Marketing research is a systematic and objective study of problems pertaining to the marketing of goods and services. It is applicable to any area of marketing. Research is the only tool an organization has to keep in contact with its external operating environment. In order to be proactive and change with the environment simple questions need to be asked:
- What are the customer needs and how are they changing? How to meet these changing needs? What do the customers think about existing products or services? What more are they looking at?
- What are the competitors doing to retain customers in this environment? Are their strategies exceeding or influencing yours? What should you do to be more competitive?
- How are macro and micro environmental factors influencing your organisation? How will you react t this environment?
Methodologically, marketing research uses four types of research designs, namely:
- Qualitative marketing research — This is generally used for exploratory purposes. The data collected is qualitative and focuses on people’s opinions and attitudes towards a product or service. The respondents are generally few in number and the findings cannot be generalised tot eh whole population. No statistical methods are generally applied. Ex: Focus groups, In-depth interviews, and Projective techniques
- Quantitative marketing research — This is generally used to draw conclusions for a specific problem. It tests a specific hypothesis and uses random sampling techniques so as to infer from the sample to the population. It involves a large number of respondents and analysis is carried out using statistical techniques. Ex: Surveys and Questionnaires
- Observational techniques – The researcher observes social phenomena in their natural setting and draws conclusion from the same. The observations can occur cross-sectionally (observations made at one time) or longitudinally (observations occur over several time-periods). Ex: Product-use analysis and computer cookie tracing
- Experimental techniques — Here, the researcher creates a quasiartificial environment to try to control spurious factors, then manipulates at least one of the variables to get an answer to a research. Ex: Test marketing and Purchase laboratories
More than one research designs could be used at a time. They may start with secondary research to get background information, then conduct a focus group (qualitative research design) to explore the issues. Finally they might do a full nation-wide survey (quantitative research design) in order to devise specific recommendations for the client organisation.
Recommended reading: Marketing research and it’s process
Five Basic Methods of Market Research
Facts and information required in order to make a specific decision ends in need for market research. Depending upon the final data to be gathered from research and financial resources at hand to determine which technique to be used for a business, there are many ways to perform market research, and most businesses use one or more of this methods: surveys, focus groups, personal interviews, observation, and field trials to conduct market research after considering the cost and benefits factors of such methods. Marketer decides the qualitative or quantitative methods for market research solely depends on the pros and cons of different contact methods for survey.
Survey is the method of using concise, straight forward questionnaires, that can analyze a sample group who represents your target market. Reliability of results of such surveys depends on the size of sample. Larger the sample size more reliable the result of such surveys.
- In-person surveys are face-to-face or one-on-one interviews. They allow the researcher to present people with samples of products, packaging or advertising and gather immediate feedback. While the response rates In-person surveys can be more than 90 percent. However, they are costly and very time consuming.
- Phone surveys are less expensive than in-person surveys, but costlier than mail. However, encouraging people to participate in phone survey is difficult due to consumer resistance to relentless telemarketing. Telephone survey is a method used to reach large number of respondent in wide geographical areas.
- Mail surveys are inexpensive compare to in-person and phone surveys. Mail survey are the cheaper way to reach a broad audience; however they only generate response rates of 3 percent to 15 percent. Despite the low return, mail surveys are still a cost-effective choice for small businesses.
- Online survey methods are simple and more popular from past few years for conducting market research. Surveys done online usually generate unpredictable response rates and unreliable data because researcher do have no control over the pool of respondents. But an online survey is a simple, inexpensive way to collect unreliable evidence and gather customer opinions and preferences.
2. Focus Groups
A focus group consists of about six to ten people who strongly represents the target audience are selected to be monitored in a room which will be fitted with a unidirectional mirror. Under the direction of an experienced coordinator, the subjects will discuss issues about consumers’ needs and demands. The coordinator would observe and evaluate the psychology and behavior of the test subjects. This will help researcher to understand consumption pattern and hence set the foundation for future development of product or services.
Conducting focus groups is a good way to uncover new information that cannot be obtained through other research methods. Sometime for small business this method of market research can be costlier.
3. Personal Interviews
Similar to focus groups, personal interviews include unstructured, open-ended questions. They usually last for about an hour and are typically recorded for future analysis.
The results provided by Focus groups and personal interviews are more subjective data than surveys which are not statistically reliable and usually do not represent a large enough segment of the population. yet, focus groups and interviews yield valuable insights into customer attitudes and are excellent ways to discover issues related to new products or service development.
- Telephone interviewing is the best method for gathering information quickly; the interviewer is also able to clarify question if respondents do not understand them. The response rate is typically higher than in the case of mailed questionnaires. The main drawback is that the interviews have to be short and not too personal. Telephone interviewing is getting more difficult because of consumers growing antipathy toward telemarketers calling them in their homes and interrupting their lives.
- Personal interviewing is the most versatile method. The interviewer can ask more questions and record additional observations about the respondent, such as dress and body language. At the same time, personal interviewing is the most expensive method and requires more administrative planning and supervision than the other three. It is also subject to interviewer bias or distortion. Personal interviewing takes two forms. In arranged interviews, respondents are contacted for an appointment, and often a small payment or incentive is offered. Intercept interviews involve stopping, people at a shopping mall or busy street corner and requesting an interview. Intercept interviews can have the drawback of being non-probability samples, and the interviews must not require too much time.
Observation is frequently used to obtain insights into research behavior and related issues, such as packaging effectiveness. One firm used an observer disguised as a shopper, to watch grocery store shoppers approach a product category, to measure how long they spend in the display area, and to see whether they have difficulty finding the product; and whether the package is read, and if so, whether the information seemed hard to find. This kind of direct observation can be highly structured, with a detailed recording form prepared in advance, or very unstructured. When making an unstructured observation, the observer may be sent to mingle with customers in the store and look for activities that suggest service problems. This is a highly subjective task, because the observer must select a few things to note and record in varying amounts of detail. This inevitably will draw subjective inferences from the observed behavior.
5. Field Trials
Market testing is the stage where the product and marketing program are introduced into more authentic customer settings to learn how user, customer and buyer, all react to handling, using and repurchasing the product. It also provides concrete information for estimating the size of the market. A limited pilot test of a product under real conditions, a field trial is undertaken to test the physical or engineering properties of a product in order to identify and iron out any technical shortcomings prior to marketing. Customers may be involved in some trials, for example, in testing a new laundry detergent. Field trials should not be confused with test marketing, which is used to determine the likely market for, and likely consumer response to, a new product or service.