Once you have the objectives for your market research established and the parameters specified, researchers can select which methods you will use to collect data, and there are a wide range of research options available.
The choice of research design will depend on the following factors:
- Whether the information needed already exists in some form (secondary data) or whether it will have to be collected for the research project (primary data)
- Whether the market research objectives involve the collection of facts and figures (quantitative data), opinions and feelings (qualitative data) or both types of data
- Whether the research is to gain insights and reactions (exploratory research), describe what is known (descriptive research) or identify a cause and effect relationship (causal research)
- Whether the research involves discovering a trend (continuous) or the status of the situation at a single point in time (ad hoc)
When researchers answer these questions, it will help them identify the potential data sources for the research information and the methodologies needed to obtain the information. The sources and methodologies can then be compared to the budget and timelines to decide if they are suitable and achievable.
Secondary and primary research
When considering the market research objectives, researchers might realize that a lot of the information they need can be obtained by using existing reports, documents and published statistics. This is secondary data.
The process of gathering secondary data is called secondary research or desk research. Secondary research can be gathered from numerous sources, such as:
- a company’s own records and publications
- government publications
- competitors’ websites and publications
- newspapers, journals and magazine articles
Other information might need to be gathered specifically to answer the research objectives. This is primary data, and the process of gathering it is called primary research. Primary data sources include questionnaires and surveys.
Secondary research is usually faster, easier and less expensive than primary research. For example, secondary research might be as simple as browsing the Internet using carefully selected search terms, whereas primary research usually involves designing a data-collection tool such as a survey and investing considerable time in contacting customers and obtaining replies.
Companies often neglect primary research because it is more expensive and time consuming to gather, but most research projects should involve some primary research.
Most small- and medium-sized companies focus on desk research and then move on to primary research if they can afford it. Larger companies will invest more in primary research because their risk exposure will be higher.
Quantitative and qualitative research
Researchers must also identify what type of information the market research should obtain. This depends on whether the research objectives require information that can be measured, categorized or analyzed numerically, or information that indicates customer opinions and motivations.
Quantitative research gathers information that can be analyzed numerically. It can be obtained through secondary research; for example, by obtaining the census records for a population. It can also be obtained through primary research, such as by conducting a survey and asking questions that have answers that can be measured. For example, a researcher can ask consumers how satisfied they are with their current toothpaste on a scale of 1 to 5. The resulting information can be represented statistically.
Qualitative data is descriptive information and is often transferred verbally or in writing. Among other things, qualitative research enables companies to discover what actions consumers take and why. Researchers can gather information about consumer preferences and purchasing habits and about why consumers have the preferences that they do.
Qualitative data can be used in three main ways:
- To enable researchers to decide what questions to ask in quantitative research
- To answer a specific question
- To help explain the data received in quantitative research
Qualitative data are usually gathered through primary research methods, including interviews, focus groups and observational analysis. Focus groups are informal, guided discussions in which a small group of potential customers are encouraged to share their views and opinions of a company, brand, product or service. Observational analysis involves gathering information about customer actions and preferences through direct or indirect observation, such as CCTV cameras or online tracking.
Exploratory, descriptive and causal research
The design of a market research program is also dictated by how much information is already known and the actions the decision makers will take after obtaining the results of the research.
Exploratory research involves collecting information informally to gain insights into some aspect of marketing or trade. It is helpful in breaking very broad research problem statements into smaller and more manageable statements. For example, researchers might visit a potential international market to investigate consumer attitudes. Exploratory research projects often provide a basis for further research and usually involve gathering qualitative information.
Descriptive research is more structured than exploratory research and involves gathering information about a market to explain the current market condition, current demographics or a current business problem. It is often used to measure the frequency with which something happens or to compare market variables and is useful in establishing what is real, rather than what is assumed.
For example, a company considering exporting to Japan might have heard about new regulations regarding wood packaging material. Descriptive research could identify the regulations and any necessary certifications required.
Causal research involves attempting to determine whether one market variable has an impact on another market variable. The aim is to detect cause and effect relationships. For example, a company attempting to break into a new international market and not having much success might wish to carry out causal research to determine whether a lower price will have a significant impact on sales.
Continuous or ad hoc research
Researchers must also consider whether information must be collected over a period of time or on one occasion only.
Ad hoc research involves investigating a single problem or opportunity at one point in time. Often, ad hoc research involves gathering information from a range of sources in one specific time frame and is called cross-sectional research. Cross-sectional research is useful for research objectives that involve knowing the right time to make a business move or whether it is wise to launch a new product.
Continuous research, also known as longitudinal research, involves long term research to monitor trends in customer attitudes and market attitudes.
This involves obtaining information from the same sources or the same consumer groups on several occasions over a defined time period.
Continuous market research is very useful for investigating causal responses, such as purchasing habits in response to changing interest rates, or for following trials of a new product or service.