01 Dec 2016 18:50 IST

Getting started on a market research project

It’s not just about surveys; the process involves analytical skills and strategic thinking

I have been in market research (MR) for over 25 years now and am convinced that it is one of the most fascinating disciplines within marketing.

To me, no other line allows as much scope for free thinking, applying principles in practice, understanding branding and consumer behaviour, and good, old-fashioned “poking-my-nose-into-what-others-are-doing (or buying)” as market research does.

In the next few articles, I will try to capture some of this fascination I feel, hoping to convey that MR isn’t just about “surveys” and “going from house to house”. It is a truly varied field that allows full use of intellectual ability, analytical skills, strategic thinking, and operational efficiency.

Key qualities

Some key qualities required to be a good researcher are:

~ Sound knowledge of marketing concepts.

~ Deep insights into the human mind, its motivations and consumer behaviour.

~ Relevant domain understanding and familiarity with techniques, depending on the research specialisation.

~ Limitless curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Dimensions and divisions

We can divide the field of market research into sub-divisions, along many dimensions. A few of the more prominent categories are:

~ Kind of study: Primary research, secondary research, and observation research.

~ Nature of questions: Qualitative and quantitative.

~ Key research question: Brand health, customer satisfaction, advertising research, pricing research, and new product research.

~ Industry or product domain: FMCG / foods, industrial products, social research, media research, and financial product research are a few examples.

~ Method of data collection: Group discussions, depth interviews, central location tests, house-to-house interviews, mall intercepts, online research, and CATI (computer aided telephonic interviews).

~ Periodicity: One-off, sequential monadic (where each respondent evaluates two products) with product placement, tracking, and panel.

While many of these topics will be dealt with in later articles, we must first understand the research process.

Research process

Step one: The first step in a research study is what the textbooks call “problem identification”, and what should preferably be called “research need identification”.

This is the one main question that the research exercise needs to address. Typical examples of this could be: “How well is my brand doing in the market?”; “Will the ad be good enough to do the job for us?”; “Should I launch my brand in this market or not?”; “Why are my brand’s sales dropping?”; “Why don’t my customers refer me to others?”; “By how much can I raise my price?” and “What do consumers really look for in this category?”, among others. It is important to specify this research question as precisely as possible.

Step two : The next stage in the research process is “expansion of the primary question into key research tasks”. To do this would require a sound understanding of the marketing concepts as well as domain knowledge. For instance, “how well is my brand doing in the market?” can be expanded into “How is the brand scoring vis-à-vis competition on parameters related to awareness, behaviour, disposition, positioning, and channel support.

Step three: The third step is to decide the research approach. As we can see from the sub-divisions above, there are quite a few choices and it requires a good understanding of research to decide which the appropriate approach will be.

Step four: The fourth step in the research process is to decide the sample size and the sampling method.

Step five: The fifth step is to write the questionnaire or discussion guide. This is a crucial stage but it is, by no means, more important than the other steps.

Step six: The sixth step is the actual data collection.

Step seven: The seventh step is the process of data analysis. There are well-established process guidelines for this and are laid out in the chapter on data analysis.

Step eight: Finally, the results from the data analysis are interpreted to enable a marketing decision.

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