Research, as a general concept, is the process of gathering information to learn about something that is not fully known. Nearly everyone engages in some form of research. From the highly trained geologist investigating newly discovered earthquake faults, to the author of best selling spy novels gaining insight into new surveillance techniques, to the model train hobbyist spending hours hunting down the manufacturer of an old electric engine, each is driven by the quest for information.
For marketers, research is not only used for the purpose of learning, it is also a critical component needed to make good decisions. Marketing research does this by giving marketers a picture of what is occurring (or likely to occur) and, when done well, offers alternative choices that can be made. For instance, research may suggest multiple options for introducing new products or entering new markets. In most cases marketing decisions prove less risky (though they are never risk free) when the marketer can select from more than one option.
Using an analogy of a house foundation, marketing research can be viewed as the foundation of marketing. Just as a well-built house requires a strong foundation to remain sturdy, marketing decisions need the support of research in order to be viewed favorably by customers and to stand up to competition and other external pressures. Consequently, all areas of marketing and all marketing decisions should be supported with some level of research.
While research is key to marketing decision making, it does not always need to be elaborate to be effective. Sometimes small efforts, such as doing a quick search on the internet, will provide the needed information. However, for most marketers there are times when more elaborate research work is needed and understanding the right way to conduct research, whether performing the work themselves or hiring someone else to handle it, can increase the effectiveness of these projects.