Marketing research exercise may take many forms but systematic inquiry is feature common to all such forms. Being a systematic inquiry it requires careful planning of the orderly investigation process. Though it is an over simplification to assume that all research processes would necessarily follow a given sequence marketing research often follows a generalized pattern which can be broken down and studied as sequential stages.
Below figure gives the stages in the marketing research process.
As shown in the above diagram research process begins with the identification. The research task may clarify a problem or define an opportunity. The clear cut statement of problem may not be possible at the very outset of research process as often only the symptoms of the problem are apparent at that point. Thus the problem statement may be made only in general terms to be made specific later after some exploratory research has been done to clarify the problem situation.
Defining the Problem
Clear problem definition is of crucial importance in marketing research as in terms of both time and money research is a costly process. Careful attention to problem definition allows the researcher to set the proper research objectives which in turn facilitate relevant and economic data collection.
Problem definition in specific terms must precede the determination of the purpose of the research.
In order to define the problem more precisely, some sort of exploratory research may also be undertaken. The methods popularly in use are survey of secondary data, experience survey or pilot studies.
Statement of Research Objectives
After clarifying and identifying the research problem with or without exploratory research, the researcher must make a formal statement of research objectives. Research objectives may be state in qualitative or quantitative terms and expressed as research question statements or hypothesis. For example, the research objective “To find out the extent to which the sales promotion programs affected sales” is a research objective expressed as a statement.
A hypothesis on the other hand is a statement that can be refuted or supported by empirical findings. The same research objective could be stated as: “To test the hypothesis that sales are -positively affected by the sales promotion program undertaken this summer.” Example of another hypothesis may be “Concentrating advertising efforts in monthly waves (rather than advertising continuously) would cause an increase in sales and profits.” Once the objectives or the hypothesis are developed the researcher is ready to choose the research design.
Planning the Research Design
Once the research problem has been defined and the objectives decided, the research design must be developed. A research design is a piaster plan specifying the procedure for collecting and analyzing the needed information. It represents framework for the research plan of action. The objectives of the study discussed in the preceding step are included in the research design to ensure that data collected are relevant to the objectives.
The researcher must, at this stage, also determine the type of sources of information needed, the data collection methods (surveys or interviews for example), the sampling methodology and the timing and possible costs of research. The design chosen play be from exploratory, descriptive, quasi-experimental or experimental design categories which again include a number of alternative methods.
Planning the Sample
Although the sample plan is included in the research design, the actual sampling is a separate and important stage in the research process, Sampling involves procedures that use a small number of items or parts of the population to make conclusion regarding the whole population. The first sampling question that needs to be asked is who is to be sampled, which follow from what is the target population. Defining the population may not be as simple as it seems. For example, if you are interested in finding the association between savings and loans, you may survey the people who already have accounts and the selected sample will not represent potential customers.
The next important issue is regarding sample size. How large or how small should a sample be? Generally speaking, larger samples give more reliable information then smaller ones but if probability sampling is used, a small proportion of the population may give a reliable measure of the universe. Unit 5 on `sampling’ gives a detailed account of determination of sample size as well as different sampling methods used. The researcher is also required to know how to select the various unit to make up the sample.
The data collection process follows the formulation of research design including the sampling plan. Data which can be secondary or primary, can be collected using variety of tools. These tools are classified into two broad categories, the observation methods and the communication methods, all of which have their inherent advantages and disadvantages.
Data Processing and Analysis
Once the data has been collected it has to be converted to a format that will suggest answers to the problem identified in the first step, Data processing begins with the editing of data and coding. Editing involved inspecting the data collection forms for omission, legibility and consistency in classification.
Before tabulation, responses need to be classified into meaningful categories. The rules for categorizing, recording and transferring the data to data storage media are called codes. The coding process facilitates the manual or computer tabulation. If computer analysis is being used, the data can be key-punched and verified.
Analysis represents the application of logic to the understanding of data collected about the subject. In its simplest forms, analysis may involve determination of consistent patterns and summarizing of appropriate details. The appropriate analytical techniques chosen would depend upon informational requirements of the problem, characteristics of the research designs and the nature of the data gathered. The statistical analysis may range from simple univariate analysis to very complex multivariate analysis.
Formulating Conclusion, Preparing & Presenting the Report
The final sate in the research process is that of interpreting the information mid drawing conclusions for use in managerial decisions. The research report should effectively communicate the research findings and need not necessarily include complicated statements about the technical aspect of the study and research methods. Often the management is not interested in details of research design and statistical analysis but in the concrete findings of the research. If executives are to act on these findings they must be convinced of the value of the findings. Researchers, therefore, must make the presentation technically accurate, understandable and useful.
Frequently, the researchers are required to make both an oral and a written presentation. Since each project is different, the presentation in each case requires originality. However, the better the earlier steps in the research process have been executed, the more likely it is that a good presentation would result, While the oral presentation depends a great deal on the personal style of the presenter and the management expectation.