Exploratory research, e.g., literature reviews, talking to people, and focus groups goes hand-in- hand with the goal clarification process. The literature review is especially important because it obviates the need to reinvent the wheel for every new research question. More importantly, it gives researchers the opportunity to build on each other’s work.
Defining the Methodology
The researcher should find out whether such sets of information are already available within the institute or not. He would also explore the possibility of finding these sets from external sources. He would have to review these sources in a lucid manner, lest they should fail to satisfy his information needs in the context of the research project awarded to him.
Sometimes, secondary data would suffice, but on some other occasions, primary data would have to be collected. The objective of research as well as the resources allocated to the manager or the researcher would determine the course of action in this context. The firm may request the researcher to carry out the research activities afresh in the targeted markets.
1. A research design is prepared after these issues have been addressed. However, researchers may encounter sources of errors while they do so. These sources of error include:
(a) Use of a poor or inappropriate research design;
(b) Avoiding experimental designs where it was possible to use these;
(c) Selection of the wrong type of respondents;
(d) Asking ambiguous questions;
(e) A large-scale study instead of a small-scale study (and vice-versa); and (/) use of poorly framed experimental designs.
2. Further, researchers can minimise the potential sources of error. Five important issues in this context are as follows:
(a) The researcher has to address the basic question-whether the research should be exploratory or conclusive? The primary guiding factor in this context is the research objective (or a set of objectives). The secondary guiding factor is the situation (which has forced the firm to carry out research).
The firm should use exploratory research when it investigates a potential opportunity or problem. Conclusive research is undertaken if the findings of the research activity are likely to spring up specific decisions or actions.
(b) The next question, to minimise the sources of errors, would be-who should be interviewed and how? Information can be obtained from only those who have got it. The researcher must analyse whether interviews would be appropriate, or he would carry out observation procedures to collect data from the targeted markets.
Interviews could also be of different kinds and he would have to select the right mode of interview, telephonic or personal. Similarly, he would have to define the mode of observation and spot of meeting the candidate (target), if he uses the observation method.
(c) Next, the researcher should address the question-whether he should study only a few cases or a large number of cases? If he covers the entire population under study, he uses the census method of data collection; it is time consuming, tedious, and costly but gives accurate sets of data.
If he defines a sample of the population and studies it, he is using the sampling method; it is not time consuming, quite simple and cheap but does not give accurate sets of data. The researcher has to look at the objectives of the study and confer with the manager of his client firm in this context. He can use his experience and judgement skill too.
(d) The next question arises-how would the experiments be incorporated into the research project? If the researcher is undertaking conclusive research, the research project may include one or more experiments. If an experiment is a part of the research design, he must define some parameters like: (a) when and where measurements would be done; and (b) how he would apply the experimental variable.
(e) The last question to be asked, to minimise the sources of errors, would be-how should the researcher design the data collection form? All the enumerators would have to be giving same data collection forms to interview or observe the respondents.
3. Thus, when we create a research design, we must address the following facets of data collection:
(a) The type of tool (personal interview, telephonic conversation, mail survey or questionnaire).
(b) The type of questionnaire (structured non-disguised, non-structured non-disguised, non structured-disguised, and structured-disguised.
(c) The type of interview (individual, focused group, objective, or descriptive)
(d) Contents of questions to be asked.
(e) Types of questions to be asked.
(f) The sequence of questions.
(g) The place of collection of data (through interview, observation or questionnaire).
Access and Ethics
Every firm must define the purpose of the research study. The research objectives must be clear to the executives. Every company has some decision to make or a problem to solve. Hence, it defines what it wants to achieve by carrying out the marketing research procedures. It has to define some problems that are to be solved. These are called Research Problems.
Normally, these research problems achieve some short-range or long-range objectives of the firm. Only one research problem is taken up in one complete session of marketing research activities. When this session is over, the researcher take? Up another research problem. The manager would not give a clear statement of the real problem to researchers. That is because he hopes that the survey would show such results as would be favourable to the personal inclinations and intentions of the manager.
A written statement is prepared by the manager and the researcher in this context. Both of them approve this statement. Some sources of error may creep into the statement, however. A poorly conceived study would be one such source of error and the manager would be deemed responsible for this; he had defined the research objective and not the researcher. Thus, poorly conceived study could be one source of error.
Secondly, the manager would take a different course of action if one set of findings were to occur and a different course of action if some other set of findings were to spring up. It means that the manager is responding to the environment in which, his firm thrives.
Thus, he is working in a model (explicit or implicit) of the world within which, he is working. However, the researcher does grasp the realities of the real world in which, the manager operators. Therefore, the manager may not want to get some types of information that he wants. Alternatively, he may need some other sets of information, but the researcher may not be able to get them for him. Both these situations could lead to sources of error.
In order to remove these errors, both the manager and researcher must work together and identify the decision model that the manager would use in making a decision. According to Boyd et al, “If a manager can specify the decision model to be used, that model can be used to design a research project that will provide the information needed for the decision.”
Stating the Hypothesis
The research question itself can be stated as a hypothesis. A hypothesis is simply the investigator’s belief about a problem. Typically, a researcher formulates an opinion during the literature review process. The process of reviewing other scholar’s work often clarifies the theoretical issues associated with the research question. It also can help to elucidate the significance of the issues to the research community.
The hypothesis is converted into a null hypothesis in order to make it testable. “The only way to test a hypothesis is to eliminate alternatives of the hypothesis”. (Anderson, 1966, p.9). Statistical techniques will enable us to reject a null hypothesis, but they do not provide us with a way to accept a hypothesis. Therefore, all hypothesis testing is indirect.
In this step, data is collected from the market from most relevant samples. For this purpose, selection, training, control, evaluation, and motivation of the enumerators or data collectors is done in an organised manner. These enumerators actually collect data and therefore, they must be aware of the techniques of data collection in the field. They must also be clear about the type of data collected as well as about the method of filling up the forms that are given to them.
Those techniques that are used by researchers to collect data from the targeted markets are called field techniques. These almost always involve a team of 10 to 10,000 people (enumerators). They are also called Field Surveyors or Field Workers. They report to researchers or marketing research managers.
They are normally not involved in the analysis of data. Many of them are psychologists, postgraduates in social sciences (MSWs), journalists, and technically trained people. Many researchers also join this team and take care of a few segments of the targeted markets to be studied.
The method of collecting data dictates what types of field techniques would have to be used. Further, sampling requirements and the types of information sets desired for the study also determine the type and activities of field techniques. Field workers can wreak havoc on a research project and manager of the client firm or researcher may never know about it.
The field worker may interview the right set of respondents; he may even not interview them at all and fill up the form his own! He may not study the sample selected by the researcher and follow his own whims a fancies while interviewing the respondents. He may misbehave with ladies (we have come acre many such cases).
He may try to steal things from the homes to which, he is cordially invited to on a sofa and served coffee. Finally, his academic background may not allow him to collect data of typical nature; engineering data cannot be collected by a commerce graduate, to quote an example.
The researcher must standardise the procedures of data collection, appoint only senior enumerate give them financial incentives, and control their activities in the field. Such precautions have toll taken with great care. The researcher or his immediate boss would have to be involved will enumerators under their control.
Data are collated, and analysed by mathematical and statistical techniques. The forms filled u by the enumerators or actual respondents have to be edited to ensure that predefined sets of instruction were followed to fill these up. The data filled in these forms must also be logical. Then, the data are tabulated after these are assigned categories. The responses are either of objective type or o explanatory type. An expert data entry operator has to sit along with the researcher and feed this data into the computer. Long lines of data or statements cannot be fed. That is why their representative categories are made and those categories are marked in the computerised data entry module. The data must be tabulated after these have been fed into the computer. Thus, each response must be put under a category.
Some whimsical people may give weird responses in mail questionnaires. Some people may give funny replies during telephonic interviews. Some others may not fill up the parts of the questionnaire (even in the presence of enumerators). Such practical problems do come up quite often. The researcher has to eliminate all these bogus forms. Incomplete or insincere responses must be rejected and excluded from the study.
The researcher must have procedures, tools and software at his hands to process the tabulated data. He can use measures of central tendency, frequency distribution, linear programming techniques, formulae of regression analysis and Chi Square analysis to do so.
Every set of data requires a different statistical or operations research technique. The end result should be a set of information that coincides well with the list of needed information. This information is analysed in the context of the needs of the (client) firm and its actual pointers are found out. Example: Seven thousand people out of a sample of ten thousand prefer Close Up toothpaste. Hence, we can interpret that Close Up is the most selling brand of toothpaste in the targeted market niche.
Reports are made and supported by the basic research objective, data collection methods, research design, and theory of OR techniques, which were used in the analysis. If need be, the code of the software (which was used to process the information) is also given in the report.
This report can have an extent of 50 pages up to 500 pages. It is mandatory to write the gist of the results of the research project in the preliminary pages of the report. That is because the top management of the client firm does not have the time to scan each and every page of the report; it wants to ponder over the final conclusions and take a decision.
If the process of collation, categorization and processing of data were not accurate, errors would creep into the major findings of the research project. Such errors would affect the validity and reliability of the research project. Further, managers or researchers may not make many tables (or use many formulae) because these were not specified in the list of needed information; this is called
Act of Omission and may prove to be very cods’ for the client firm. Further, poor reporting of findings may also not lead to a successful research project. In order to avoid these errors, the manager and team of researchers may commit such acts as may cover up their inefficiency, poor results, or errors. These are called Acts of Commission.
In this step, the market researcher or the research firm makes a report of the study and submits it to the management of the firm. Then, he also keeps in touch with the company to give suggestions in the context of the research problem.
The client firm uses the results of the study in actual situation. It may modify some of the results of this study according to the availability of resources, needs of markets, and suggestions of the marketing research firm. Once the strategies that emanated from the research effort are implemented, their results are measured. Deviations are noted and actual performances of the functions of management are compared with the expected results (which were propounded by the research study).