Conducting Market Research
How the professionals do marketing research
The professionals use a market research process that generally incorporates five steps.
1. Problem definition
This step involves identifying an information gap and defining a research problem as specifically as possible.
3. Conducting Fieldwork
This step involves implementing the action plan. ‘Fieldwork’ is a generic term used to describe actions taken to gather the required data. It involves a planned approach and results in a body of information that can be analysed further. This information is usually stored as written documents, audio-visual recordings or on computer databases.
Once the required data is collated, it can then be further analysed. Several steps are necessary to ensure this process produces accurate and reliable results.
- Firstly, data must be screened to ensure no errors have been made by the researcher when gathering and collating data. Mistakes range from spelling errors and entering incorrect numerical data to misinterpreting the intention behind a participant’s responses. Quality measures need to be implemented. This may see other researchers providing a check of data, ensuring the data is from a reliable source and conducting ‘pilot’ testing of questionnaires and/ or discussion guides. Reliability and validity checking also need to occur. Reliability checking involves assessing whether the same or similar responses would have been received if a survey were conducted with a different group that share the same characteristics as the respondent group. Validity checking involves determining whether the data recorded actually reflects the intended responses of participants. A range of techniques exist to assess reliability and validity.
- Once the researcher is confident that the data is error-free, reliable and valid, thought must be given to how it is to be further analysed. This requires an understanding of the client’s requirements as well as the time and budget constraints on the research project. Some common analysis techniques include:
- Face-to-face presentation/ meeting. This involves presenting the pertinent results of the research. This can be a simple verbal report or a formal presentation involving a range of visual prompts.
- Written reports. The style and length of written reports varies a great deal. Generally, a mix of text with charts, figures and/ or graphs fills the pages of market research reports. Care should be taken to ensure a professional look and feel.
- Discussion of results over the phone. This is similar to a verbal, face-to-face presentation.
- Information gaps are best thought of as a lack of knowledge about a given topic area. They are usually recognised when a decision is about to be made that will affect the way an organisation conducts itself. Some examples of common information gaps include consumer buying habits, customer perceptions of new products and whether a market opportunity exists.
- Information gaps need to be prioritised. This process sees each gap assessed for its potential contribution to achieving a desired outcome. For example, if a new product is to be launched, gauging the demand for that product is crucial. Prioritising information gaps allows an organisation’s resources to be allocated as efficiently as possible.
- Once the primary information gaps are identified, they need to be defined as specifically as possible. For example, ‘determining the level of demand’ is a broad and somewhat ambiguous research problem. If this research problem is rephrased into several more focussed issues, it will streamline the research process and allow it to achieve a measurable outcome. Derivations of ‘demand’ include ‘who is demanding product x in geographic market a?’, ‘what features are group y most interested in?’, and ‘what is group y willing to pay for product x?’.
- The types of information to be gathered fit into two broad categories: primary and secondary data. Primary data includes data gathered for the first time for a specific purpose, e.g. interviews or surveys. Secondary data, on the other hand, is already gathered and has been used for another purpose, e.g. government reports, newspaper articles and databases.
- Data sources are categorised as either qualitative or quantitative.Qualitative data is that which is difficult to measure. Often qualitative data provide a depth of information about the topic of interest. Qualitative data usually result from open-ended interviews and surveys (where respondents are allowed to say anything they like) with respondents or through the description of their behaviours and contexts. Other qualitative data result from secondary sources such as reports and articles from the press. Quantitative data is easily measurable. It usually is recorded in numerical form. Data is also gathered through similar sources to qualitative data, but is represented through numbers, i.e. respondents are forced to select a number that represents their answer.
- To gather the required data, an action plan is necessary. This involves determining research objectives, deciding on resource and personnel allocations, the timing of data gathering activities and setting a research budget.
For qualitative data: data are assessed for the primary ‘themes’ that they contain. This involves becoming well acquainted with the data and to apply techniques to that data, which compartmentalise it into relevant chunks. These are then presented along with some indicative quotes from the data.
For quantitative data: a range of statistical techniques can be used to show differences between respondent groups, to show relationships between different phenomena and to count the number of instances of a particular type of response.
5. Presenting Findings
The final step in the market research process involves presenting the findings to the client or to the management team. This generally involves one or more of the following components:
With improvements in technology, it is now possible to present findings using one or all of these methods regardless of geographic locations of research stakeholders.
Beall, A. (2008). Strategic Market Research: A Guide to Conducting Research that Drives Businesses. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
McQuarrie, E. F. (2006). The Market Research Toolbox: A Concise Guide for Beginners (2 ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
2. Developing the Research Approach
This step involves identifying the types of information to be gathered, their sources and an action plan.