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Marketing research

Marketing research, or market research, is a form of business research and is generally divided into two categories: consumer market research and business-to-business (B2B) market research, which was previously known as industrial marketing research. Consumer marketing research studies the buying habits of individual people while business-to-business marketing research investigates the markets for products sold by one business to another.

Consumer market research is a form of applied sociology that concentrates on understanding the behaviours, whims and preferences, of consumers in a market-based economy, and aims to understand the effects and comparative success of marketing campaigns. The field of consumer marketing research as a statistical science was pioneered by Arthur Nielsen with the founding of the ACNielsen Company in 1923.

Thus marketing research is the systematic and objective identification, collection, analysis, and dissemination of information for the purpose of assisting management in decision making related to the identification and solution of problems and opportunities in marketing.

Marketing research characteristics

First, marketing research is systematic. Thus systematic planning is required at all the stages of the marketing research process. The procedures followed at each stage are methodologically sound, well documented, and, as much as possible, planned in advance. Marketing research uses the scientific method in that data are collected and analyzed to test prior notions or hypotheses.

Marketing research is objective. It attempts to provide accurate information that reflects a true state of affairs. It should be conducted impartially. While research is always influenced by the researcher's research philosophy, it should be free from the personal or political biases of the researcher or the management. Research which is motivated by personal or political gain involves a breach of professional standards. Such research is deliberately biased so as to result in predetermined findings. The motto of every researcher should be, "Find it and tell it like it is." The objective nature of marketing research underscores the importance of ethical considerations, which are discussed later in the chapter.

Marketing research involves the identification, collection, analysis, and dissemination of information. Each phase of this process is important. We identify or define the marketing research problem or opportunity and then determine what information is needed to investigate it., and inferences are drawn. Finally, the findings, implications and recommendations are provided in a format that allows the information to be used for management decision making and to be acted upon directly. It should be emphasized that marketing research is conducted to assist management in decision making and is not: a means or an end in itself. The next section elaborates on this definition by classifying different types of marketing research.

Comparison with other forms of business research

Other forms of business research include:

  • Market research is broader in scope and examines all aspects of a business environment. It asks questions about competitors, market structure, government regulations, economic trends, technological advances, and numerous other factors that make up the business environment (see environmental scanning). Sometimes the term refers more particularly to the financial analysis of companies, industries, or sectors. In this case, financial analysts usually carry out the research and provide the results to investment advisors and potential investors.
  • Product research - This looks at what products can be produced with available technology, and what new product innovations near-future technology can develop (see new product development).
  • Advertising research - is a specialized form of marketing research conducted to improve the efficacy of advertising. Copy testing, also known as "pre-testing," is a form of customized research that predicts in-market performance of an ad before it airs, by analyzing audience levels of attention, Brand linkage, motivation, entertainment, and communication, as well as breaking down the ad’s flow of attention and flow of emotion. Pre-testing is also used on ads still in rough (ripomatic or animatic) form. (Young, pg. 213)

Classification of marketing research

Organizations engage in marketing research for two reasons: (1) to identify and (2) solve marketing problems. This distinction serves as a basis for classifying marketing research into problem identification research and problem solving research.

Problem identification research is undertaken to help identify problems which are, perhaps, not apparent on the surface and yet exist or are likely to arise in the future. Examples of problem identification research include market potential, market share, brand or company image, market characteristics, sales analysis, short-range forecasting, long range forecasting, and business trends research. A survey of companies conducting marketing research indicated that 97 percent of those who responded were conducting market potential, market share, and market characteristics research. About 90 percent also reported that they were using other types of problem identification research. Research of this type provides information about the marketing environment and helps diagnose a problem. For example, a declining market potential indicates that the firm is likely to have a problem achieving its growth targets. Similarly, a problem exists if the market potential is increasing but the firm is losing market share. The recognition of economic, social, or cultural trends, such as changes in consumer behavior, may point to underlying problems or opportunities. The importance of undertaking problem identification research for the survival and long term growth of a company is exemplified by the case of PIP printing company.

Once a problem or opportunity has been identified, as in the case of PIP, problem solving research is undertaken to arrive at a solution. The findings of problem solving research are used in making decisions which will solve specific marketing problems. More than two-thirds of companies conduct problem solving research.

The Stanford Research Institute, on the other hand, conducts an annual survey of consumers that is used to classify persons into homogeneous groups for segmentation purposes. The National Purchase Diary panel (NPD) maintains the largest diary panel in the United States.

Standardized services are research studies conducted for different client firms but in a standard way. For example, procedures for measuring advertising effectiveness have been standardized so that the results can be compared across studies and evaluative norms can be established. The Starch Readership Survey is the most widely used service for evaluating print advertisements; another well-known service is the Magazine Impact Studies. These services are also sold on a syndicated basis.

Customized services offer a wide variety of marketing research services customized to suit a client's specific needs. Each marketing research project is treated uniquely. Some marketing research firms that offer these services include Burke Marketing Research, Market Facts, Inc., and Elrick & Lavidge.

Limited-service suppliers specialize in one or a few phases of the marketing research project. Services offered by such suppliers are classified as field services, coding and data entry, data analysis, analytical services, and branded products. Field services collect data through mail, personal, or telephone interviewing, and firms that specialize in interviewing are called field service organizations. These organizations may range from small proprietary organizations which operate locally to large multinational organizations with WATS line interviewing facilities. Some organizations maintain extensive interviewing facilities across the country for interviewing shoppers in malls.

Coding and data entry services include editing completed questionnaires, developing a coding scheme, and transcribing the data on to diskettes or magnetic tapes for input into the computer. NRC Data Systems provides such services.

Analytical services include designing and pretesting questionnaires, determining the best means of collecting data, designing sampling plans, and other aspects of the research design. Some complex marketing research projects require knowledge of sophisticated procedures, including specialized experimental designs, and analytical techniques such as conjoint analysis and multidimensional scaling. This kind of expertise can be obtained from firms and consultants specializing in analytical services.

Data analysis services are offered by firms, also known as tab houses, that specialize in computer analysis of quantitative data such as those obtained in large surveys. Initially most data analysis firms supplied only tabulations (frequency counts) and cross tabulations (frequency counts that describe two or more variables simultaneously). With the proliferation of software, many firms now have the capability to analyze their own data, but, data analysis firms are still in demand.

Branded marketing research products and services are specialized data collection and analysis procedures developed to address specific types of marketing research problems. These procedures are patented, given brand names, and marketed like any other branded product.

Types of marketing research

Marketing research techniques come in many forms, including:

  • Ad Tracking – periodic or continuous in-market research to monitor a brand performance using measures such as brand awareness, brand preference, and product usage. (Young, 2005)
  • Advertising Research – used to predict copy testing or track the efficacy of advertisements for any medium, measured by the ad’s ability to get attention, communicate the message, build the brand’s image, and motivate the consumer to purchase the product or service. (Young, 2005)


  • Brand equity research - how favorably do consumers view the brand?
  • Brand name testing - what do consumers feel about the names of the products?
  • Commercial eye tracking research - examine advertisements, package designs, websites, etc by analyzing visual behavior of the consumer
  • Concept testing - to test the acceptance of a concept by target consumers
  • Coolhunting - to make observations and predictions in changes of new or existing cultural trends in areas such as fashion, music, films, television, youth culture and lifestyle
  • Buyer decision processes research - to determine what motivates people to buy and what decision-making process they use
  • Copy testing – predicts in-market performance of an ad before it airs by analyzing audience levels of attention, brand linkage, motivation, entertainment, and communication, as well as breaking down the ad’s flow of attention and flow of emotion. (Young, p 213)
  • Customer satisfaction research - quantitative or qualitative studies that yields an understanding of a customer's of satisfaction with a transaction
  • Demand estimation - to determine the approximate level of demand for the product
  • Distribution channel audits - to assess distributors’ and retailers’ attitudes toward a product, brand, or company
  • Internet strategic intelligence - searching for customer opinions in the Internet: chats, forums, web pages, blogs... where people express freely about their experiences with products, becoming strong "opinion formers"
  • Marketing effectiveness and analytics - Building models and measuring results to determine the effectiveness of individual marketing activities.
  • Mystery Consumer or Mystery shopping - An employee or representative of the market research firm anonymously contacts a salesperson and indicates he or she is shopping for a product. The shopper then records the entire experience. This method is often used for quality control or for researching competitors' products.
  • Positioning research - how does the target market see the brand relative to competitors? - what does the brand stand for?
  • Price elasticity testing - to determine how sensitive customers are to price changes
  • Sales forecasting - to determine the expected level of sales given the level of demand. With respect to other factors like Advertising expenditure, sales promotion etc.
  • Segmentation research - to determine the demographic, psychographic, and behavioural characteristics of potential buyers
  • Online panel - a group of individual who accepted to respond to marketing research online
  • Store audit - to measure the sales of a product or product line at a statistically selected store sample in order to determine market share, or to determine whether a retail store provides adequate service
  • Test marketing - a small-scale product launch used to determine the likely acceptance of the product when it is introduced into a wider market
  • Viral Marketing Research - refers to marketing research designed to estimate the probability that specific communications will be transmitted throughout an individuals Social Network. Estimates of Social Networking Potential (SNP) are combined with estimates of selling effectiveness to estimate ROI on specific combinations of messages and media.

All of these forms of marketing research can be classified as either problem-identification research or as problem-solving research.

A company collects primary research by gathering original data. Secondary research is conducted on data published previously and usually by someone else. Secondary research costs far less than primary research, but seldom comes in a form that exactly meets the needs of the researcher.

A similar distinction exists between exploratory research and conclusive research. Exploratory research provides insights into and comprehension of an issue or situation. It should draw definitive conclusions only with extreme caution. Conclusive research draws conclusions: the results of the study can be generalized to the whole population.

Exploratory research is conducted to explore a problem to get some basic idea about the solution at the preliminary stages of research. It may serve as the input to conclusive research. Exploratory research information is collected by focus group interviews, reviewing literature or books, discussing with experts, etc. This is unstructured and qualitative in nature. If a secondary source of data is unable to serve the purpose, a convenience sample of small size can be collected. Conclusive research is conducted to draw some conclusion about the problem. It is essentially, structured and quantitative research, and the output of this research is the input to management information systems (MIS).

Exploratory research is also conducted to simplify the findings of the conclusive or descriptive research, if the findings are very hard to interpret for the marketing manager.

Marketing research methods

Methodologically, marketing research uses the following types of research designs:

Based on questioning:

Based on observations:

  • Ethnographic studies -, by nature qualitative, the researcher observes social phenomena in their natural setting - observations can occur cross-sectionally (observations made at one time) or longitudinally (observations occur over several time-periods) - examples include product-use analysis and computer cookie traces. See also Ethnography and Observational techniques.
  • Experimental techniques -, by nature quantitative, the researcher creates a quasi-artificial environment to try to control spurious factors, then manipulates at least one of the variables - examples include purchase laboratories and test markets

Researchers often use more than one research design. 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.

Business to business market research

Business to business (B2B) research is inevitably more complicated than consumer research. The researchers need to know what type of multi-faceted approach will answer the objectives, since seldom is it possible to find the answers using just one method. Finding the right respondents is crucial in B2B research since they are often busy, and may not want to participate. Encouraging them to “open up” is yet another skill required of the B2B researcher. Last, but not least, most business research leads to strategic decisions and this means that the business researcher must have expertise in developing strategies that are strongly rooted in the research findings and acceptable to the client.

There are four key factors that make B2B market research special and different to consumer markets:

  • The decision making unit is far more complex in B2B markets than in consumer markets
  • B2B products and their applications are more complex than consumer products
  • B2B marketers address a much smaller number of customers who are very much larger in their consumption of products than is the case in consumer markets
  • Personal relationships are of critical importance in B2B markets.

Marketing Research in Small Business and Nonprofit Organizations

Marketing research does not only occur in huge corporations with many employees and a large budget. Marketing information can be derived by observing the environment of their location and the competitions location. Small scale surveys and focus groups are low cost ways to gather information from potential and existing customers. Most secondary data (statistics, demographics, etc.) is available to the public in libraries or on the internet and can be easily accessed by a small business owner.

International Marketing Research

International Marketing Research follows the same path as domestic research, but there are a few more problems that may arise. Customers in international markets may have very different customs, cultures, and expectations from the same company. In this case, secondary information must be collected from each separate country and then combined, or compared. This is time consuming and can be confusing. International Marketing Research relies more on primary data rather than secondary information. Gathering the primary data can be hindered by language, literacy and access to technology.

Commonly used marketing research terms

Market research techniques resemble those used in political polling and social science research. Meta-analysis (also called the Schmidt-Hunter technique) refers to a statistical method of combining data from multiple studies or from several types of studies. Conceptualization means the process of converting vague mental images into definable concepts. Operationalization is the process of converting concepts into specific observable behaviors that a researcher can measure. Precision refers to the exactness of any given measure. Reliability refers to the likelihood that a given operationalized construct will yield the same results if re-measured. Validity refers to the extent to which a measure provides data that captures the meaning of the operationalized construct as defined in the study. It asks, “Are we measuring what we intended to measure?”

Applied research sets out to prove a specific hypothesis of value to the clients paying for the research. For example, a cigarette company might commission research that attempts to show that cigarettes are good for one's health. Many researchers have ethical misgivings about doing applied research.

Sugging (or selling under the guise of research) forms a sales technique in which sales people pretend to conduct marketing research, but with the real purpose of obtaining buyer motivation and buyer decision-making information to be used in a subsequent sales call.

Frugging comprises the practice of soliciting funds under the pretense of being a research organization.

Selecting a research supplier

A firm that cannot conduct an entire marketing research project in-house must select an external supplier for one or more phases of the project. The firm should compile a list of prospective suppliers from such sources as trade publications, professional directories, and word of mouth. When deciding on criteria for selecting an outside supplier, a firm should ask itself why it is seeking outside marketing research support. For example, a small firm that needs one project investigated may find it economically efficient to employ an outside source. Or a firm may not have the technical expertise undertake certain phases of a project or political conflict-of-interest issues may determine that a project be conducted by an outside supplier.

When developing criteria for selecting an outside supplier, a firm should keep some basics in mind. What is the reputation of the supplier? Do they complete projects on schedule? Are they known for maintaining ethical standards? Are they flexible? Are their research projects of high quality?

What kind and how much experience does the supplier have? Has the firm had experience with projects similar to this one? Do the supplier's personnel have both technical and nontechnical expertise? In other words, in addition to technical skills, are the personnel assigned to the task sensitive to the client's needs and do they share the client's research ideology? Can they communicate well with the client?

The cheapest bid is not always the best one. Competitive bids should be obtained and compared on the basis of quality as well as price. A good practice is to get a written bid or contract before beginning the project. Decisions about marketing research suppliers, just like other management decisions, should be based on sound information.

Careers in marketing research

Career opportunities are available with marketing research firms (e.g., A. C. Nielsen, Burke Marketing Services, M/A/R/C). Equally appealing are careers in business and nonbusiness firms and agencies with in-house marketing research departments (e.g., Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, AT&T, the Federal Trade Commission, United States Census Bureau). Advertising agencies (e.g., BBDO International, Ogilvy & Mather, J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam) also conduct substantial marketing research and employ professionals in this field. Some of the positions available in marketing research include vice president of marketing research, research director, assistant director of research, project manager, field work director, statistician/data processing specialist, senior analyst, analyst, junior analyst and operational supervisor.

The most common entry-level position in marketing research for people with bachelor's degrees (e.g., BBA) is as operational supervisor. These people are responsible for supervising a well-defined set of operations, including field work, data editing, and coding, and may be involved in programming and data analysis. Another entry-level position for BBAs is assistant project manager. An assistant project manager will learn and assist in questionnaire design, review field instructions, and monitor timing and costs of studies. In the marketing research industry, however, there is a growing preference for people with master's degrees. Those with MBA or equivalent degrees are likely to be employed as project managers.

See also



  • Bradley, Nigel Marketing Research. Tools and Techniques.Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007 ISBN-10: 0-19-928196-3 ISBN-13: 978-0-19-928196-1
  • Marder, Eric The Laws of Choice -- Predicting Customer Behavior (The Free Press division of Simon and Schuster, 1997. ISBN 0-684-83545-2
  • Young, Charles E, The Advertising Handbook, Ideas in Flight, Seattle, WA, April 2005. ISBN 0-9765574-0-1
  • Kotler, Philip and Armstrong, Gary Principles of Marketing Pearson, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2007 ISBN13 978-0-13-239002-6, ISBN10 0-13-239002-7
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