Sales executives must know whether the products they sell
are well received. Marketing research
can provide the answer.
You need to know if there is
demand for a new service or product that you are thinking of introducing.
Perhaps you need to know how your product is faring among the competing brands.
You may want to assess brand awareness after your advertising and promotional
You want to find out the level of
customer satisfaction. Or you could have been meaning to discover why your
potential customers are still not responding.
The answers to your questions lie
with your target customers and it appears that you need only to ask them.
Your research agency should help
you to define your problems or questions to enable proper research design.
Suppose you want to run an advertising and promotional campaign for a product
that has been in the market for a while. You want to find out the impact of your
Your problem may be specified as:
a. Assessing the level of
awareness of the product versus the competing brands before the
campaign (the "mind share");
b. Estimating the market
share before the campaign;
c. Repeating (a) and (b)
after the campaign; and
d. Determining brand loyalty
and brand switching tendencies by conducting brand tracking studies
The above problem obviously
requires accurate generalisations to be made from the sample to the total number of
your actual and potential customers (the population).
Since it is not feasible nor
necessary to ask everyone (elements) in the population, the first step is
sampling or selecting an adequate number of "spokespersons".
Determining the Sample Size
Your agency will need to:
Estimate the population or the total number of
possible customers, and
Determine an adequate sample to
draw from the population.
What is adequate depends on the number of total
possible customers you have. For example, if your product is exclusive, a high
proportion of your customers may have to be sampled given the relatively small
population. However, if your clientele is large, then a lower proportion needs
to be selected. Sample sizes often vary anywhere from the hundreds to several thousands.
Sampling from the Population
Suppose feedback from 500
customers has to be obtained. It is pointless for only the loyal customers to be
studied. Their positive assessment of your product would not be an accurate
picture of your entire customer base, that is, not representative.
Thus, sampling has to be random,
that is, everyone in the population has an equal chance of being selected. But
this does not mean a haphazard way of selection. Due to our preferences,
sampling is naturally biased because some elements in the population will have a
higher chance of being selected while others may have little or none.
Your research agency basically
has to utilise sampling techniques that will minimise subjective choice.
Sampling is so crucial that you could be asking the wrong people and the entire
research effort would have been a waste of valuable resources.
The research agency should choose
the most appropriate method of collecting data from the sample. There are two
broad methods of data collection: by observation and by questionnaires.
Collecting Data by Observation
This method of collecting data
involves human observers as well as electronic or mechanical devices
to record information and interesting behavioural traits.
Observation may be overt, which
is open, or covert, which is concealed:
Sampled persons may be
recruited to collect information about their household expenditure patterns,
television and radio listening preferences, response to stimuli like
advertisements and so on. Electronic or mechanical devices may be installed in
homes to collect data of interest.
Customers may be invited to a
research agency's "labs" to have their physiological changes (for
example, heart rate and electrical resistance of skin), eye movements, voice
and brain wave patterns analysed in relation to various stimuli. Diaries might
be kept or surveyors may perform audits in homes and retail outlets to record
the required information.
Human observers as well as
devices such as cameras and optical scanners might be used to study behaviour
in a natural setting. Shopper behaviour (for example, making choices among
competing brands on a shelf in a supermarket), purchases made at cash
counters, human traffic and their response to promotional displays and service
quality evaluators disguised as customers are some examples. Since covert
observation is unknown to the observed, ethical considerations have to be
Data Collection by Questionnaires
The three main methods of
collecting information by questionnaires are face-to-face interviews, telephone
interviews and mail surveys. These methods have different strengths and
weaknesses which would determine their suitability for your needs.
questions you need to ask your customers may require interviewers to pose them
personally. For example, your agency may advise that the possible responses to
a question be displayed to assess aided recall or that a sample of your
product be shown to gauge recognition. Or the questionnaire may simply be too
complex to be completed by respondents themselves or administered over the
Personal interviews allow
greater flexibility in questionnaire design and enable higher response rates
but are costlier and more time consuming than telephone interviews and mail
Sometimes, the information you
require may be gathered without the need to meet respondents. Suppose
potential customers are to be asked if they have heard your radio commercials.
They can be probed on, say, commercials on eating places that they may have
heard over a specific period.
Telephone interviews are less
expensive than face-to-face interviews and require less time but are
restricted to simpler research.
There could be instances when
data required cannot be provided "off-the-cuff'. For example, respondents
might be required to refer to company records that have to be collated from
various departments. Such questionnaires can be mailed to respondents but they
have to be well designed to facilitate self administration.
Mail surveys are even more cost
effective than telephone surveys. Naturally, however, without interviewers to
persuade respondents to cooperate, response rates are the lowest. Thus mail
surveys typically require incentives such as gifts even when there is vested
interest, for example, allowing respondents to tell you how to improve your
services to them.
and Solution Formulation
The data collected have to be
processed and analysed in order to form a
coherent picture of what your customers are
telling you. The information collected by observation or questionnaires need to
be checked for completeness and consistency.
Validation has to be done for
questionnaires administered personally or over the telephone. Often data have to
be scanned or manually entered into database management software to facilitate
In order to be able to summarise
the information, identify patterns and relationships as well as forecast trends,
the large amounts of data have to be processed by statistical software.
Researchers typically apply a
wide variety of statistical methods. They range from descriptive statistics (for
example, frequencies, percentages and averages) to tests for association or
difference between comparison groups to techniques for discriminating groups
within the sample.
However, sound or powerful
statistical techniques are only tools. A marketing orientation is needed to
provide the basis for valid, meaningful and practical solutions and
Presentation of Key Findings
While all research findings and
recommendations can be found in the report, the verbal presentation to marketers
and management is just as important since "on-the-spot" decisions
often have to be made in relation to the findings.
Management may instruct that
feedback from customers be incorporated to improve the company's services or
that a new product line be introduced to cater to unmet needs as revealed by
research. Perhaps future advertising budgets might be tightened to utilise only
those media through which most of the targeted audience are reached.
Valid, accurate and timely
quantitative research is essential to make vital marketing decisions concerning
your entire customer base or clientele. With effective marketing research,
marketers will be better able to increase market share, revenue and so on to
achieve their marketing objectives.