Before we introduce and discuss the phases and specific steps in the information research process, it is important that you understand when research is needed and when it is not.
While many marketing research texts suggest the first step in the marketing research process is for the researcher to establish the need for marketing research, this places too much responsibility and control in the hands of a person who might not be trained in understanding the management decision-making process. Decision makers and researchers frequently are trained differently in their approach to identifying and solving business problems, questions, and opportunities, as illustrated in the nearby A Closer Look at Research (In the Field) box. Until decision makers and marketing researchers become closer to each other in their thinking, the initial recognition of a problem or opportunity should be the primary responsibility of the decision maker, not the researcher.
Nevertheless increasingly researchers must interact closely with managers in recognizing and identifying business problems and opportunities. Decision makers often initiate the research process because they recognize that more information is needed before a good plan of action can be developed. It is at this point, especially, that the help and advice of the researcher are required. Once the research process is initiated, in most cases decision makers will need assistance in defining the problem, collecting and analyzing the data, and interpreting the data. But when is it advisable to initiate the research process? For decision makers given the responsibility of recognizing and defining a problem or opportunity, a good rule of thumb is to ask, “Can the decision-making problem (or question) be resolved based on past experience and managerial judgment?” Only if the response is “no” should research be considered and perhaps implemented.
Akey to knowing when the information research process should be undertaken is to understand that marketing research no longer focuses on primary data to solve management’s problems. Increasingly, secondary research and data warehouse information are being used to address decision making. Technological advances in the Internet, high-speed communication systems, and faster secondary and primary data acquisition and retrieval systems are dramatically changing marketing research practices in that more problems are being resolved with secondary data instead of collecting primary data.
Four situations in which the decision to commission a marketing research project may be ill advised are when sufficient secondary information already is available, when time is of the essence, when resources are inadequate, and when costs of research are too high (see Exhibit 2.2). However, an important caveat to these cautions is that the decision maker is assumed to have precise knowledge about the true availability of existing information, the necessary time, staff, and adequate resources should a research project be initiated, and the expected value or cost/benefit trade-off of the resulting information. But such knowledge is a rare thing. And as technology advances, bearing on all the factors in decision making unpredictably, this assumption becomes more not less suspect, complicating the decision still further. For instance, the time and money needed to conduct an interview may go down with new technology, even while the availability of secondary data increases. Here the research expert can be of great assistance to managers trying to decide the nature of the research effort to be conducted or whether or not sufficient internal information exists already.
Exhibit 2.3 displays a framework for determining whether the research process is necessary. To repeat, the initial responsibility of the decision maker is to determine if research should be used to collect the needed primary information. Or can the problem or opportunity be resolved using existing (secondary) information and managerial judgment? The focus is on deciding what type of information (secondary or primary) is really required to answer the research question(s). In reality, conducting either secondary or primary research costs time, effort, and money. So the bottom line is that if there is an opportunity, but decision makers do not have the right information or are unwilling to rely on the information at hand, a research effort may be warranted.
A related question is: Does the problem/opportunity have strategic or significant tactical importance? Strategic decisions generally have longer time horizons and are more complex than tactical decisions. Most strategic decisions are critical to the company’s profit objectives, but tactical decisions can be important as well. For example, Outback Steakhouse recently made a tactical decision to update its menu both in appearance and food offerings. Researching the opinions of customers proved very helpful in determining new food items to be included and items that should be offered as occasional “chef’s specials.” Thus, if the problem has strategic or significant tactical importance, a research expert should be consulted and perhaps a research process implemented.
With the assistance of the research expert, decision makers are in a better position to answer the question: Is adequate information available within the company’s internal record systems to resolve the problem? In the past, if the necessary marketing information was not available in the firm’s internal record system, then a customized marketing research project was undertaken to obtain the information. The resources today available on the Internet may allow a problem to be solved with secondary data.
With input from the research expert, decision makers must assess the “time constraints” associated with the problem/opportunity: Is there enough time to conduct the necessary research before the final managerial decision must be made? Today’s decision makers often need information in real time. But in many cases, systematic research that delivers highquality information can take months. If the decision maker needs the information immediately, there may not be enough time to complete the research process. Another fundamental question focuses on the availability of marketing resources such as money, staff, skills, and facilities. Many small businesses lack the funds necessary to consider doing formal primary research even if it would be valuable.
Acost-benefit assessment should ask: Do the benefits of having the additional information outweigh the costs of gathering the information? While the costs of doing marketing research vary from project to project, generally they can be estimated accurately. But predetermining the benefits and true value of the expected information remains difficult.
Other questions to consider before starting a research project include:
- What is the perceived importance and complexity of the problem?
- Is the problem realistically researchable? Can the critical variables in the proposed research be adequately designed and measured?
- Will conducting the needed research give valuable information to the firm’s competitors?
- Will the research findings be implemented?
- Will the research design and data represent reality?
- Will the research results and findings be used as legal evidence?
- Is the proposed research politically motivated?
Finally, it is useful to go back to the firm’s broadest strategic considerations in answering the most basic question: Why should the decision maker conduct information research?
- If the information will clarify the problem or identify marketplace changes that directly influence the company’s product/service responsibilities.
- If the information helps the company to acquire meaningful competitive advantages within its market environment.
- If the information leads to marketing actions that will achieve marketing objectives.
- If the information provides proactive understanding of future market conditions.
If the research process will likely throw good light on any of these, then it is probably worth it.