Research covers the search for and retrieval of information for a specific purpose. Research has many categories, from medical research to literary research.
Types of business research
Businesses engage primarily in four types of research:
- Marketing research – Marketing research (also called “consumer research”) comprises a form of applied sociological study which concentrates on understanding the behaviours, whims and preferences, mainly current and future, of consumers in a market-based economy.
- Market research – Market research has a broad scope and includes all aspects of the business environment. It asks questions about competitors, market structure, government regulations, economic trends, technological advances, and numerous other factors that make up the business environment. (See Environmental scanning.) Sometimes the term refers more particularly to the financial analysis of companies, industries, or sectors. In this case, financial analysts usually carry out the research and provide the results to investment advisors and potential investors.
- Product research – This looks at what products can be produced with available technology, and what new product innovations near-future technology can develop. (see New Product Development)
- Advertising research – This attempts to assess the likely impact of an advertising campaign in advance, and also measure the success of a recent campaign.
Types of marketing research
Marketing research techniques come in many forms, including:
- test marketing – a small-scale product launch used to determine the likely acceptance of the product when it is introduced into a wider market
- concept testing – to determine if consumers consider a concept useful
- mystery shopping – An employee of the company conducting the research contacts a salesperson and indicates they are shopping for the product they sell. They then record the entire experience. This method is often used for quality control or for researching competitors products.
- store audits – to determine whether retail stores provide adequate service
- demand estimation – to determine the approximate level of demand for the product
- sales forecasting – to determine the expected level of sales given the level of demand
- customer satisfaction studies – exit interviews or surveys that determine a customer’s level of satisfaction with the quality of the transaction
- distribution channel audits – to assess distributors’ and retailers’ attitudes toward a product, brand, or company
- price elasticity testing – to determine how sensitive customers are to price changes
- segmentation research – to determine the demographic, psychographic, and behavioural characteristics of potential buyers
- consumer decision process research – to determine what motivates people to buy and what decision-making process they use
- positioning research – how does the target market see the brand relative to competitors? – what does the brand stand for?
- brand name testing – what do consumers feel about the names of the products?
- brand equity research – how favourably do consumers view the brand?
All of these forms of marketing research can be classified as either problem-identification research or as problem-solving research.
A similar distinction exists between exploratory research and conclusive research. Exploratory research provides insights into and comprehension of an issue or situation. It should draw definitive conclusions only with extreme caution. Conclusive research draws conclusions: the results of the study can be generalized to the whole population.
Both exploratory and conclusive research exemplify primary research. A company collects primary research for its own purposes. This contrasts with secondary research: research published previously and usually by someone else. Secondary research costs far less than primary research but seldom comes in a form that exactly meets the needs of the researcher.
Types of marketing research methods
Methodologically, marketing research uses four types of research designs, namely:
- Qualitative marketing research – generally used for exploratory purposes – a small number of respondents – not generalizable to the whole population – statistical significance and confidence not calculated – examples include focus groups, depth interviews, and projective techniques
- Quantitative marketing research – generally used to draw conclusions – tests a specific hypothesis – uses random sampling techniques so as to infer from the sample to the population – involves a large number of respondents – examples include surveys and questionnaires
- Observational techniques – the researcher observes social phenomena in their natural setting – observations can occur cross-sectionally (observations made at one time) or longitudinally (observations occur over several time-periods) – examples include product-use analysis and computer cookie traces
- Experimental techniques – the researcher creates a quasi-artificial environment to try to control spurious factors, then manipulates at least one of the variables – examples include purchase laboratories and test markets
Researchers often use more than one research design. They may start with secondary research to get background information, then conduct a focus group (qualitative research design) to explore the issues. Finally, they might do a full nationwide survey (quantitative research design) in order to devise specific recommendations for the client.
Some commonly used marketing research terms
Many of these techniques resemble those used in political polling and social science research. Meta-analysis (also called the Schmidt-Hunter technique) refers to a statistical method of combining data from multiple studies or from several types of studies. Conceptualization means the process of converting vague mental images into definable concepts. Operationalization is the process of converting concepts into specific observable behaviours that a researcher can measure. Precision refers to the exactness of any given measure. Reliability refers to the likelihood that a given operationalized construct will yield the same results if re-measured. Validity refers to the extent to which a measure provides data that captures the meaning of the operationalized construct as defined in the study. It asks, “Are we measuring what we intended to measure?”
Applied research sets out to prove a specific hypothesis of value to the clients paying for the research. For example, a cigarette company might commission research that attempts to show that cigarettes are good for one’s health. Many researchers have ethical misgivings about doing applied research.
Sugging forms a sales technique in which salespeople pretend to conduct marketing research, but with the real purpose of obtaining buyer motivation and buyer decision-making information to be used in a subsequent sales call.
Frugging comprises the practice of soliciting funds under the pretence of being a research organization.