Planning for Marketing Research Tutorial

As we note in the Marketing Research Tutorial, marketers engage in a wide range of research from simple methods done spur of the moment to extensive, highly developed research projects that take months or even years to complete. While lower-level research rarely requires a formal plan, research projects that are intended to offer critical information to support marketing decisions generally involve a formal plan outlining how research will be conducted.

This research plan consists of multiple steps which under most conditions are developed before research takes place. For instance, a researcher hired to perform work for a client presents the client with a written description of what is to be done prior to undertaking the work. This serves the purpose of making sure the client agrees with what is being done and also understands the commitment needed (e.g., costs, time, personal involvement) to complete the project.

In this part of the Principles of Marketing Tutorials we examine a two-part discussion of the process researchers follow to acquire information. Understanding this process is not only important for anyone carrying out marketing research but is also of value for marketers purchasing research from third-party sources. As we discussed in the Marketing Research Tutorial, relevant research must meet tests for research validity and reliability. For those purchasing research the material presented in the Planning for Market Research tutorials will help in that assessment.

The planning for marketing research consists of several steps that should be carried out in order. These include:

1. Determine the Research Purpose
2. Identify What is to be Learned
3. Research Design - Basics
4. Research Design - Data Collection (Secondary and Primary)
5. Evaluate Data
6. Analyze Data
7. Communicate Results

The first step in conducting research is to examine the reasons why research is being undertaken. Determining the research purpose sets the stage for the rest of the research plan because it lets everyone (e.g., researcher, client, outside firms) with a stake in the outcome of the research know the general philosophy of the project and also establishes the urgency of the research.

As we noted in the Marketing Research Tutorial, marketing research serves as the foundation of marketing since it is used to support all marketing decisions. Marketers use research to support decisions in five important ways: explanation, prediction, monitoring, discovery and hypothesis testing. Thus, the purpose for research falls into one of these categories.

  • Explanation - Possibly the most cited reason for conducting research is to use it to explain why something is occurring. Most often this means identifying and explaining a problem facing the marketing organization. For example, marketers may seek to know why sales in a certain geographic region are declining when it was forecasted to rise.
  • Prediction - Research is used to help assess a situation and predict what may happen in the future. This type of information is critical in many marketing decisions such as forecasting demand for a new product. It is also used to predict what may happen if something is changed such as a key marketing variable decision (e.g., effect on sales if price is changed).
  • Monitoring - Many decisions made by marketers must be monitored to insure that goals are being attained. A sales manger, for instance, will look to monitoring research in order to track the performance of the sales force in meeting sales targets.
  • Discovery - Most marketers are continually on the look out for ways to improve their marketing efforts. Improvements may include such things as new product options, ways to increase sales or decrease costs, promotional approaches that improve the company’s image and many more. Finding new opportunities is sometimes the result of luck but more often the marketer engages in research to locate these.
  • Hypothesis Testing - Finally, marketers use research to help test theories or “gut feelings” about some issues. For instance, a marketer may suspect there is a difference between the purchasing habits of one type of customer as compared to another type. Hypothesis testing, which is at the heart of scientific research, relies on statistical analysis to help evaluate a hypothesis. It should be noted that each of the previously described purposes for doing research can also be undertaken as a hypothesis test. For example, a marketer looking to explain why sales are declining in a certain region may have a “gut feeling” for why this is occurring and thus can combine explanation with hypothesis testing.

To get answers to the issues raised in Step 2 the researcher lays out a design for obtaining the information. Of course many marketers do not produce a formal design plan when conducting research. For example, a small retailer who asks a returning customer how she liked the product she purchased the previous week is engaged in research and doing so without the need to produce a formal plan. But for marketers looking to undertake formal research, a written research design plan is important.

The first part of the research design is to decide on the type of research that will work best for the purpose (i.e., explain, predict, monitor, discover, hypothesis test) and information that is sought. Research method choices can be broadly categorized as:

  • Descriptive Market Research
  • Exploratory Market Research
  • Causal Market Research

As we will see, these methods differ in terms what each hopes to learn and how information is acquired.

Once the general purpose of research is determined, the researcher’s next job is to decide what specific information he or she wants to obtain. Many in the market research field believe this is the most critical step in the research process since it provides guidance on what must be accomplished. While the purpose identified in Step 1 may be determined relatively quickly (e.g., sale reports shows an obvious problem that needs to be explained), in Step 2 the researcher may spend a considerable amount of time deciding what to study. For instance, the researcher may engage in numerous conversations with company personal to insure that she/he understands the circumstances facing those requesting the research.

But identifying what needs to be learned is not always easy. For example, saying a drop in sales in a region is the problem does not tell the researcher much since declining sales is a symptom with the real problem resting in some other area. In situations where the party needing the research has trouble articulating what is needed the researcher must probe the client for more details until they can uncover what information is really needed. Doing this helps the researcher decide what to study and, more specifically, what concepts to include in the research (i.e., what questions to ask, what variables to study).

Determining what is to be learned is also important in helping market researchers envision the scope and demands of what must be done. The scope of a research project refers to the amount of information needed. If the scope is too large the researcher may find that it is not worth carrying out the research since they lack the resources to accomplish the goal. Alternatively, knowing in advance what is needed may give the researcher the opportunity to break a larger project into smaller, more manageable parts.

The demands of the project refer to what users of the information (e.g., marketing manager, clients) seek from the research. Most demands revolve around issues related to: acquiring information (e.g., want information that is useable); timing of the research (e.g., want information as quickly as possibly), limits on methods that can be used (e.g., may not allow certain questions be asked) and funding (e.g., limited research money). Again, knowing this in advance can help the researcher design the research plan.

The focus of descriptive research is to provide an accurate description for something that is occurring. For example, what age group is buying a particular brand, a product’s market share within a certain industry, how many competitors a company faces, etc. This type of research is by far the most popular form of market research. It is used extensively when the research purpose is to explain, monitor and test hypotheses, and can also be used to a lesser extent to help make predictions and for discovery.

Marketers routinely conduct basic descriptive research using informal means. For instance, the head of marketing for a clothing company may email a retailer to see how the products are selling. But informal descriptive research, while widely undertaken, often fails to meet the tests of research validity and reliability and, consequently, the information should not be used as an important component in marketing decisions. Rather, to be useful, descriptive research must be conducted in a way that adheres to a strict set of research requirements to capture relevant results. This often means that care must be taken to develop a structured research plan. Under most circumstances this requires researchers have a good grasp of research methods including knowledge of data analysis.