The exploratory approach attempts to discover general information about a topic that is not well understood by the marketer. For instance, a marketer has heard news reports about a new mobile technology that is helping competitors but the marketer is not familiar with the technology and needs to do research to learn more. When gaining insight (i.e., discovery) on an issue is the primary goal, exploratory research is used.
The basic difference between exploratory and descriptive research is the research design. Exploratory research follows a format that is less structured and more flexible than descriptive research. This approach works well when the marketer doesn’t have an understanding of the topic or the topic is new and it is hard to pinpoint the research direction. The downside, however, is that results may not be as useful in aiding a marketing decision. So why use this method? In addition to offering the marketer basic information on a topic, exploratory research may also provide direction for a more formal research effort. For instance, exploratory research may indicate who the key decision makers are in a particular market, thus enabling a more structured descriptive study targeted to this group.