By understanding different research designs, a researcher can solve a client’s problems more quickly and efficiently. Research designs fall into three categories:
· exploratory research design
· descriptive research design
· causal research design (experiments)
An exploratory research design is useful when you are initially investigating a problem but you haven’t defined it well enough to do an in-depth study of it. Perhaps via regular market intelligence, you have spotted what appears to be a new opportunity in the marketplace. You would then do exploratory research to investigate it further and “get your feet wet,” as the saying goes. Exploratory research is less structured than other types of research, and secondary data is often used.
One form of exploratory research is qualitative research. Qualitative research is any form of research that includes gathering data that is not quantitative, and often involves exploring questions such as why as much as what or how much. Different forms, such as depth interviews and focus group interviews, are common in marketing research.
The depth interview—engaging in detailed, one-on-one, question-and-answer sessions with potential buyers—is an exploratory research technique. However, unlike surveys, the people being interviewed aren’t asked a series of standard questions. Instead, the interviewer is armed with general topics and asks questions that are open-ended, meaning that they allow the interviewee to elaborate. “How did you feel about the product after you purchased it?” is an example. A depth interview also allows a researcher to ask logical follow-up questions such as “Can you tell me what you mean when you say you felt uncomfortable using the service?” or “Can you give me some examples?” to help focus on the research problem. Depth interviews can be conducted in person or over the phone. The interviewer either takes notes or records the interview.
Focus groups and case studies are often used for exploratory research as well. A focus group is a group of potential buyers brought together to discuss a marketing research topic. A moderator is used to focus the discussion, the sessions are recorded, and points of consensus are later summarized by the market researcher. Textbook publishers often gather professors at conferences to participate in focus groups. However, focus groups can also be conducted on the telephone, in online chat rooms, or both, using meeting software like WebEx. The basic steps of conducting a focus group are outlined below.
1. Establish the objectives of the focus group. What is its purpose?
2. Identify the people who will participate in the focus group. What makes them qualified to participate? How many of them will you need, and what they will be paid?
3. Obtain contact information for the participants and send out invitations (usually emails are most efficient).
4. Develop a list of questions.
5. Choose a facilitator.
6. Choose a location in which to hold the focus group and the method by which it will be recorded.
7. Conduct the focus group. If the focus group is not conducted electronically, include name tags for the participants, pens and notepads, any materials the participants need to see, and refreshments. Record participants’ responses.
8. Summarize the notes from the focus group and write a report for management.
A case study looks at how another company solved the problem that’s being researched. Sometimes multiple cases, or companies, are used in a study. Case studies nonetheless have a mixed reputation. Some researchers believe it’s hard to generalize, or apply, the results of a case study to other companies. Nonetheless, collecting information about companies that encountered the same problems a firm is facing can provide insight about what direction to take. In fact, one way to begin a research project is to study a successful product or service.
Two other types of qualitative data used for exploratory research are ethnographies and projective techniques. In an ethnography, researchers interview, observe, and often videotape people while they work, live, shop, and play. The Walt Disney Company has used ethnographers to uncover the likes and dislikes of boys aged 6 to 14, a financially attractive market segment for Disney, but one in which the company had been losing market share. The ethnographers visit the homes of boys, observe the things they have in their rooms to get a sense of their hobbies, and accompany them and their mothers when they shop to see where they go, what the boys are interested in, and what they ultimately buy (the children get $75 out of the deal, incidentally) (Barnes, 2009).
Projective techniques are used to reveal information research respondents might not reveal by being asked directly. Asking a person to complete sentences such as the following is one technique: People who buy Coach handbags…
Will he or she reply with “are cool,” “are affluent,” or “are pretentious”?
Or the person might be asked to finish a story that presents a certain scenario. Word associations are also used to discern people’s underlying attitudes toward goods and services. Using a word-association technique, a market researcher asks a person to say or write the first word that comes to mind in response to another word. If the initial word is “fast food,” what word does the person associate it with or respond with? Is it “McDonald’s”? If many people reply that way, and you’re conducting research for Burger King, that could indicate Burger King has a problem. However, if the research is being conducted for Wendy’s, which recently began running an advertising campaign to the effect that Wendy’s offerings are “better than fast food,” it could indicate that the campaign is working.
Completing cartoons is yet another type of projective technique. It’s similar to finishing a sentence or story, only with the pictures. One of the characters in the picture will have made a statement, and the person is asked to fill in the empty cartoon “bubble” with how they think the second character will respond.
In some cases, your research might end with exploratory research. Perhaps you have discovered your organization lacks the resources needed to produce the product. In other cases, you might decide you need more in-depth, quantitative research such as descriptive research or causal research. Most marketing research professionals advise using both types of research, if feasible. On the one hand, the qualitative-type research used in exploratory research is often considered too “lightweight.” Remember when we discussed telephone answering machines and the hit TV sitcom Seinfeld? Both product ideas were initially rejected by focus groups. On the other hand, relying solely on quantitative information often results in market research that lacks ideas.
Anything that can be observed and counted falls into the category of descriptive research design. A study using a descriptive research design involves gathering hard numbers, often via surveys, to describe or measure a phenomenon so as to answer the questions of who, what, where, when, and how. “On a scale of 1–5, how satisfied were you with your service?” is a question that illustrates the information a descriptive research design is supposed to capture.
Physiological measurements also fall into the category of descriptive design. Physiological measurements measure people’s involuntary physical responses to marketing stimuli, such as an advertisement. Elsewhere, we explained that researchers have gone so far as to scan the brains of consumers to see what they really think about products versus what they say about them. Eye tracking is another type of physiological measurement. It involves recording the movements of a person’s eyes when the person is looking at some sort of stimulus, such as a banner ad or a web page. The Walt Disney Company has a research facility to take physical measurements of viewers when they see Disney programs and advertisements. The facility measures three types of responses: heart rates, skin changes, and eye movements (Spangler, 2009).
A strictly descriptive research design instrument—a survey, for example—can tell you how satisfied your customers are. It can’t, however, tell you why. Nor can an eye-tracking study tell you why people’s eyes tend to dwell on certain types of banner ads—only that they do. To answer “why” questions an exploratory research design or causal research design is needed (Wagner, 2007).
Causal research design examines cause-and-effect relationships. Using a causal research design allows researchers to answer “what if” types of questions. In other words, if a firm changes X (say, a product’s price, design, placement, or advertising), what will happen to Y (say, sales or customer loyalty)?
To conduct causal research, the researcher designs an experiment that “controls,” or holds constant, all of a product’s marketing elements except one (or using advanced techniques of research, a few elements can be studied at the same time). The one variable is changed, and the effect is then measured. Sometimes the experiments are conducted in a laboratory using a simulated setting designed to replicate the conditions buyers would experience. Or the experiments may be conducted in a virtual computer setting.
You might think setting up an experiment in a virtual world such as the online game Second Life would be a viable way to conduct controlled marketing research. Some companies have tried to use Second Life for this purpose, but the results have been mixed as to whether it is a good medium for marketing research. The German marketing research firm Komjuniti was one of the first “real-world” companies to set up an “island” in Second Life upon which it could conduct marketing research. However, with so many other attractive fantasy islands in which to play, the company found it difficult to get Second Life residents, or players, to voluntarily visit the island and stay long enough so meaningful research could be conducted. Plus, the “residents,” or players, in Second Life have been known to protest corporations invading their world. When Komjuniti created its research island, the residents showed up waving signs and threatening to boycott (Wagner, 2007).
Why is being able to control the setting so important? Let’s say you are an American flag manufacturer and you are working with Walmart to conduct an experiment to see where in its stores American flags should be placed so as to increase their sales. Then the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occur. In the days afterward, sales skyrocketed—people bought flags no matter where they were displayed. Obviously, the terrorist attacks in the United States would have skewed the experiment’s data.
An experiment conducted in a natural setting such as a store is referred to as a field experiment. Companies sometimes do field experiments either because it is more convenient or because they want to see if buyers will behave the same way in the “real world” as in a laboratory or on a computer. The place the experiment is conducted or the demographic group of people the experiment is administered to is considered the test market. Before a large company releases a product to the entire marketplace, it will often place the offering in a test market to see how well it will be received. For example, to compete with MillerCoors’ 64-calorie beer MGD 64, Anheuser-Busch tested its Select 55 beer in certain cities (McWilliams, 2009).
Many companies use experiments to test all marketing communications. For example, the online discount retailer O.co (formerly called Overstock.com) tests its marketing offers and tracks the results of each. One study the company conducted combined 26 different variables related to offers emailed to several thousand customers. The study resulted in a decision to send a group of emails to different segments. The company then tracked the results of the sales generated to see if they were in line with the earlier experiment it had conducted that led it to make the offer.