needs will not change.
Actual marketing is seldom, if
ever, straightforward or certain. Marketers often have only conjecture, hunches
and hearsay and lack even fundamental marketing information. Marketing research
is increasingly used as a marketing information tool to help attain marketing
objectives which in turn are meant to achieve overall organisational goals. Yet
many marketers do not know what marketing research entails and so cannot utilise
Marketing research may be
described as an organisation's information link with its customers and
competitors for supporting effective marketing decision making. The marketing
research process may be conceptualised in terms of five critical stages: problem
specification, research design, data collection, data analysis and solution
formation, and presentation of findings.
With the assistance of the
marketing research agency, your needs or problems have first to be specified to
facilitate research design. For example, there may be a consumer product that
your company is introducing. You want to know
first, if the product should be launched and second, in what form.
More specifically, you need to
know the present and potential market size, the major manufacturers, their
market share and main distribution networks. You also want to identify the
product features that customers demand; you need detailed information to refine
your product. With the target market well defined, you can then get the most
effective advertising and promotional campaign possible for your money.
Depending on the problem
specified, a research design has to be formulated that yields information that
will solve the problems or meet your needs. The design may involve one or both
types of research techniques: quantitative and qualitative.
Quantitative research numerical and uses
statistics derived from a sample which estimates the characteristics of the
population under study (for example, professionals who earn more than $3,000 a
month, household consumers who regularly buy detergent or mothers with infants
below 12 months of age). Surveys, the main quantitative
research technique, are ideal for obtaining such information as the awareness of
brand names, purchasing intentions, attitudes or opinion on certain ideas and so
on. As sizeable numbers of respondents, from a couple of hundreds to several
thousands, have been randomly sampled or selected to avoid bias, findings can
usually be generalised to the sector or market of interest.
Qualitative research involves
non-statistical but in-depth study on the awareness, motivations and attitudes
which yield detailed responses to a new product, service or concept, ideas for
an advertising campaign and so on.
Since the people selected for
study are not randomly selected nor sizeable in number, findings obtained from
focus groups, in-depth interviews and other qualitative research techniques
cannot be accurately generalised to the population. However, qualitative
research is useful in providing exploratory
ideas to be tested by quantitative research, that is, to ascertain if the ideas
obtained from a handful of people are representative of or applicable to the
population of interest.
There are two main types of data
or information: primary and secondary. The former is new or original information
(for example, customers' feedback about your
services) while the latter comprises existing information (for example,
competitors annual reports).
Data can be collected by various
means: face-to-face or telephone interviews, focus group discussions,
self-administered questionnaires, observation as well as information gathered
from reports, publications and computer databases. Data collected have to be
verified for accuracy before processing for data entry.
Data Analysis and
Information gathered has to be
analysed in the context of your problems or needs to yield directly applicable
solutions. In the example used in Stage 1: Problem Specification, a new product
is being considered. Based on overall findings, the marketing research agency
should be able to recommend and justify if you should embark on the new venture.
With estimates on the current
market size and projections on its expected growth, the main players, their
market share and distribution channels, etc, are considered in a competitive
On the demand side, customer
profiles are identified in terms of their needs and preferences. Analysis should
come up with the product features that will allow the refined product to fulfil
needs not previously met. A well-defined target market will facilitate a focused
advertising and promotional campaign (which can be evaluated and explored in
focus groups) for maximum impact.
All relevant findings including
methodology, limitations and recommendations should be clearly set out in a
Presentation of Findings
Research findings are usually
presented not only to marketers but to management who often may not have time to
read the report. Well conducted presentations can highlight key findings to
allow management to set guidelines for the team to achieve marketing objectives.
In the final analysis, marketing research is but a tool. Like any tool, it may
be ineffectively utilised or even misused (see box story) as many marketers are
not familiar with the process of marketing research- In an information age,
effective marketing research can provide marketers with the competitive edge.
Subsequent articles will attempt
to give marketers sufficient insight into the main research techniques'
strengths and limitations and suggestions for a fruitful marketer-research
agency relationship for effective marketing decision making.
Actions to Avoid in Marketing
THERE are technical limitations
and ethical considerations in marketing research. As in any professional field,
you would expect established marketing research agencies to observe a code of
ethics which protects the rights and interests of individuals and organisations
being researched not to mention the agencies' reputation.
Marketers similarly have their
code of ethics. But even in professions with formal codes of ethics and watchdog
bodies, what constitutes ethical conduct can be a grey area. Many are well aware
of the possibility of observing the letter but not the spirit of ethics.
Marketing research users may feel restricted by ethical constraints and be
tempted to persuade their marketing research agency to do unto others what they
hope would not be done unto them and violate ethics, not to mention the law, in
Confirming your marketing
decisions. Marketing research should not
be used to "confirm" your marketing decisions. If you have already
decided on, for instance, the features of a new service and the advertising and
promotional approach, you should not expect your marketing research agency to
yield certain findings.
Marketing research should be used
to test your ideas, judgements and assumptions at the drawing board or you risk
throwing away much time and money.
Influencing your marketing
research agency. Factual accuracy is
sacred in marketing research. One step further from expecting findings to go in
a certain direction by, for instance, dropping strong hints to your
agency and you might as well write the report yourself!
One of the reasons for working
with marketing research agencies is their
third party independence and any inadvertent influence would interfere with the
professionalism of the marketing research process.
Inadvertently misusing research
findings. There might be pressure to make
attention-grabbing claims by selective use of research findings which could be
inaccurate. It would be prudent to check with your agency or you might
unknowingly violate your code of ethics and put the reputation of your marketing
research agency at stake.
information, Some marketers may have an
unfounded belief that marketing research agencies can do wonders to obtain
information akin to the realm of industrial espionage. The types of information
that your company would not publish in an annual report, reveal to the public
nor disclose in an anonymous interview are probably those that should not be
Selling disguised as research. Pretending
to conduct research in order to gain access and opportunity to make sales
pitches is clearly unprofessional practice for the agency and the marketer.
Invading privacy. There
is a limit to getting in touch with your customers. The right to give informed
consent is obviously fundamental for individuals to be researched. Anonymity is
also a common assurance given to consenting respondents. Obtaining information
by covert means or by deception would be unethical.
A final word. Marketers
can obviously play their role by being aware and understand their marketing
research agency's professional ethics. An agency that is willing to "bend
the rules" for you is likely to do the same for your competitors with
regard to information relating to your company.