Market Research – Definition, Classification and Process

World is changing very rapidly with every passing day. The things which people only dreamed about a few years back are appealing reality today. Companies, their functions and their operations have improved tens of times and this advancement is increasing with every passing day. Same happened with people. Their level of awareness towards products and behavior is now quite thoughtful and demanding. Today’s buyers have forced all the business to make necessary changes. They are very cautious and take a lot of time to make decisions and want everything to be quick and easy. Understanding customer satisfaction, product launches, effectiveness of pricing, product, distribution and promotion activities, countering competitors techniques, assessing market potential, and predicting consumer behavior etc. have become extremely challenging and is often a cause of the decline of an organization. To deal with such problems, organizations conduct Market Research.

Market research is an evaluation system which helps organizations to enter or expand in a market. It provides the data in a market which can be used in research for solution of a particular and specific problem. It is also used to introduce new ideas and innovation in different product lines which helps in predicting the outcome of the change and gives a chance to improve strategies in order to get better and desired results.

Classification of Market Research

Market research is divided into three different types:

  1. Exploratory Research:Exploratory Research is used to collect preliminary data to clarify the nature of a marketing problem before designing a more extensive research project. It follows a format that is less structured and more flexible. 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. For example: a marketer has heard news reports about a new Internet technology that is helping competitors but the marketer is not familiar with the technology and needs to do research, to discover and learn more about the technology in-order to take advantage from it. Such a research is an exploratory research, conducted to clarify and define the nature of a problem, formulating it more precisely, gathering explanation and insight and eliminate impractical ideas (if there are any).
  2. Descriptive Research:Descriptive research describes marketing mix characteristics. It is also used to explain a particular issue or problem. 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 may face? etc. This research is used extensively when the purpose is to explain, monitor and test hypotheses. The principal difference between exploratory and descriptive research is that, in case of the latter, specific research questions have been formulated before the research is undertaken. When descriptive research is conducted the researcher must already know a great deal about the research problem, perhaps because of a prior exploratory study, and is in a position to clearly define what to measure and how to measure.
  3. Causal Research:Causal or predictive research is used to test the cause and effect relationships. Using causal research allows researchers to answer “What if” or “Why” type of questions. To conduct causal research, the researcher designs an experiment that controls or holds constant, all of a product’s marketing elements except one. The one variable is changed, and the effect is then measured. If researchers understand the causes of the effects observed, then the ability to predict and control such events is increased. Therefore, to be effective, the design of causal research is highly structured and controlled so that other factors being studied do not affect.

Market Research Process

Market research process is a step by step guide through which the researcher define and assess the problems and value of the research by constructing a research method and specifying various data collection and measurement techniques and then analyzing that data to conclude results taking into account the factors and variables affecting the behavior of the customers in a market.

1. Define Research Problem

Defining a problem sounds simple but it is the first crucial step while conducting a marketing research. As Albert Einstein said “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.” A problem arises when there is a difference between actual outcome and expected outcome. The companies have to make a decision what they want to do if some problem rises due to any marketing turn. This decision is then redefined as a research problem and then a researcher takes necessary steps to look into it. The key is that a researcher must take all the potential symptoms in account, try to drill down the expected causes, narrow the upcoming parameters and then concluding on the actual problem making it the base of the whole research. Incorrectly defining a research problem, results in setting wrong objectives which takes the entire market research into a different direction which will be an ultimate loss of time, money and energy.

2. Set Objectives

Establishment of objectives comes next. A market research objective is a goal statement which describes very specific information needed to solve a problem. Managers must combine this information with their own experience and other related information to make a proper decision. The culmination of the problem definition process is a statement of the research objectives. These objectives are stated in terms of the precise information necessary to address the marketing research problem. They also serve as a standard that later will enable managers to evaluate the quality and value of the work by asking “Were the objectives met?” and “Do the recommendations flow logically from the objectives and the research findings?”

3. Assess the Value of the Research

The next phase is about assessing the value of the research. This is not an easy activity to complete with certainty, because a number of factors and considerations come into play. By forecasting future marketing behavior’s and predicting the impact of the research outcome, “Best guess” answers have to be made to the following types of question: (1) “Can the information be collected at all?” (2) “Can the information tell the decision maker something that she or he didn’t already know?” (3) “Will the information provide significant insights?” (4) “What benefits will be delivered from this information?” (5) “Will that information be beneficial enough to conduct the marketing research, keeping in mind the overall cost of the research?” In most cases, information research should be conducted only when the expected value of the information to be obtained exceeds the cost of doing the research.

4. Construct a Research Proposal

The main focus of this step is to construct such a research proposal which is most appropriate for the given set of objectives. It is basically the “plan of attack”, the master plan of methods and procedures, which are used to collect and analyze the data needed by the decision maker. The researcher must consider the type of data, the design techniques, the sampling methodology and procedures, the schedule, and the budget. Although every research problem is unique, but most research objectives can be met by using one of three research types i.e. Exploratory, Descriptive and Causal, which are already been described.

5. Specify Data Collection Method

Next in line are methods and types of data that needs to be collected for the research. There are two types of data that can be gathered:

  1. Primary data: Primary data represent “first-hand” raw data and structures that have yet to receive any type of meaningful interpretation. Sources of primary data tend to be the output of conducting some type of exploratory, descriptive, or causal research project that employs surveys, experiments, and/or observation as techniques of collecting the needed data. Primary data is raw data and structures of variables that have been specifically collected and assembled to address the problem at hand.
  2. Secondary data: Secondary data are historical data structures of variables previously collected and assembled for some research problem other than the problem at hand. Sources for these types of data structures can be found inside a company, Government e.g. Central Statistical Office, Chamber of Commerce, trade associations, public libraries and universities, World Wide Websites or purchased from a firm specializing in providing secondary information.

There are two main techniques of primary data collection:

  • Observation technique: Researchers can watch/observe people to judge their behavior to collect the data. This includes a shopper’s sex, approximate age, whether the person seemed hurried, moderately hurried, or unhurried and whether or not he/she read the label on products, used coupons, and so forth.
  • Surveys: It is the most widely used and common data collection technique. Surveys are popular because they can be easily administered to large numbers of people fairly quickly. In a survey, researchers can ask people about their activities and it consists of clear and unambiguous questions which are easy to answer and provide data based on how people think and feel.

Secondary data can usually be gathered faster and at less cost than Primary data. Mostly, examination of available Secondary data is a pre-requisite to the collection of Primary data because gathering Primary data is a time consuming and expensive process. Researchers proceed to Primary data only when the Secondary data sources have been exhausted, outdated, yield marginal results or do not fit the researcher’s information needs. It may be limited in-terms of relevance, recency and accuracy.

6. Specify Techniques of Measurement

There are a lot of techniques through which data can be measured. Some are described below:

  1. Questionnaire: It is a list of carefully structured questions chosen to find out what specifically targeted participants do, think or feel e.g. customer satisfaction surveys. It gives access to wide sample of data but has a low response rate as it is difficult to get people to participate and complete the questionnaire and it is hard to write while dealing with a big sample. Moreover, it is very time consuming as-well.
  2. Interviews: Selected participants are asked questions to find out what they do, think or feel and their opinions and choices are then measured. There are four main techniques of interviewing:
    • Personal face-to-face interviews
    • Telephone interviews
    • Postal/mail surveys
    • Web/e-mail surveys
  3. Focus Groups/Discussion Groups: They are used to gather and measure the opinions of a group of people involved in a common situation e.g. investigation of family buying habits, employees reaction to a new profit sharing scheme. It is extremely useful for a preliminary investigation. Listening to other people encourages participants to air their own views in a relaxed and informal manner. But, it requires skill to analyze, interpret and measure the data.

7. Select the Sample

After carefully selecting data collection and measurement methods, a researcher selects a sample. A sample is a random selection of a subgroup, from the overall membership pool of a defined target population. So the results from a selected sample are generalizable and reliable. Researchers must ensure that the sample is a representative of the population; otherwise it will result in a flawed research. Such a flaw is also known as sampling error.

Size of a sample has a big impact on sampling error. Accurate results are mostly yielded by large samples. They give more data which provides more details resulting in close approximate outcome of the whole population. However, large sample means bigger cost.

8. Data Collection

Researchers must choose between two types of data collection methods i.e. Qualitative and Quantitative.

Qualitative Research method is designed to provide researchers with the perspective of target audience members through immersion in a culture or situation and direct interaction with the people under study. Qualitative methods focus on collecting detailed amounts of data from relatively small samples (i.e. face-to-face interviews, one to one, paired, triangle or group discussions/focus groups) by questioning or observing what people do and say. These methods require the use of researchers well trained in interpersonal communication, observation, and interpretation. The data is normally collected using open-ended (which needs elaboration) or non-structured questioning formats that allow for either depth probing of hidden attitudes, feelings, or behavior patterns or human/mechanical observation techniques for current behaviors or events. While the data can be collected in short periods of time, they are difficult to analyze and transform into generalized inferences about the larger defined target group.

Quantitative Research method places heavy emphasis on using formalized, standard, structured questioning practices where the response options have been predetermined by the researcher. These questions tend to be administered to significantly large numbers of respondents. Quantitative methods are directly related to Descriptive and Causal types of research projects where the objectives or goals are either to make more accurate predictions about relationships between market factors and behaviors or to verify (or validate) the existence of relationships. Quantitative researchers are well trained in construct development, scale measurements, questionnaire designs, sampling, and statistical data analyses. Some well known methods of Quantitative research are questionnaires in Home & in Street, Telephone, Omnibus, Mystery Shopper, Observational, Hall tests and panels/audits.

9. Analysis of Results

Here, the researcher begins the process of turning raw data into data structures that can be used in generating meaningful and useful bits of information for the decision maker.

After the collection of all data, the process of data cleaning starts. In data cleaning, all the data that has been duplicated or entered incorrectly is removed by using programs like Predictive Analysis Software (PASW). They also help to calculate the basic results of the research.

The information generated by programs is then used to draw conclusions by using a variety of data analysis techniques through which a researcher can create new, complex data structures by combining two or more variables. Analysis procedures can vary widely in sophistication and complexity, from simple frequency distributions to sample statistics measures to multivariate data analysis techniques. Different analysis procedures will allow the researcher to (1) statistically test for significant differences between two sample statistics and associations among several variables, (2) test hypothesized interdependence between two or more variables, (3) evaluate data quality (4) build and test complex models of cause-effect relationships.

10. Present in a Final Report

The last phase of the Market Research Process focuses on reporting the research findings and communication of newly created information, recommendations and conclusions to management. The overall objective is to develop a report that is useful to a non-research-oriented person. This is a key step in the process because a marketing researcher who wants project conclusions acted on must convince the manager that the results are credible and justified by the data collected.

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