Exploratory research and it’s methods

Exploratory research is conducted to clarify ambiguous problems. Management may have discovered general problems, but research is needed to gain better understanding of the dimensions of the problems. Exploratory studies provide information to use in analyzing a situation, but uncovering conclusive evi­dence to determine a particular course of action is not the purpose of exploratory research. Usually, exploratory research is conducted with the expectation that subsequent research will be required to provide conclusive evi­dence, It is a serious mistake to rush into detailed surveys before less expen­sive and more readily available sources of information have been exhausted.

In an organisation considering a program to help employees with childcare needs, for example, exploratory research with a small number of employees who have children might determine that many of them have spouses who also work and that these employees have positive reactions to the possibility of an on-site child-care program. In such a case exploratory research helps to crystallize a problem and identify information needs for future research.

Exploratory research methods:

The quickest and the cheapest way to formulate a hypothesis in exploratory research is by using any of the four methods:

  • Literature search
  • Experience survey
  • Focus group
  • Analysis of selected cases

Literature Search

This refers to “referring to a literature to develop a new hypothesis”. The literature referred are – trade journals, professional journals, market research finding publications, statistical publications etc Example: Suppose a problem is “Why are sales down?” This can quickly be analyzed with the help of published data which should indicate “whether the problem is an “industry problem” or a “firm problem”. Three possibilities exist to formulate the hypothesis.

  • The company’s market share has declined but industry’s figures are normal.
  • The industry is declining and hence the company’s market share is also declining.
  • The industry’s share is going up but the company’s share is declining.

If we accept the situation that our company’s sales are down despite the market showing an upward trend, then we need to analyse the marketing mix variables.

Example 1: A TV manufacturing company feels that its market share is declining whereas the overall television industry is doing very well.

Example 2: Due to a trade embargo imposed by a country, textiles exports are down and hence sales of a company making garment for exports is on the decline.

The above information may be used to pinpoint the reason for declining sales.

Experience Survey

In experience surveys, it is desirable to talk to persons who are well informed in the area being investigated. These people may be company executives or persons outside the organisation. Here, no questionnaire is required. The approach adopted in an experience survey should be highly unstructured, so that the respondent can give divergent views. Since the idea of using experience survey is to undertake problem formulation, and not conclusion, probability sample need not be used. Those who cannot speak freely should be excluded from the sample.

Examples :

1) A group of housewives may be approached for their choice for a “ready to cook product”.

2) A publisher might want to find out the reason for poor circulation of newspaper introduced recently. He might meet (a) Newspaper sellers (b) Public reading room (c) General public (d) Business community; etc.

These are experienced persons whose knowledge researcher can use.

Focus Group

Another widely used technique in exploratory research is the focus group. In a focus group, a small number of individuals are brought together to study and talk about some topic of interest. The discussion is co-ordinated by a moderator. The group usually is of 8-12  persons. While selecting these persons, care has to be taken to see that they should have a common background and have similar experiences in buying. This is required because there should not be a conflict among the group members on the common issues that are being discussed. During the discussion, future buying attitudes, present buying opinion etc., are gathered.

Most of the companies conducting the focus groups, first screen the candidates to determine who will compose the particular group. Firms also take care to avoid groups, in which some of the participants have their friends and relatives, because this leads to a biased discussion. Normally, a number of such groups are constituted and the final conclusion of various groups are taken for formulating the hypothesis. Therefore, a key factor in focus group is to have similar groups. Normally there are 4-5 groups. Some of them may even have 6-8 groups. The guiding criteria is to see whether the latter groups are generating additional ideas or repeating the same with respect to the subject under study. When this shows a diminishing return from the group, the discussions stopped. The typical focus group lasts for 1-30 hours to 2 hours. The moderator under the focus group has a key role. His job is to guide the group to proceed in the right direction.

Analysis of selected cases

Analysing a selected case sometimes gives an insight into the problem which is being researched. Case histories of companies which have undergone a similar situation may be available. These case studies are well suited to carry out exploratory research. However, the result of investigation of case histories arc always considered suggestive, rather than conclusive. In case of preference to “ready to eat food”, many case histories may be available in the form of previous studies made by competitors. We must carefully examine the already published case studies with regard to other variables such as price, advertisement, changes in the taste, etc.

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