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systematically gathering and analyzing information related to goods, services, customers, competitors, etc.


  • Exploratory Research
    marketing research to gather preliminary information that will help to better define problems and suggest hypotheses

    • E.g.: Professor Bob has noticed that many successful entrepreneurs and salespeople appear to be the type of people who in the past had been fired from jobs, were labeled by others as independent and not especially good "team players," got bored easily, didn't sleep much, etc.  These are traits often associated with people who have the syndrome called "attention deficit disorder" (ADD).  Suspecting that there might be some relationship between ADD and the "entrepreneurial spirit" that is found in many successful business owners and salespeople, the professor would like to contact sales agents with an insurance company who earn over $100,000 in commissions per year. 

      He is not sure what are the relevant research questions to ask, so would simply ask each salesperson to describe her or his job history before going into the insurance business and about her or his personal work habits.  Salespeople could be interviewed individually in this way through individual depth interviews (IDIs) or they could be interviewed in group discussions through focus groups.  Such a study is exploratory because it might be able to provide some initial, general intuition about a relationship between ADD and "entrepreneurial success," but it could not be used to draw any absolute conclusions about a relationship. 

      From this exploratory research, we might then have some insights or evidence that can be used to speculate about factors associated with ADD and with a propensity for entrepreneurial quot;success," however we might define these.

      an informed guess about the answer to a research question; often, research is conducted to specifically test whether or not this is a plausible answer

  • Causal Research
    marketing research to test hypotheses about cause-and-effect relationships

    • E.g.: On the basis of interviews with these "successful" insurance salespeople, the professor could then look for commonalities and patterns in the histories these people.  Any that are found and that appear to bear a resemblance to factors associated with ADD can then be used in a more formal study designed to test the general question, "is there a relationship between these ADD factors and a propensity for entrepreneurial success?" (or actually, the hypothesized answer that "people who are successful entrepreneurs or salespeople exhibit ADD behaviors more than the general population").  Factors identified in the exploratory study, in association with factors associated with ADD, could then be used in designing specific questions (or "scales") for this second study.  The survey could then be administered to "successful" salespeople and entrepreneurs and to people randomly selected from the general population.  A relationship between ADD factors and "propensity for success" would be implied if the "success" group scored significantly different from the "general population" group on these ADD-related scales.

  • Descriptive Research
    marketing research to better describe marketing problems, situations, or markets

    • E.g.: Many sales organizations assess job applicants with aptitude tests.  These tests ask the applicant to indicate some amount of agreement or disagreement with such statements as, "I would like to write a college textbook" and "I become irritable when colleagues do not work as quickly as me."  There are no right or wrong answers on these tests; if you become irritable with slower colleagues, does that imply that you are a fast and efficient worker or that you are someone who does not get along well with others?  These aptitude tests are merely attempting to find some sort of profile in your answers, with previous research showing the sort of entry-level profile that is possessed by salespeople who currently do well with the organization.  The profile is merely descriptive of the people who work in a particular organization; it does not necessarily suggest any sort of causal relationship.

    As a generalization, the kind of research that you would do in an environmental analysis would be descriptive research.  For example, of you look up local demographics at the US Census Bureau website, count the number of competitors in the local Yellow Pages, and find articles discussing changes in technology that will affect a particular industry, your report in an environmental scan will be descriptive research.  The term competitive intelligence research or CI is often used by online researchers with regard to activities associated with monitoring and describing the external environment.


  • Secondary data
    Data compiled inside or outside of the organization for some (previous) purpose other than the current investigation.

  • Primary data
    Data observed and recorded directly from respondents for the specific purpose at hand.

Note that secondary data already exists, so it is generally relatively low in cost to collect secondary data.  Primary data must be collected to answer specific research questions, so it will generally be much more expensive to collect. Primary data, however, might be much more useful to answer specific questions.

If you wanted to start a new restaurant, would you first survey people to find out whether they would patronize a business such as you propose (primary data), or would you first collect existing data regarding the local economy, local per capita expenditures on entertainment, and the locations and sales of local restaurants (secondary data)?  As a general rule, you should start your research with existing secondary data, which is easy, quick, and inexpensive to collect, and then move toward answering more specific questions with primary data if secondary data suggests that your business idea has merit.

information that already exists somewhere, having been collected for another purpose

  • Internal
    from sources within the firm, e.g.,

    • credit card purchase records
    • scanner data (bar code readers at retail checkout)
    • accounting records

  • External
    from external sources, e.g.,

    • purchased commercial database
    • government census
    • industry/trade reports
    • periodicals
Data warehousing refers to electronically storing data for future analysis.  Data mining as to do with analyzing that data to find patterns or relationships, such as customer profiles.  Database marketing has to do with tailoring marketing efforts around the profiles of individuals or organizations that are gleaned from a database.

data collected to answer a specific question or problem at hand

  • Observation
    researcher records relevant people, actions, and situations; can be
    • personal
    • mechanical

    We once had tire store as a class client.  To get an idea of the nature of the competition, some students simply stood across the street from competitors and took notes about what kinds of cars were entering and what kinds of tires and wheels were on those cars when they left.  This gave students an idea of how our client's business was positioned against competitors in terms of the kinds of customers served and the kinds of products sold.

    This kind of personal observation is very time consuming, and some types of observation can be automated through mechanical means.  We can, for example, measure street traffic by laying a strip across a road which detects the number of cars passing across the strip; we can observe household TV viewing behavior by putting a box on a research participant's TV which tracks channel switching and time of day.

  • Survey
    gathering of data by asking people questions about their knowledge, attitudes, preferences, and buying behavior; interviews by:
    • mail
    • email
    • website
    • telephone
    • personal (face to face)
    • group/focus group

    In focus group research, the research moderator uses a topic guide to lead research participants through a discussion that is designed to probe particular issues of interest to the researcher.  A face-to-face personal interview is called an individual depth interview or IDI, whether it consists primarily of open-ended questions or of closed-ended questions.  Similarly, such a survey conducted on the telephone is called a telephone depth interview or TDI

    Individual and group surveys and interviews can be conducted on the Web as long as the research design recognizes important shortcomings of this medium.  A moderator could, for example, run a focus group in a chat room if potential participants are geographically dispersed, albeit with an absence of body language and other such factors that have an important impact on group dynamics.  An advantage of online methods is that the questionnaire data can be automatically recorded and analyzed, and focus group sessions can be automatically transcribed.  Do be cautious of anyone who promotes online methods without outlining any methodological shortcomings, especially if the emphasis is on low price. 

  • Experiment
    selecting matched groups of subjects, giving them different treatments, controlling related factors, and checking for differences in group responses

    If you wanted to test the classic formula of a soft drink against a new formula, you would run an experiment.  Some research participants would taste the old formula and rate it against the major competitor.  Other participants would taste the new formula and rate it against the major competitor.  If those in the new-formula treatment rate it higher than those in the old-formula treatment, then you might have grounds for changing the formula.  (Note that a focus only on the taste cannot alone be used to predict marketplace behavior.  Taste interacts with such factors as an existing brand image, and a change in the taste could result in alienating existing customers.)


open ended questions
allow respondents to answer in their own words

closed ended questions
include all possible answers and respondents make choices among them

a limited number of people chosen to represent the characteristics of a total population

Probability Sample
each population member has a known chance of being included in the sample

  • simple random sampling
    all members of a population have an equal chance of appearing in the sample

  • stratified random sample
    the population is divided into mutually exclusive groups from which a sample is drawn

Nonprobability Sample

  • convenience sample
    the researcher selects the easiest population members from which to obtain information

  • judgment sample
    researcher chooses population members

  • quota sample
    researcher selects participants to ensure a particular ration of respondents

edited 21 JUN 05