Marketing Research by Geoff Lancaster©
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The marketing concept states that the nature of the marketing orientated organisation, whether product or service based, profit or non profit based, is the identification and genuine satisfaction of customers needs and wants, more effectively and efficiently than the competition. The marketing concept has been defined as ‘the key to achieving organisational goals’ and the marketing concept rests on ‘market focus, customer orientation, co-ordinated marketing and profitability’. In a profit making business the firm obviously has to try and achieve this level of customer satisfaction as a way of staying ahead of the competition and making a profit. In a ‘not for profit’ organisation, management substitutes profit for some other criterion such as maximum social benefits; a political party would be likely to substitute maximising votes for financial profit. A university on the other hand may substitute ‘research excellence’, to purely financial profit. In order for organisations to be able to arrange their assets and resources in such a way that they are able to produce ‘bundles of satisfactions’ that satisfy the genuine desires of specifically defined target markets better than the competition, they need to know what the market regards as valuable. The concept of value is subjective and lies in the mind of the individual prospective customer. Hence, in a broad sense, marketing management needs to understand the ‘minds’ of their target markets, their attitudes and value systems. They need a formalised, managerial approach to this most important task. This is the fundamental role of marketing research.
Without the information that marketing research provides, management cannot apply the marketing concept as an overriding business philosophy. It is not the intention to present a comprehensive treatment of marketing research, and indeed it would take an entire textbook to do this. The purpose of this material is simply to give you a ‘feel’ for the subject and relate how it fits into modern marketing practice.
2 Definition of Marketing Research
Kotler (1999) defines marketing research as ‘systematic problem analysis, model-building and fact-finding for the purpose of improved decision-making and control in the marketing of goods and services’. The American Marketing Association (AMA, 1961) defines it as ‘the systematic gathering, recording and analysing of data relating to the marketing of goods and services’. The emphasis is clearly on the improvement in marketing decision making. Marketing research is the ‘scientific’ approach to building value in the eyes of the organisation’s target market. The aim of research is to find, in a systematic way, reliable, unbiased answers to questions about the market for goods or services and to look at ideas and intentions on many issues. Marketing research is often concerned with the process of collecting, analysing and interpreting the facts to establish what it is that people want and why they want it.
It is employed by marketing management in the planning, evaluation and control of marketing tactics and strategy, but it is also of use in helping to make policy decisions in the non-commercial public sector. Research must be carefully planned with a disciplined and systematic approach, and a series of steps should be taken in the development, planning and execution of research. The aim is to give an adequate, but general view of a number of topics without going into detailed methodological technicalities.
On a simple definitions point, there is often confusion about the term ‘marketing research’ which is the overall descriptor and ‘market research’ which is a sub-set of marketing research and which concerns matters like ‘on street’ interviews.
3 Marketing Research and Marketing Information Systems
Formal marketing research may provide a large proportion of the information requirements for a firm, but not their total requirements. There are other valuable sources of marketing information beside formal marketing research. The information requirements of the modern firm should be professionally managed in a systematic way in some form of formal system that will assist in the collection, storage, retrieval and analysis of various forms of marketing information not simply consist of information collected using formal marketing research. Such a system is known as a marketing information system or MkIS for short. This is made up of four parts. Three of these components actually collect or ‘produce’ information of various sorts in it’s ‘raw’ form. These are the ‘Internal Data’, ‘Intelligence Data’ and ‘Marketing Research Data’ components of the system. The information from these three component parts of the system are then fed in as ‘input data’ to the fourth component part, which can be described as ‘Models and Statistics’. This component of the system adds value to the data produced from the other three component parts by altering it or modelling it in some way. Basically the ‘Models and Statistics’ part of the system employs management science techniques to the data derived from the other three component parts, and in so doing, makes the information more useable and valuable for strategic marketing planning purposes.
4 Types of Marketing Research
Marketing research activities can be classified by their purpose or general objective. Some marketing research exercises are intended to produce results that are purely exploratory in nature. Such research is usually carried out at the beginning of the overall research project. Other research may produce data that are descriptive, predictive or conclusive in nature. These general classifications are now examined in more detail.
4.1 Exploratory Research
This is usually undertaken at the initial stages of the overall research process. Unless researchers have experience of a particular industry or research area within a particular industry, then they will have to familiarise themselves with the general dynamics of that industry or research area in order for them to make an effective job of carrying out the main body of the research. Exploratory research is basically ‘having a look’ type of activity. It is not designed to enable the researcher to draw firm conclusions about the research situation rather to enable him or her to establish the general parameters of the research situation. The use of secondary data i.e. those data that are already in existence usually in printed for or on some kind of computerised data retrieval system, is an important part of the exploratory process. In terms of primary data collection i.e. those data that are collected for the first time specifically for a particular research exercise, then qualitative research method are more often employed than quantitative methods. Depth interviews and group discussions allow the researcher to explore respondents’ opinions and attitudes on key issues. Both of these interviewing techniques employ relatively small samples and hence by their very nature can only hope to provide general exploratory information. Nonetheless information gained from qualitative exploratory research enables the market researcher to plan a more effective research program than would be the case if the exploratory stage were missing. Exploratory research lays down the foundations enabling the rest of the research exercise to be built soundly.
4.2 Descriptive Research
This is intended to describe certain factors that marketing management is likely to be interested in such as market conditions, customers’ feelings or opinions toward a particular company, purchasing behaviour as so forth. Such research is not intended to allow the researcher to establish causal relationships between marketing variables and sales or consumer behaviour, or to enable the researcher to predict likely future conditions. Descriptive research merely examines ‘what is’. Such research, just like exploratory research, usually forms part of an on going research programme. Once the researcher has established the present situation in terms of market size, main segments, main competitors, etc., they may then proceed to types of research of a more predictive and/or conclusive nature. Descriptive research usually makes use of descriptive statistics to help the user understand the structure of the data and any significant patterns that may be found in the data. All measures of central tendency such as the mean, median and mode are often used along with measures of dispersion such as the variance and standard deviation. Descriptive research results are often presented using pictorial methods such as graphs, ‘pie charts’, histograms, etc.
4.3 Predictive research
The objective of predictive research is to enable the marketing researcher to predict something about future market conditions such as market growth or decline, increased competition, greater import penetration in a particular market, future price levels or changes in consumer taste, to name but a few examples. Many marketing research techniques can be used to generate information that might prove useful to the researcher in predicting such conditions. When using qualitative research such as depth interviews or group discussions, the researcher can interview individual salespeople or ‘experts’ in the industry. Group interviews can be held in order to arrive at a consensus as to what might happen within a certain market in the future. Opinions can be elicited from respondents for various time periods, for example the next few months, next year, the next five years. Similarly, questionnaire surveys can be used to elicit responses. For example, the salesforce could be surveyed and asked for their opinion concerning future sales or market conditions. A survey of buyers’ intentions is a popular method of obtaining sales forecasting information. Formal statistical and mathematical techniques specifically developed for forecasting exercises can also be used. Secondary data obtained from existing sources as well as survey results or information derived from qualitative interviews can provide the forecaster with valuable input data for forecasting.
4.4 Conclusive research
When using conclusive research techniques the researcher is attempting to establish causal relationships between marketing variables such as price, advertising or packaging to some other variable such as sales or patterns of consumption. In order to achieve this kind of test it is necessary to use a formal experimental design in order to be able to test a specific hypothesis. Let us assume that the marketing communications manager wanted to establish which set of merchandising materials, which price promotion and which shelf configuration would be most effective in achieving sales within a multiple grocery store chain. Let us also assume that there are four different versions of each of the marketing variables e.g. four merchandising ‘sets’, four price promotions that could be used in store and four different shelf configurations. The researcher wants to know which permutation of these three marketing variables is most effective. The researcher sets up an experiment where each permutation of experimental treatments is randomly allocated to retail stores. Differences between stores will be accounted for in the experiment. The experiment will be allowed to run until sufficient data has been generated. The results are then analysed and used to see if the hypothesis that one set of experimental treatments has been more effective in generating sales than the others were in fact true or false. Statistically designed experimental methods such as Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) would be used in such a situation.
All experimental exercises that enable the researcher to establish causation in tests have a number of factors in common. The researcher starts with the marketing variables that are to be tested, these are known as the ‘independent variables’. These variables are then applied to a given situation and certain effects are monitored. These effects are usually sales, but might be something else such as behavioural changes of some kind e.g. store loyalty. These effects are regarded as ‘dependent variables’ because they are dependent on the marketing variables discussed earlier. Experiments are set up with the purpose of trying to establish scientifically, using statistical tests, whether the effects seen in the dependent variables are in fact attributable to changes in the independent variables (i.e. the marketing variables) and if so what are the nature and strength of these effects. The marketing researcher wants to know whether the experimental effects caused by the independent variables acting upon the dependent variables are in any way commercially exploitable.
5 Stages in the research process
Marketing research is a planned formal approach to the collection of marketing information and it has a number of distinct stages.
1 Problem definition leading to a preliminary statement of research objectives to provide information, making this stage an identification of information needs which are:
- Motivations, values, beliefs, feelings, opinions
- Evaluations, attitudes, intentions
- Knowledge, facts, behaviour, actions
- Demographic, socio-economic etc. (on/from people, stores, companies, brands, products)
This information is required for:
- Exploration, description, prediction or evaluation
It comes from:
- Secondary data sources, both internal and external to a company
- Primary data sources (i.e. from field work)
2 Review of secondary data sources such as:
- Company records, reports, previous research
- Trade associations, government agencies, research organisations
- Advertising/market research agencies
- Books, periodicals, theses, statistics, conference proceedings, etc.
3 Select the research approach for collection of new/primary information through a combination of:
- Surveys - mail, telephone, personal
- Motivational research techniques - depth interviewing, group interviewing, projective techniques
4 Determine details of the research design - methods, sample design
5 Data collection
6 Analysis and interpretation of data
7 Evaluation of results and recommendations
6 Tools of marketing research
6.1 Motivational research techniques
The aim here is to uncover underlying motives, desires and emotions of consumers that influence behaviour. These techniques often penetrate below the level of the conscious mind and there are two approaches:
- the psycho-sociological approach which relies on group behaviour of consumers and the impact of culture and environment on their opinions and reactions;
- the psychoanalytical approach which relies on information drawn from individual respondents in depth interviews and projective tests.
Techniques used include:
- Depth interviewing and observational methods. Topics for discussion are chosen by the interviewer and indirect questioning leads the respondent to free expression of motives, attitudes, opinions, experiences and habits in relation to adverts, products, brands, services, etc. Depth interviewing is based on the psychoanalytical principle of ‘free association’ interviewing. The depth interview is not intended to be a formal question and answer session using a structured questionnaire. Such an exercise would merely be the administering of a questionnaire by personal interview. A depth interview is intended to be something far more subtle and sophisticated. Depth interviews fall under the heading of qualitative research. They are concerned with collecting information on people’s beliefs, attitudes and opinions rather than more quantitative information that might more readily lend itself to statistical analysis. Depth interviews usually involve small samples. They are expensive and time consuming. Although the interview may only take an hour or so to actually conduct, the researcher will take much longer than this in preparation, making the appointment, listening to tapes and making transcripts and analysing the information.
- Focus groups or group discussions are where the interviewer stimulates and moderates group discussion. In this method freedom of expression and interaction between individuals are encouraged.
- Sensitivity Panels are a form of group discussion or focus group where respondents are trained to take part in such groups and the members of the group are used again and again for different research subjects such as different products or packages, advertisements etc.
6.2 Surveys (using questionnaires)
This is the most commonly used method of data collection that can be conducted by mail, telephone or personal interview. Questionnaires can be self-administered or used in an interview situation, depending on:
- Type of information needed
- Amount of information needed
- Ease of questioning
- Accuracy required
The practicability of any survey by questionnaire is best checked by a pilot study. To check the questionnaire:
- Use a non-probability ‘purposive’ sample as it is not intended to use the ‘results’ in the final data set. At this stage we are only testing the design of the questionnaire, whether it is of a suitable length, ordering of questions, whether the questions are easily understood, etc.
- Pilot testing should involve well-trained experienced staff because it is important to get the questionnaire right as the success of the entire survey depends on it. It is possible that a number of versions of the questionnaire will need to be tested before it is right. The last pre-test should use the final approved questionnaire.
7 Questionnaire design
The information collected must be accurate, so the design of a questionnaire is of great importance. It should consist of questions that have the same meaning, a single meaning and the intended meaning to everyone. Questions should be numbered and have instructions to the investigator concerning the conduct of the interview in bold face, capital letters and underlined. Answer codes should be as near to the right-hand side as possible, and lines drawn at suitable intervals can bring clarity to the design.
The types of questions most commonly used are as follows.
- Open-ended questions give the informant a hint of what answer might be expected. A question which begins ‘What do you think of...?’ will bring forth large amounts of data which cannot always be satisfactorily summarised, but this type of question is useful in the pilot stage to show the range of likely answers.
- Unaided recall questions do not mention the nature of the answer material and avoid asking leading questions; e.g. ‘How did you travel to the station to catch this train?’
- Dichotomous questions offer two choices of answer, usually ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
- Multiple-choice questions (‘cafeteria’ questions) offer a graduated range of possible answers, listed in order from one extreme to the other.
- Thermometer questions ask informants to rate their feelings on a numerical scale, e.g. 0-10. This type of question seeks to minimise the disadvantage of discrete classification in the multi-choice type question.
- Checklists are a standard way of prompting the memory of a respondent without being biased by the interviewer. However, brand leaders may be selected more frequently because of the weight of advertising.
7.1 Rules for question design
- Use simple words that are familiar to everyone (i.e. shop not outlet, shopkeeper not retailer).
- Keep questions short.
- Avoid asking double-barrelled questions (e.g. ‘Have you a radio and/or television set?’).
- Do not ask leading questions (e.g. ‘Do you buy instant coffee because it is the quickest way to make coffee?’).
- Do not mention brand names (e.g. ‘Do you consider Sony to be the best audio equipment?’).
- Do not ask questions that may offend (e.g. ‘Do you work or are you a housewife?’).
- Avoid using catch phrases or colloquialisms.
- Avoid words that are not precise in their meanings (e.g. ‘Does this product last a reasonable length of time?’).
- Remember that direct questions will not always elicit the expected response - perhaps not all possible answers have been foreseen (e.g. the question ‘Are you married?’ does not cover the possibilities of divorce, separation, etc.)
- Questions concerning prestige goods may not be answered truthfully. Careful rewording can avoid this (e.g. ‘Have you a television capable of receiving teletext transmissions?’ might be better asked by ‘How many hours per week do you watch television?’, followed by: ‘Do you watch teletext transmissions?’).
- Only questions that the respondent can answer from knowledge or experience should be asked.
- Questions should not depend on the respondent’s memory.
- Questions should only allow one thought to be created in the respondent’s mind to avoid confusion and inappropriate answers. This particularly applies to questions beginning with ‘Why....?’
- Avoid questions or words with an emotional bias.
The first questions asked should gain the interest of the informant, and should be easy to answer in a factual way. More difficult questions should come later, with those of greatest importance being about a third of the way through. Transition from question to question should be smooth and logical. Details of the respondent, if they are needed (age, address, name, occupation etc.) should appear at the end. The questionnaire must have a title and contain cross-references to others if needed, along with the interviewing district identification, the place and date of the interview and the interviewer’s name.
Answers should be recorded in one of the following ways:
- Writing a number.
- Putting a cross or a tick in a box.
- Underlining correct answers.
- Crossing out incorrect answers.
- Writing in a predetermined symbol.
- Ringing a number or letter.
Open-ended questions should be followed by enough space to allow for answers to be recorded word for word.
There are a number of basic questions that should be asked about any questionnaire:
- Is each question clearly worded?
- Does it break any of the basic rules of question design?
- Is each question concerned with one factor only?
- Are the questions ones that will elicit the answers necessary to solve the research problem?
- Is each question unambiguous - will both the investigator and the informant have the same understanding of the question?
- Are all the possible answers allowed for?
- Are the recording arrangements foolproof?
- Will the answers to each question be in a form in which they can be cross-tabulated against other data on the same or other questionnaires?
- Will the answers be in a form that will allow at least some to be checked against established data?
8 Marketing experiments
An experiment is a way of gathering primary data in which the researcher is able to establish cause and effect amongst the variables being experimentally tested. It can be carried out in an artificial ‘laboratory’ type setting or as a field experiment, the best example of which is the test market where researchers choose a representative geographical area or one where they can statistically adjust data to make them representative of a wider market area. The test market is like a ‘model’ of the total market. Test markets can be expensive, but being a field experiment they have the advantage of realism or ‘external validity’ over laboratory experiments. Another experimental technique involves surveying a small sample of consumers and showing them pictures or samples of products and ascertaining their preference as if they were really ‘shopping’.
Other techniques include extended user tests, ‘blind’ and simple placement tests. In addition, there are certain techniques used in the pre- and post-testing of advertising themes and copy. Marketing experiments are one of the four main classes of research methods whereby marketing researchers collect primary information i.e. information collected for the first time specifically for a particular research exercise. The other three classes of techniques are Interviews, such as depth interviews and group discussions, Observation such as retail audits and consumer panels and Surveys such as a postal questionnaire of telephone surveys.
9 Observational Techniques
Sometimes it only possible to collect the kind of data required by observation. It may be humans observing humans, humans observing objects (e.g. cars), electro-mechanical devices such as cameras or tape recorders etc. observing objects or people. Retail audits and consumer panels are also classified as observational techniques. Retail audits conduct product audits in a large number of retail stores every month. Company product managers can buy the retail sales data and other supporting information on a ‘continuous’ month by month basis. Other related information on competitors’ products isalso available.
The consumer panel is a home audit where a wide range of households are monitored as to their purchasing habits. Respondents are of different socio-economic groups, family size and stage in the family life cycle. They record their purchases using a special bar code reader and send the data to the research company’s headquarters using a coupler. In the retail audit most stores use electronic point of sale (EPOS) and again can send retail sales information down the telephone line to the auditing company. Smaller shops that do not have the technology still have to be audited ‘manually’. Observational techniques are a useful source of primary data and this method is often used in conjunction with other research methods.
10 Main research areas
10.1 Product research
This involves all aspects of design, development and testing of new products, as well as the improvement and modification of existing products and its activities include:
- Comparative testing against competitive products
- Test marketing
- Concept testing
- Idea generation and screening
- Product elimination/simplification
- Brand positioning
Brand positioning is particularly important when one considers modern day competitive pressures.
10.2 Pricing research
Here what is termed the buy-response model can be used to:
- assist in establishing a more market-orientated pricing strategy;
- see what kind of price consumers associate with different product variations (e.g. packaging);
- establish market segments in relation to price.
10.3 Distribution research
Distribution research is concerned with two separate, but interrelated facets of the subject, these are channels of distribution and physical distribution. In terms of channels of distribution, marketers are continually attempting to create a competitive advantage by selecting innovative, creative and more effective channels. Channels of distribution are evolving over time and new channel formats are being developed. For example the Internet now holds out a lot of promise as a shopping medium particularly for financial services like insurance, mortgages and personal banking. Other forms of ‘non shop shopping’ are also growing in popularity such as the use of mail order tied in with the large growth in direct mail. Television shopping is very popular in the United States and is gaining in popularity elsewhere. Other retail formats have become increasingly important such as ‘out of town’ shopping complexes. Marketing research has an important role to play in evaluating the efficiency of existing channels and forecasting likely future retail developments both in terms of the channel formats likely to be used in the future and the technology used within such channels.
Such techniques as the retail audit can monitor the effectiveness of different types of distribution channels and detect any regional variation. They can identify which channels are in relative decline in terms of their efficiency in retailing certain products. They can also tell which channels are likely to experience considerable future development and a growth in popularity. For example, the shopping areas within petrol stations has grown considerably in the last decade in terms of the amount of turnover and especially in terms of the range of products on offer. Qualitative research such as depth interviews and group discussions as well as larger scale sample surveys using questionnaires, can be used in the appraisal of existing channel efficiency and in predicting likely future developments.
New developments in the area of physical distribution can also be monitored and to some extent predicted using marketing research techniques. For example the concept of ‘just in time’ delivery systems which is used by a large number of organisations originated in Japan, so this is a techniques that could have been predicted long before it became established outside of Japan. Materials handling and vehicle technology is continuously developing with implications for the logistics industry especially transport. Computer technology has now made available ‘tracking systems’ so that customers can establish exactly where their order or delivery is in the order processing cycle and even establish exactly where a particular consignment is anywhere in the world.
10.4 Marketing Communications Research
Marketing communications research is concerned with the appraisal and evaluation of each element in the marketing communications mix. This includes advertising research, evaluation of below the line sales promotions, sponsorship evaluation and the evaluation of direct mail, trade journals, exhibitions, personal selling, corporate communications, telephone marketing, communication on the Internet and many other aspects of communications. In the first instance a firm will need to research the characteristics of customers or potential customers for their product or service. These customers may form distinct groups or market segments. In terms of marketing communications planning these represent the target audiences for any future campaigns. Once the target audiences have been defined it is necessary to establish the most effective medium or media to use to send a marketing message to these audiences. What television programmes are the target audiences most likely to watch? What newspapers, magazines, journals or commercial radio programmes will be most effective in getting the message across? Marketing communications involves business to business communication as well as communicating with householders. Many consumer goods are sold through marketing intermediaries such as wholesalers or other ‘middlemen’, and people in these organisations need some form of communication.
In business to business communications, personal selling is particularly important. In many industrial firms up to 90% of the overall marketing budget is spent on personal selling. Trade exhibitions, direct mail, sponsorship, transport livery, corporate work-wear, telephone marketing and trade journals are also important business to business marketing communication ‘tools’. This activity needs some kind of appraisal research to establish its potential and actual effectiveness.
Once the target audiences have been identified and the most appropriate communications media have been established, further research is needed at the pre- campaign level to put the actual communications message together.
Marketing research thus has an important part to play at every stage of the communications process, identifying the target audiences, selecting the most effective communication media, developing the message and evaluating how well the message has been communicated to the target audience and with what effect.
Marketing is the business process whereby organisations strive to create ‘bundles of values or satisfactions’ in the form of products and services that their customers will willingly buy. In the value creation process marketing firms attempt to at least meet, but preferably exceed, customers’ expectations. To remain competitive marketing firms have to create customer value more effectively and efficiently than the competition.
Firms that are market driven and customer focused in this way are said to be ‘marketing oriented’ firms. However ‘value’ is somewhat subjective and lies in the minds of individuals and groups of people. Value changes all the time within people’s minds. For example what is regarded as fashionable in terms of clothing or popular music might not be next year. What might be regarded as unimportant say ten years ago may become more important a decade later. For example, ‘green’ and environmental issues were not something that concerned the majority of people a decade ago, whereas in the late 1990’s most people express some concern about such issues. This concern is reflected in a wide range of products that claim to be ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘ethical’ or ‘healthy’.
In order to keep up with the changing tastes and changing value systems of customers, the activities of the competition and important changes in the external business environment, the marketing orientated firm needs information. Long term corporate and marketing strategy and marketing plans at the more tactical and operational levels need information. Such information is the life-blood of the marketing orientated firm. Without the right kind of information, effective marketing is impossible. Marketing research provides the organisation with a wide range of useful information, but marketing research on its own is insufficient at a strategic level; it must form an intrinsic part of the wider marketing information system.