This book is about the work of the market research architect. We present a step-by-step approach that will lead to more useful and efficient market research. The underlying idea of our approach is that market research is always done in order to be able to make a marketing decision or some other type of decision. We call this the management problem. This decision is translated into the research objective and the research questions. This is the informational need; in other words, what information is needed to make a good decision? The research questions are then used to create the best research design. By consistently following the steps of this process you ensure that the relevant research questions are answered. And each answer to each research question is useful for the client.
The gap between the market researcher and the marketeer
Market research that is well designed and carried out helps marketeers make sound decisions. Good market research is inspiring and eye-opening, but is not a substitute for the marketeer’s creativity and good sense. In reality, however, much of the market research done does not meet the needs and expectations of the marketeer.
A thorough problem analysis done in advance is crucial to providing effective market research. The main objective of analyzing the problem up front is to establish the link between the research findings and the decisions that a client needs to make.
Developments in Market Research
Nothing stands still, especially not market research. New technologies are continually added to our toolbox and expectations keep rising. Market research is no longer just about providing data or information, it is also about providing insight.
A Step-by-Step Plan for a Market Research Study
A market research study consists of several phases: problem analysis, design, execution, completion, and implementation. The first two phases will largely determine how useful the resulting information is for the client. In order to produce useful results, the research process must be seen as circular instead of linear; the outcome should provide the answers to the questions asked at the beginning.
What is Problem Analysis?
Market research enables clients to make better decisions, and in order to do that, you have to unravel the problem to reveal the relevant research questions. Answering the right questions enables clients to make good decisions.
A thorough problem analysis exposes both the problem you want to research and the context in which it occurs. The context can be internal (the organization) or external (the market in which the organization operates). The analysis gives you insight into the results the client wants to achieve, how the market works, and the possible solutions to the problem. It helps you as the researcher understand and delineate the problem.
Problem analysis largely determines the nature of the research study. The output consists of a clear Central Objective, unambiguous research questions, and an indication of what the best methodology for answering these question is. If done properly, answering the right research questions will lead directly to recommendations for decision-making.
Problem analysis is an iterative process that starts by delineating the research problem: you ask yourself questions and then search for the answers. Information provided by the client, desk research or your own knowledge of the market can provide quick answers to some of the questions. If the client cannot answer one of the key questions and you cannot find or deduce the answer yourself, then you have probably discovered one of the research objectives.
You do not start thinking about the research objectives, research questions, and research design until you have all the necessary information.
Focus: What is the Problem?
You start the problem analysis by putting yourself in the client’s shoes, meaning that you study the problem without thinking about how to design the study that will solve it.
First, you create a focal point. This you do by identifying the problem the client wants market research insights for. A problem consists of several parts: the current situation, the situation the client is aiming for, the reasons why these situations may be different, and possible ways of aligning them. You define all of this and also take a look at the target groups: where - in what groups of people - do we see the problem?
There are five main types of objectives based on the insight you wish to obtain: descriptive, aspirational, explanatory, exploratory and evaluatory. This classification relates directly to the decisions that the client wishes to make based on the research and are discussed in the next chapter.
Focus: The Marketeer’s Job
The purpose of market research is to help make decisions. That’s why you need to know upfront which (marketing) decisions your research is supposed to help make.
There are four types of marketing decisions:
• Product development or improvement (Product Management & Innovation)
• Brand building and communication (Brand Management & Communication)
• Building and maintaining (customer) relations (Customer Relation Management)
It is also important that you know at which level the decision will be made: strategic, tactical or operational.
The Internal Analysis
Once you have determined the focus, you can start the internal analysis, the aim of which is to describe the management problem in more detail. Three key questions are used to look at the problem from the client’s perspective. You define the current situation, evaluate it and define the differences between the desired situation and the current situation. Then you take a look at the potential decisions or, in other words, the tools the client has at its disposal.
The External Analysis
Three key questions are used to define the external aspects of the current situation. You define the market in which the client operates, determine how it works, and describe the target group and its subgroups. This allows you to place the client’s problem in the proper situational context. It also provides some insight into possible causes of the problem and potential solutions.
Synthesis: The Central Objective
The Central Objective is the result of reflecting on all the information the internal and external research provide. This information includes:
A Model as a Framework for Your Research
Why reinvent the wheel? Lots of good research and questionnaires are based on an existing model or concept. A model is a schematic version of reality. It helps you organize your thoughts and also reassures the client. You can use an existing model or create one yourself. A model helps you set up the research and draw up a questionnaire. Keep in mind, however, that a model is generally an oversimplification of reality. Moreover, many behavioral models incorrectly assume that humans act rationally. .
Clear and Measurable Research Questions
The problem analysis leads, through the research objectives, to one or more concrete research questions. These questions are the missing pieces of the puzzle needed to make a decision. The research questions bridge the gap between the research objective and the research design and, in the end, the report. Each research question should tackle only one subject, relate to the decisions that need to be made, be specific, measurable, and answering them through research must be feasible. These requirements facilitate the translation of the research questions into something measurable during the next step: operationalization.
This is also the phase in which you think about the possible outcomes of your research. Research results are difficult to interpret if you have not put any thought into their meaning beforehand. Ideally, you will have formulated the norms for the results together with the client during the analysis phase. You can also formulate norms as hypotheses to be tested during the research.
Choosing Your Research Design
Now that you have done a rigorous problem analysis, it is time to think about the research design. The research questions will guide you. Keep in mind that there are often many ways to answer a research question, and knowing which way is best may not be easy. But a few simple questions can give you an idea of the methodologies worth considering.
These questions are:
Limitations That Need Considering
In choosing a research design, you need to consider certain requirements or limitations. There are practical limitations such as the client’s budget. There are also legal and ethical limitations to what is allowed. But the biggest limitations lie in the methodology and are particularly relevant if you choose to conduct research by asking people questions. Consider whether you can motivate the relevant people to participate in your research and whether they will be able to answer your questions.
Is the Answer to the Research Question Available, or Do You Have to Process or Collect Data Yourself?
This question arises from the distinction between the passive and active collection of information or data. We already have a lot of data and information at our disposal and the data mine just keeps growing. A quick scan will show whether existing information or data that can be obtained from the client or external sources can at least partly answer the research questions. Client information is generally obtained through database analyses. External information can be gleaned by trawling the Internet and social media. However, speaking to experts in the relevant field can also be a quick way of finding the right information.
Signs indicating that existing information or data is available:
Observe or question?
Sometimes observing or recording behavior (or ownership) provides better information than questioning people, particularly when you can observe them in their natural environment. Not having to ask questions means not having to deal with the limitations inherent in questioning. However, observation also has limitations in the sense that you can record the behavior but not the underlying motivations. Combining observation with questioning can help overcome these limitations. Observing allows us to measure behavior, while questioning helps to explain it.
Signs indicating that you can use observation are:
Do You Want to Measure or Predict an Effect?
Showing that there is a relationship between two variables is easy. Proving that one causes the other is tougher. This is why, in market research, we often – sometimes unwittingly – use an experiment to determine cause and effect. For example, an experiment is the method of choice to study the effect of a special offer, or to predict the effect new packaging will have on sales. A control group is used to neutralize the effect of other factors as much as possible. In order to identify as many possible relevant (interfering) factors beforehand, you should carefully consider which theoretical model to use in the design.
Research questions indicating that you need a type of experiment are:
Do You Want to Understand or Measure?
Once you have decided to conduct your research by questioning people, you need to decide whether to use a quantitative or a qualitative method. The choice is important and almost never straightforward. A mixture of the two is often the best fit and there are several options within the two main types. The most suitable method depends on how you want to use the research results, the pros and cons of the method, and the practical limitations. Qualitative research methods are generally used to understand people and develop hypotheses based on this understanding. Quantitative research is mostly used to quantify reality in the form of hard figures.
Signs pointing towards qualitative research are: