The marketing research system - Marketing Management

This is the final input to the MkIS and the method used can be one, or a combination of observation, experimentation and survey research.


The generation of primary data is based on watching and sometimes recording market-related behaviour. Techniques using observation are more suited to investigating what people do rather than why they do it. An example might be the posting of a researcher in a retail outlet to observe patterns of shopping behaviour. Another is the use of meter-recording devices in television audience research.

Observational research varies from simple non-recorded personal approaches to complex, nonpersonal, permanently recorded ones, including the use of eye cameras and video cameras. A major advantage of observational techniques is that they may be used without the observed respondent’s knowledge. This is particularly useful when such knowledge would influence or bias the results, or where perhaps respondents would not be willing to participate at all.

Understandably, use of observation without the knowledge of the respondents raises a number of ethical and legal issues. Several commercial research companies have introduced an observational marketing research service whereby a researcher actually moves in and lives with a selected family for a few days. During this time, the observer will note details of product and brand usage by the family followed up by a detailed analysis and report for the client. This relatively new approach to marketing research is often referred to as ‘sleeping with the customer’ (not literally we would add); the researcher actually lives with the subject family for several days including overnight stays. The idea is that this provides very rich data on how customers actually use products and brands in their everyday lives. After a time it is argued that the family will begin to forget they are being observed and simply proceed as normal.

Observational research is now well established in marketing. Lee and Broderick4 argue that the potential for this marketing research approach is heightened by developments in technology which for example enable much more effective recording and interpretation of the behaviour of customers. Experimentation

This is a more formal approach to primary data collection. As in any experimental design, the essence of this approach is to determine causal relationships between factors and to support or refute hypotheses about these relationships. The most usual marketing research application is that of test marketing. This is a technique in which the product under study is placed on sale in one or more selected localities or areas and its reception by consumers and the trade is observed, recorded and analysed.

Performance in test markets gives some indication of performance to be expected when the product goes into general distribution and it includes likely sales and profitability of the product when marketed on a national scale, and feasibility of the marketing operation, meaning the soundness and integration of all elements that enter into it.

It is often an economic necessity to reduce new product risk by using one or more small and relatively self-contained marketing areas, wherein the marketer can apply a full-plan marketing strategy in order to gain at least a reasonably reliable indication that the product can be sold profitably in the eventual total marketplace.

The problem with the experimental approach to marketing is the difficulty of designing and administering the experiment in a scientific way. It is difficult controlling extraneous factors that might affect test results. The marketer may want to use experimentation to assess the impact on sales of different prices. It would seem relatively simple to do this by running several test markets using different prices while holding the other elements of the marketing mix constant. In these circumstances, any differences in sales between the test markets would be purely down to differences in prices.

However, extraneous factors may serve to interfere with results and hence confound the marketer’s assessment of the effect of different prices. For example, a competitor may introduce a special promotional offer in the test market region, or perhaps a local major employer in the test market area may suddenly lay off many workers thereby depressing the local economy. Such uncontrollable factors can affect experimentation results in marketing.

Mystery/secret shopping

Marketing research companies contract with retailers, banks, restaurants, beauty salons, motor dealerships, hotels, etc. to provide mystery or secret shopping evaluations. A shopper poses as a ‘real’ customer and goes to a particular outlet and evaluates the service received according to some pre-determined criteria.

The mystery shopper is normally an independent contractor from an agency. Discretion and a good eye for detail are requirements of a good mystery shopper. Companies might want to monitor staff product knowledge, availability of goods and services, response to promotional campaigns, compliance to standards of service and procedures, cleanliness of the premises, attitudes of staff to customers or the time it takes to obtain service.

Many customers have their first dealings with business over the telephone. Telephone call surveys provide a report and digital recording of each call. Online mystery shopping evaluates matters like access response time and the quality of response to e-mails and the efficiency of the website. Similarly, postal mystery shopping can reveal the speed and quality of a request for information. Secret video surveyors can film staff in everyday situations and then report this back to the sponsoring company.

The results of a mystery shopping programme can give an opportunity to gauge employee effectiveness in terms of performance and indicate areas where training might benefit employees or where there might be a need for action on the part of management.


Recently, marketers, and in particular, market researchers, have begun to explore the potential for using technologies which get inside the mind of customers in order to understand their buying behaviour.

Senior et al.5 refer to this approach as mapping the mind. Many of these technologies are used by members of the medical profession and in particular neuroscience. Fugate6 designed a system to explore how the brain works in relation to marketing. Other technologies include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which measures activity in parts of the brain; electroencephalography (EEG), another technique for measuring brain activity; and techniques for measuring heart rate, respiratory rate and galvanic skin responses.

According to Kenning in particular looks promising for the market researcher. Using these techniques the neuromarketer is hoping to be able to assess the effects of aspects such as different colours or packaging, different advertising copy platforms, different tastes etc., on customers’ most deep-seated physical and cognitive processes. In fact, the idea of neuromarketing research is not new. Marketers were using the psychogalvanometer (lie detector) in their research as long ago as the 1950s. Although in its early days, neuromarketing research techniques are appealing and innovative.

Survey research

Survey research, based on sampling and questioning respondents, represents, both in volume and value terms perhaps the most important method of collecting data and covers: customer attitudes, customer buying habits, market trends and potential market size. Unlike experimental research, survey research is aimed at generating descriptive rather than causal data; unlike observational research, survey research usually involves consumers actively engaging with the researcher.

Because of the importance and diversity of survey research in marketing, it is on this particular aspect that we now concentrate. Sampling: contact with consumers and users is fundamental to marketing research. It is impractical and expensive to interview more than a proportion of the total who might purchase. This total number is known statistically as the ‘universe’ or the ‘population’. In marketing terms, it comprises the total number of actual and potential users of a particular product or service.

The total number of consumers who could be interviewed is known as the ‘sample frame’, while the number of people who are actually interviewed is referred to as the ‘sample’. Scientific sampling techniques aim to achieve samples that are reflections, in miniature, of the universe from which they are drawn i.e. a microcosm of the universe.

If we can define clearly the universe or population to which the study relates, we have then to see if there is a suitable frame. If random or systematic sampling is to be used in a market survey, the availability of a suitable sampling frame is of prime importance. National lists, such as the Register of Electors, fall out of date, while commercial directories and professional registers are only reflections of subscribers or members who may not represent the entire population.

For example sampling companies from a local business directory would only encompass those businesses that have felt it necessary or useful to be listed in the directory, thereby leaving out perhaps smaller businesses who cannot afford to subscribe, or better established businesses who feel they do not need to. In this way the sampling frame is not representative.

Five criteria are important when evaluating sampling frames:

  1. Size: is it big enough?
  2. Completeness: all units of a population under survey should be included.
  3. Accuracy: totally up-to-date sampling frames are rarely available. The frame may contain units which no longer exist.
  4. Duplication: bias will result where names of sampling units occur more than once, e.g. some firms may have multiple listings in telephone directories.
  5. Convenience: sampling lists should be accessible and suitable for sampling purposes.

Basic statistics texts explain random sampling, systematic sampling, multi-stage sampling, cluster sampling, stratified sampling and quota sampling along with an understanding of how deviation or bias can enter into a sample and its potential effects upon the results of a survey.

Contact methods Contact methods are a balance between time, the degree of accuracy required and costs.

  • Personal interviews can be formal ‘on-street’ or ‘mall intercept’ surveys using structured questionnaires and a less structured ‘depth’ or ‘focus’ interview format that is done at the interviewee’s home or in a group setting.
  • Postal surveys demand a straightforward formalized questionnaire as personal intervention is not possible to explain questioning areas which might be unclear.
  • Telephone interviews are popular owing to relatively low costs, especially for consumer research, but increasingly for B2B industrial research as respondents might be geographically spread, so travel costs are eliminated.

Contact medium: the questionnaire This cannot be designed until precise information require ments are known. It is the vehicle whereby research objectives are translated into specific questions.

The type of information sought and the type of respondents to be researched will have a bearing on the contact method to be used. This will influence whether the questionnaire is an unstructured schedule of discussion points for depth interviewing or a structured closed-ended type questionnaire for ‘on-street’ interviews.

Qualitative research

Data such as market size, numbers of competitors and average purchasing prices provide hard data on market facts. Marketers are also interested in qualitative data on markets and customers. This data encompasses areas like underpinning customer attitudes, customer perceptions and beliefs, psychological and sociological influences on consumer behaviour, and such techniques are aimed at providing this information.

Marketers have used several techniques for researching these more complex aspects. Many have been adapted from psychology and sociology. In the 1960s for example, marketers began to use what became collectively referred to as motivation research. Examples of specific techniques include thematic apperception, Rorschach ink-blot tests and word association tests. During the 1980s and 1990s many of these techniques fell into disrepute and motivation research in general was used less and less by marketers who felt it to be unscientific. Two techniques of qualitative research which remain viable and widely used are focus groups and depth interviews .

Marketers have again begun to look at innovative research techniques to gather and analyse qualitative data. Futures research, described earlier, is a good example. In the main, marketers are becoming more amenable to innovative techniques of qualitative market research if they afford insights into the underpinning behavioural processes and attitudes of customers.

Guinness is a good example of a company that has been willing to try out new techniques of qualitative research to try and find out customers’ innermost thoughts. Guinness’s research company have used techniques such as role playing, psychodramas and psycho-drawing in this process. Some of the findings from this research have found their way into multi-million pound advertising campaigns for the Guinness brand.

Using this research, Guinness found that many of their customers drank Guinness because they felt it set them aside from the crowd. Many Guinness drinkers apparently see themselves as individuals. The famous Guinness ‘It’s not easy being a dolphin’ advertisements starring Rutger Hauer were the result of this type of research.

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