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What is Market Research? Definition, Types, Process, Examples and Best Practices

By Nick Jain

Published on: June 21, 2023

What is Market Research

Table of Contents

What is Market Research?

Types of market research, market research process, examples of market research, market research methods, best practices for market research in 2023.

Market research is defined as the systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data about a specific market, industry, or consumer segment. It involves studying customers, competitors, and market dynamics to identify opportunities, mitigate risks, and make informed business decisions.

Market research provides valuable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and market trends, helping organizations develop effective marketing strategies, launch new products, and optimize their market positioning.

Key components of market research:

Market research typically involves several key components that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the market and its dynamics. These components include:

  • Market Segmentation: Identifying and dividing the target market into distinct segments based on demographics, psychographics, behavior, or other relevant characteristics. This helps tailor marketing strategies to specific customer groups.
  • Data Collection: Gathering relevant data from primary and secondary sources. Primary data refers to information collected directly from the target market through surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Secondary data involves leveraging existing research, reports, industry databases, or government sources.
  • Research Design: Developing a research plan that outlines the objectives, methodology, and timeline for conducting the research. This includes selecting appropriate research methods, determining the sample size, and defining the sampling technique.
  • Qualitative Research: Utilizing techniques like interviews, focus groups , or observations to gain in-depth insights into consumer attitudes, opinions, motivations, and behaviors. Qualitative research helps explore underlying reasons and provides a richer understanding of the market.
  • Quantitative Research: Employing surveys, questionnaires, or structured data analysis to gather numerical data on a larger scale. Quantitative research enables statistical analysis, measurement of market trends, and generation of quantitative insights and metrics.
  • Competitive Analysis: Assessing competitors’ strategies, strengths, weaknesses, market positioning, and offerings. This helps identify market opportunities, potential threats, and areas for differentiation.
  • Consumer Behavior Analysis: Examining consumer decision-making processes, buying habits, preferences, and satisfaction levels. Understanding consumer behavior is crucial for developing effective marketing strategies and targeted campaigns.
  • Market Size and Forecasting: Estimating the total market size, growth potential, and future trends. Market sizing helps assess the market’s attractiveness and potential demand for products or services.
  • Data Analysis: Applying statistical techniques and tools to analyze collected data and derive meaningful insights. This includes data cleaning, segmentation analysis, correlation analysis, regression analysis, and other statistical methods.
  • Reporting and Presentation: Summarizing research findings, insights, and recommendations in a clear and concise manner. Effective communication of research results ensures that stakeholders can make informed decisions based on the findings.

These components work together to provide a holistic view of the market, consumer behavior, and competitive landscape, enabling businesses to make informed decisions and develop effective marketing strategies.

Primary Research: Primary research involves collecting data directly from the target market or consumer segment. It is customized and tailored to address specific research objectives. Primary research methods include surveys, interviews, focus groups , observations, and experiments. Primary research allows for the collection of firsthand data and offers more control over the research process.

Secondary Research: Secondary research involves gathering and analyzing existing data that has been previously collected by other sources. This data can include industry reports, government publications, academic studies, market research reports, and online databases. Secondary research helps to gain a broader understanding of the market, industry trends, and historical data. It is a cost-effective way to access existing information and can provide a foundation for further primary research.

Learn more: What is Customer Experience (CX) Research?

Step 1. Define Research Objectives

The first step in market research is to clearly define the research objectives. This involves identifying the specific information needed, the target audience, and the desired outcomes of the research.

Step 2. Design Research Plan

Once the objectives are defined, the next step is to design a research plan that outlines the methodology, data collection techniques, sample size, and timeline. The research plan should be tailored to address the research objectives and provide reliable and valid data.

Step 3 Data Collection

In this stage, data is collected using primary or secondary research methods. Primary research involves gathering data directly from respondents through surveys, interviews, focus groups , or observations. Secondary research involves gathering existing data from published sources, industry reports, or databases.

Step 4. Market research Analysis

Once the data is collected, it needs to be analyzed to identify patterns, trends, and insights. This can involve quantitative research and analysis, such as statistical techniques, or qualitative research and analysis, such as thematic coding or content analysis. The goal is to derive meaningful insights from the data that can inform decision-making.

Step 5. Final Market Research Insights

After analyzing the data, the next step is to interpret the findings and extract actionable insights. This involves drawing conclusions, identifying key trends, and relating them to the research objectives. The insights should provide valuable information that guides marketing strategies, product development, or business decisions.

Step 6. Reporting Research Findings

The final step is to present the research findings in a clear and concise manner. A market research report is typically prepared, which includes an executive summary, methodology, findings, insights, and recommendations. The report should effectively communicate the research results to stakeholders and provide actionable recommendations based on the insights.

Examples of Market Research

Here are some examples of market research. These examples illustrate the diverse applications of market research across various industries and scenarios:

  • Customer Satisfaction Market Research : A company conducts a customer satisfaction survey to gather feedback from its existing customers . The survey includes questions about their experience with the product or service, overall satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, and areas for improvement. The results help the company understand customer satisfaction levels, identify key drivers of satisfaction, and take action to enhance the customer experience .
  • Pricing Market Research: A business is considering introducing a new product or service and wants to determine the optimal pricing strategy. They conduct pricing research, which involves surveys or conjoint analysis, to gather data on customer price sensitivity, willingness to pay, and perceptions of value. The research helps the company set competitive pricing that aligns with customer expectations and maximizes profitability.
  • Market Trend Research: A market research firm monitors industry trends and analyzes market data to provide insights to clients. They track market size, growth rates, industry dynamics, and consumer preferences through secondary research. The analysis helps businesses understand market trends, identify emerging opportunities or threats, and make informed strategic decisions.
  • Concept Testing Market Research: A company has developed several product concepts and wants to evaluate their potential success before investing in product development. They conduct concept testing research, which involves presenting the concepts to a target audience through surveys or focus groups . The research helps assess consumer interest, perceived benefits, and purchase intent for each concept, allowing the company to select the most promising one to pursue further.
  • Competitor Market Research: A company wants to assess the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors in the market. They conduct competitor analysis, which involves gathering data on competitors’ products, pricing, distribution channels, marketing strategies, and customer perceptions. The insights obtained help the company benchmark against competitors, identify areas of competitive advantage and develop strategies to differentiate itself in the market.
  • Ad Testing Market Research: A company is planning to launch a new advertising campaign and wants to assess its effectiveness. They conduct ad testing research, which involves presenting different versions of the ad to a sample audience and gathering user or customer feedback on message comprehension, brand recall, and emotional response. The research helps the company optimize the ad campaign by identifying the most impactful and persuasive elements.
  • Market Segmentation Research: A company wants to understand its target market better and tailor marketing strategies to specific customer segments. They conduct market segmentation research, which involves analyzing demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data to identify distinct customer segments with different needs, preferences, and buying behaviors. The segmentation analysis helps the company develop targeted marketing campaigns, messages, and product offerings for each segment.

Learn more: What is Customer Feedback?

  • Qualitative Market Research Methods

Qualitative market research methods focus on non-data intensive methods of information gathering and analysis. These methods focus on a small sample of respondents who are probed for an in-depth understanding of a subject. The goal of such a method is to gain an in-depth understanding of the market and consumer behavior based on open-ended questions and discussions.

For example, focus groups , one-on-one interviews, case studies, etc are popular qualitative methods of market research.

  • Quantitative Market Research Methods

Quantitative market research focuses on data-intensive methods that return solid data that can be quantitatively analyzed in bulk. These methods often rely on a large sample of respondents who answer a common questionnaire, which may further have an internal logic to branch out to new questions based on answers to previous questions.

Examples of quantitative market research methods are physical survey questionnaires, online feedback surveys, Twitter polls, Net Promoter Score (NPS) questions after a product purchase, customer satisfaction (CSAT) feedback forms, etc.

Best Practices for Market Research in 2023

Market research is a crucial process that helps businesses understand their target market, consumer preferences, industry trends, and competitive landscape. By gathering and analyzing relevant data, companies can make informed decisions and develop effective marketing strategies. Here are some best practices for market research:

1. Define your research objectives: Clearly articulate the goals and purpose of your research. Identify the specific information you need to gather, such as customer insights, market size, competitor analysis, or product feedback.

2. Identify your target audience: Determine the specific demographic or customer segment you want to study. This will help you tailor your research methods and questions to gather the most relevant data.

3. Choose the right research methods: Select the most appropriate research methods based on your objectives and target audience. Common methods include surveys, interviews, focus groups , observation, secondary research, and data analysis.

4. Develop a research plan: Create a detailed plan outlining the research methodology, timeline, and resource allocation. This will ensure that the research is conducted efficiently and effectively.

5. Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research: Qualitative research methods , such as interviews and focus groups , provide in-depth insights and opinions, while quantitative methods , like surveys and data analysis, offer statistical data and measurable metrics. Combining both approaches provides a comprehensive understanding of the market.

6. Collect data from multiple sources: Gather information from diverse sources, including primary data (collected directly from customers or target audiences) and secondary data (existing research, industry reports, and government data). This multi-source approach enhances the reliability and accuracy of your findings.

7. Maintain data quality and integrity: Ensure the data collected is accurate, reliable, and relevant to your research objectives. Use standardized measurement scales and survey techniques to maintain consistency.

8. Analyze and interpret the data: Use appropriate statistical analysis tools and techniques to analyze the collected data. Look for patterns, trends, and correlations that can provide valuable insights for decision-making.

9. Keep an eye on competitors: Conduct a competitive analysis to understand your competitors’ strategies, strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning. This information can help you identify opportunities and develop effective marketing plans.

10. Stay ethical and maintain privacy: Adhere to ethical guidelines and protect the privacy of participants and their data. Obtain informed consent and ensure confidentiality throughout the research process.

11. Communicate and act on findings: Present your research findings in a clear and concise manner. Translate the insights into actionable strategies and recommendations that can drive business growth.

12. Continuously monitor the market: Market research is an ongoing process. Keep a pulse on industry trends, consumer preferences, and market dynamics to stay ahead of the competition and identify new opportunities.

By following these best practices, businesses can conduct effective market research that informs decision-making, helps identify growth opportunities, and supports the development of successful marketing strategies.

Learn more: What is Online Focus Group?

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CHAPTER 3 Problem Definition, Exploratory Research, and the Research Process

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Conducting marketing research involves a series of logical steps, beginning with problem definition and research objectives. What are the steps in the marketing research process? How is the research process initiated? These are the issues we will address in this chapter.

Critical Importance of Correctly Defining the Problem

Correctly defining the problem is the crucial first step in the marketing research process. If the research problem is defined incorrectly, the research objectives will also be wrong, and the entire marketing research process will be a waste of time and money. A large consumer packaged-goods company wanted to conduct a study among a brand’s heavy users in order to understand the brand’s equity. More specifically, it wanted to expand that equity into new products. The brand had very low penetration, so the company needed new products to meet the upcoming fiscal year’s volume goal of double-digit growth. Notice the absence of tying research learning—understanding the brand’s ...

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9 Key stages in your marketing research process

You can conduct your own marketing research. Follow these steps, add your own flair, knowledge and creativity, and you’ll have bespoke research to be proud of.

Marketing research is the term used to cover the concept, development, placement and evolution of your product or service, its growing customer base and its branding – starting with brand awareness , and progressing to (everyone hopes) brand equity . Like any research, it needs a robust process to be credible and useful.

Marketing research uses four essential key factors known as the ‘marketing mix’ , or the Four Ps of Marketing :

  • Product (goods or service)
  • Price ( how much the customer pays )
  • Place (where the product is marketed)
  • Promotion (such as advertising and PR)

These four factors need to work in harmony for a product or service to be successful in its marketplace.

The marketing research process – an overview

A typical marketing research process is as follows:

  • Identify an issue, discuss alternatives and set out research objectives
  • Develop a research program
  • Choose a sample
  • Gather information
  • Gather data
  • Organize and analyze information and data
  • Present findings
  • Make research-based decisions
  • Take action based on insights

Step 1: Defining the marketing research problem

Defining a problem is the first step in the research process. In many ways, research starts with a problem facing management. This problem needs to be understood, the cause diagnosed, and solutions developed.

However, most management problems are not always easy to research, so they must first be translated into research problems. Once you approach the problem from a research angle, you can find a solution. For example, “sales are not growing” is a management problem, but translated into a research problem, it becomes “ why are sales not growing?” We can look at the expectations and experiences of several groups : potential customers, first-time buyers, and repeat purchasers. We can question whether the lack of sales is due to:

  • Poor expectations that lead to a general lack of desire to buy, or
  • Poor performance experience and a lack of desire to repurchase.

This, then, is the difference between a management problem and a research problem. Solving management problems focuses on actions: Do we advertise more? Do we change our advertising message? Do we change an under-performing product configuration? And if so, how?

Defining research problems, on the other hand, focus on the whys and hows, providing the insights you need to solve your management problem.

Step 2: Developing a research program: method of inquiry

The scientific method is the standard for investigation. It provides an opportunity for you to use existing knowledge as a starting point, and proceed impartially.

The scientific method includes the following steps:

  • Define a problem
  • Develop a hypothesis
  • Make predictions based on the hypothesis
  • Devise a test of the hypothesis
  • Conduct the test
  • Analyze the results

This terminology is similar to the stages in the research process. However, there are subtle differences in the way the steps are performed:

  • the scientific research method is objective and fact-based, using quantitative research and impartial analysis
  • the marketing research process can be subjective, using opinion and qualitative research, as well as personal judgment as you collect and analyze data

Step 3: Developing a research program: research method

As well as selecting a method of inquiry (objective or subjective), you must select a research method . There are two primary methodologies that can be used to answer any research question:

  • Experimental research : gives you the advantage of controlling extraneous variables and manipulating one or more variables that influence the process being implemented.
  • Non-experimental research : allows observation but not intervention – all you do is observe and report on your findings.

Step 4: Developing a research program: research design

Research design is a plan or framework for conducting marketing research and collecting data. It is defined as the specific methods and procedures you use to get the information you need.

There are three core types of marketing research designs: exploratory, descriptive, and causal . A thorough marketing research process incorporates elements of all of them.

Exploratory marketing research

This is a starting point for research. It’s used to reveal facts and opinions about a particular topic, and gain insight into the main points of an issue. Exploratory research is too much of a blunt instrument to base conclusive business decisions on, but it gives the foundation for more targeted study. You can use secondary research materials such as trade publications, books, journals and magazines and primary research using qualitative metrics, that can include open text surveys, interviews and focus groups.

Descriptive marketing research

This helps define the business problem or issue so that companies can make decisions, take action and monitor progress. Descriptive research is naturally quantitative – it needs to be measured and analyzed statistically , using more targeted surveys and questionnaires. You can use it to capture demographic information , evaluate a product or service for market, and monitor a target audience’s opinion and behaviors. Insights from descriptive research can inform conclusions about the market landscape and the product’s place in it.

Causal marketing research

This is useful to explore the cause and effect relationship between two or more variables. Like descriptive research , it uses quantitative methods, but it doesn’t merely report findings; it uses experiments to predict and test theories about a product or market. For example, researchers may change product packaging design or material, and measure what happens to sales as a result.

Step 5: Choose your sample

Your marketing research project will rarely examine an entire population. It’s more practical to use a sample - a smaller but accurate representation of the greater population. To design your sample, you’ll need to answer these questions:

  • Which base population is the sample to be selected from? Once you’ve established who your relevant population is (your research design process will have revealed this), you have a base for your sample. This will allow you to make inferences about a larger population.
  • What is the method (process) for sample selection? There are two methods of selecting a sample from a population:

1. Probability sampling : This relies on a random sampling of everyone within the larger population.

2. Non-probability sampling : This is based in part on the investigator’s judgment, and often uses convenience samples, or by other sampling methods that do not rely on probability.

  • What is your sample size? This important step involves cost and accuracy decisions. Larger samples generally reduce sampling error and increase accuracy, but also increase costs. Find out your perfect sample size with our calculator .

Step 6: Gather data

Your research design will develop as you select techniques to use. There are many channels for collecting data, and it’s helpful to differentiate it into O-data (Operational) and X-data (Experience):

  • O-data is your business’s hard numbers like costs, accounting, and sales. It tells you what has happened, but not why.
  • X-data gives you insights into the thoughts and emotions of the people involved: employees, customers, brand advocates.

When you combine O-data with X-data, you’ll be able to build a more complete picture about success and failure - you’ll know why. Maybe you’ve seen a drop in sales (O-data) for a particular product. Maybe customer service was lacking, the product was out of stock, or advertisements weren’t impactful or different enough: X-data will reveal the reason why those sales dropped. So, while differentiating these two data sets is important, when they are combined, and work with each other, the insights become powerful.

With mobile technology, it has become easier than ever to collect data. Survey research has come a long way since market researchers conducted face-to-face, postal, or telephone surveys. You can run research through:

  • Social media ( polls and listening )

Another way to collect data is by observation. Observing a customer’s or company’s past or present behavior can predict future purchasing decisions. Data collection techniques for predicting past behavior can include market segmentation , customer journey mapping and brand tracking .

Regardless of how you collect data, the process introduces another essential element to your research project: the importance of clear and constant communication .

And of course, to analyze information from survey or observation techniques, you must record your results . Gone are the days of spreadsheets. Feedback from surveys and listening channels can automatically feed into AI-powered analytics engines and produce results, in real-time, on dashboards.

Step 7: Analysis and interpretation

The words ‘ statistical analysis methods ’ aren’t usually guaranteed to set a room alight with excitement, but when you understand what they can do, the problems they can solve and the insights they can uncover, they seem a whole lot more compelling.

Statistical tests and data processing tools can reveal:

  • Whether data trends you see are meaningful or are just chance results
  • Your results in the context of other information you have
  • Whether one thing affecting your business is more significant than others
  • What your next research area should be
  • Insights that lead to meaningful changes

There are several types of statistical analysis tools used for surveys. You should make sure that the ones you choose:

  • Work on any platform - mobile, desktop, tablet etc.
  • Integrate with your existing systems
  • Are easy to use with user-friendly interfaces, straightforward menus, and automated data analysis
  • Incorporate statistical analysis so you don’t just process and present your data, but refine it, and generate insights and predictions.

Here are some of the most common tools:

  • Benchmarking : a way of taking outside factors into account so that you can adjust the parameters of your research. It ‘levels the playing field’ – so that your data and results are more meaningful in context. And gives you a more precise understanding of what’s happening.
  • Regression analysis : this is used for working out the relationship between two (or more) variables. It is useful for identifying the precise impact of a change in an independent variable.
  • T-test is used for comparing two data groups which have different mean values. For example, do women and men have different mean heights?
  • Analysis of variance (ANOVA) Similar to the T-test, ANOVA is a way of testing the differences between three or more independent groups to see if they’re statistically significant.
  • Cluster analysis : This organizes items into groups, or clusters, based on how closely associated they are.
  • Factor analysis: This is a way of condensing many variables into just a few, so that your research data is less unwieldy to work with.
  • Conjoint analysis : this will help you understand and predict why people make the choices they do. It asks people to make trade-offs when making decisions, just as they do in the real world, then analyzes the results to give the most popular outcome.
  • Crosstab analysis : this is a quantitative market research tool used to analyze ‘categorical data’ - variables that are different and mutually exclusive, such as: ‘men’ and ‘women’, or ‘under 30’ and ‘over 30’.
  • Text analysis and sentiment analysis : Analyzing human language and emotions is a rapidly-developing form of data processing, assigning positive, negative or neutral sentiment to customer messages and feedback.

Stats IQ can perform the most complicated statistical tests at the touch of a button using our online survey software , or data from other sources. Learn more about Stats iQ now .

Step 8: The marketing research results

Your marketing research process culminates in the research results. These should provide all the information the stakeholders and decision-makers need to understand the project.

The results will include:

  • all your information
  • a description of your research process
  • the results
  • conclusions
  • recommended courses of action

They should also be presented in a form, language and graphics that are easy to understand, with a balance between completeness and conciseness, neither leaving important information out or allowing it to get so technical that it overwhelms the readers.

Traditionally, you would prepare two written reports:

  • a technical report , discussing the methods, underlying assumptions and the detailed findings of the research project
  • a summary report , that summarizes the research process and presents the findings and conclusions simply.

There are now more engaging ways to present your findings than the traditional PowerPoint presentations, graphs, and face-to-face reports:

  • Live, interactive dashboards for sharing the most important information, as well as tracking a project in real time.
  • Results-reports visualizations – tables or graphs with data visuals on a shareable slide deck
  • Online presentation technology, such as Prezi
  • Visual storytelling with infographics
  • A single-page executive summary with key insights
  • A single-page stat sheet with the top-line stats

You can also make these results shareable so that decision-makers have all the information at their fingertips.

Step 9 Turn your insights into action

Insights are one thing, but they’re worth very little unless they inform immediate, positive action. Here are a few examples of how you can do this:

  • Stop customers leaving – negative sentiment among VIP customers gets picked up; the customer service team contacts the customers, resolves their issues, and avoids churn .
  • Act on important employee concerns – you can set certain topics, such as safety, or diversity and inclusion to trigger an automated notification or Slack message to HR. They can rapidly act to rectify the issue.
  • Address product issues – maybe deliveries are late, maybe too many products are faulty. When product feedback gets picked up through Smart Conversations, messages can be triggered to the delivery or product teams to jump on the problems immediately.
  • Improve your marketing effectiveness - Understand how your marketing is being received by potential customers, so you can find ways to better meet their needs
  • Grow your brand - Understand exactly what consumers are looking for, so you can make sure that you’re meeting their expectations

Download now: 8 Innovations to Modernize Market Research

Scott Smith

Scott Smith, Ph.D. is a contributor to the Qualtrics blog.

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Module 3: Market Research

The market research process.

Marketing research identifies opportunities, generates informed marketing actions, monitors marketing performance, and improves understanding of the marketing process.

There are three types of objectives that can be deployed in marketing research: exploratory research, descriptive research, and causal research.

1. Exploratory research

  • Used to better define a problem or scout opportunities.
  • In-depth interviews and discussions groups are commonly used.

2. Descriptive research

  • Used to assess a situation in the marketplace (i.e., potential for a specific product or consumer attitudes).
  • Methods include personal interviews and surveys.

3. Causal research

  • Used for testing cause and effect relationships, typically through estimation.

The Marketing Research Process

The marketing research process involves six steps:

  • Problem definition
  • Development of an approach to the problem
  • Research design formulation
  • Data collection
  • Data preparation and analysis
  • Report preparation and presentation

Step 1: Problem Definition

The first step in any marketing research study is to define the problem, while taking into account the purpose of the study, the relevant background information, what information is needed, and how it will be used in decision making. This stage involves discussion with the decision makers, interviews with industry experts, analysis of secondary data, and, perhaps, some qualitative research, such as focus groups. There are three types of objectives that can be deployed in marketing research:

Step 2: Development of an Approach to the Problem

Step two includes formulating an objective or theoretical framework, analytical models, research questions, hypotheses, and identifying characteristics or factors that can influence the research design. This process is guided by discussions with management and industry experts , case studies and simulations, analysis of secondary data, qualitative research, and pragmatic considerations.

examples of problem definition in marketing research

Step 3: Research Design Formulation

A research design is a framework or blueprint for conducting the marketing research project. It details the procedures necessary for obtaining the required information, and its purpose is to design a study that will test the hypotheses of interest, determine possible answers to the research questions, and provide the information needed for decision making. Decisions are also made regarding what data should be obtained from the respondents (e,g,, by conducting a survey or an experiment). A questionnaire and sampling plan also are designed in order to select the most appropriate respondents for the study. The following steps are involved in formulating a research design:

  • Secondary data analysis (based on secondary research)
  • Qualitative research
  • Methods of collecting quantitative data (survey, observation, and experimentation)
  • Definition of the information needed
  • Measurement and scaling procedures
  • Questionnaire design
  • Sampling process and sample size
  • Plan of data analysis

examples of problem definition in marketing research

The research plan outlines sources of existing data and spells out the specific research approaches, contact methods, sampling plans, and instruments that researchers will use to gather data. This plan includes a written proposal that outlines the management problem, research objectives, information required, how the results will help management decisions, and the budget allocated for the research.

Step 4: Data Collection

Data collection is a crucial step in the research process because it enables the generation of insights that will influence the marketing strategy.

Field work, or data collection, involves a field force or staff that operates either in the field, as in the case of personal interviewing (focus group, in-home, mall intercept, or computer-assisted personal interviewing), from an office by telephone (telephone or computer-assisted telephone interviewing/CATI), or through mail (traditional mail and mail panel surveys with pre-recruited households). Proper selection, training, supervision, and evaluation of the field force helps minimize data-collection errors. I

An example of data collection is when a consumer goods company hires a market research company to conduct in-home ethnographies and in-store shop-alongs in an effort to collect primary research data.

Systematic planning is required at all stages of the marketing research process, especially in the data collection step. The procedures followed at each stage are methodologically sound, well documented, and, as much as possible, planned in advance. Marketing research uses the scientific method in that data are collected and analyzed to test prior notions or hypotheses.

Marketing research aims to provide accurate information that reflects a true state of affairs and thus, should be conducted impartially. While research is always influenced by the researcher’s philosophy, it should be free from the personal or political biases of the researcher or the management. This is especially important in the data collection phase. The data collected will be analysed and used to make marketing decisions. Hence, it is vital that the data collection process be free of as much bias as possible.

Primary Versus Secondary Research

There are many sources of information a marketer can use when collecting data. The Nielson Ratings is an audience measurement system that provides data on audience size and the composition of television markets in the United States. The Gallup Polls conduct public opinion polls with its results published daily in the form of data driven news. The U.S Census Bureau, directed by the U.S. Government is the principal agency that is responsible for producing data about American people and the economy. Population, housing and demographic characteristics are gathered to help plan and define transportation systems, police and fire precinct, election districts and schools.

Step 5: Data Preparation and Analysis

Data Analysis is an important step in the Marketing Research process where data is organized, reviewed, verified, and interpreted.

During this phase of the research process, data is carefully edited, coded, transcribed, and verified in order for it to be properly analyzed. Statistical market research tools are used. The validity of the results is also assessed to confirm how well the data measures what it is supposed to measure. Oftentimes, the research team will arrange a debriefing session with the client to review highlights from the data and brainstorm potential ideas on how the findings can be implemented . This typically happens when a client hires a market research company and they want to remain thoroughly involved in the research process.

Analysis of data is a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making. Data analysis has multiple facets and approaches, encompassing diverse techniques under a variety of names in different business, science, and social science domains. Data mining is a particular data analysis technique that focuses on modeling and knowledge discovery for predictive rather than purely descriptive purposes. Marketers use databases to extract applicable information that identifies customer patterns, characteristics and behaviors.

Business intelligence covers data analysis that relies heavily on aggregation and focusing on business information. In statistical applications, some people divide data analysis into descriptive statistics, exploratory data analysis (EDA), and confirmatory data analysis (CDA). EDA focuses on discovering new features in the data and CDA focuses on confirming or falsifying existing hypotheses. Predictive analytics focuses on application of statistical or structural models for predictive forecasting or classification. Text analytics applies statistical, linguistic, and structural techniques to extract and classify information from textual sources, a species of unstructured data. All are varieties of data analysis.

Step 6: Report Preparation & Presentation

During the Report Preparation & Presentation step, the entire project should be documented in a written report that addresses the specific research questions identified; describes the approach, the research design, data collection, and data analysis procedures adopted; and presents the results and the major findings. This permanent document is also helpful because it can be easily referenced by others who may not have been part of the research.

The findings should be presented in a comprehensible format so that they can be readily used in the decision making process. In addition, an oral presentation should be made to management using tables, figures, and graphs to enhance clarity and impact.

A successful presentation may include the following elements:

  • Charts, graphs, and visual elements that help showcase important facts and make the presentation easily digestible and memorable
  • Recommendations about how to apply the research
  • Final conclusions (based on the insights gathered from data collected) that effectively meet the initial objectives of the research

A formal research report presentation typically includes the following:

  • Table of Contents
  • Executive Summary
  • Research Objectives
  • Research Methodology
  • Highlights of  Data Collected
  • Findings/Insights
  • Recommendations/Implications and Action Plan
  • Appendix (including Respondent Screening Instrument and Questionnaire)

business intelligence

Any information that pertains to the history, current status or future projections of a business organization

Values of qualitative or quantitative variables belonging to a set of items; typically the results of measurements and can be visualised using graphs or images

A technique for searching large-scale databases for patterns; used mainly to find previously unknown correlations between variables that may be commercially useful.

Information regarding cultural phenomena

executive summary

A short document or section of a document that summarizes a longer report or proposal  in such a way that readers can rapidly become acquainted with a large body of material without having to read it all.

A survey whereby respondents are intercepted in shopping in malls. The process involves stopping the shoppers, screening them for appropriateness, and either administering the survey on the spot or inviting them to a research facility located in the mall to complete the interview.

marketing research

The function that links the consumers, customers, and public to the marketer through information. This information is used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process.

Not influenced by irrational emotions or prejudices

qualitative research

A method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences but also in market research and further contexts.

scientific method

A body of techniques for acquiring new knowledge or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

secondary data

Information collected by someone other than the user of the data

secondary research

This process involves the summary, collation, and synthesis of existing research rather than primary research, where data is collected from subjects or experiments

Information from a predetermined set of questions that is given to a sample and is used to assess thoughts, opinions, and feeling

Carried out using a planned, ordered procedure

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  •  Marketing

Defining the Market Research Problems

Market research companies have to overcome market research challenges to provide sound information and insights that drive the client company’s decision making.

Mohit Bansal

Table of Contents

Market research can only be useful when the respondents are engaged and honestly answer the client’s questions. Understanding the problems in conducting market research and methods to overcome them leads to better outcomes.

Good market research data helps the client make the right decisions. Optimal respondent engagement is vital to good quality market research responses. Stating the market research problem well ensures that the client obtains the data that answers their queries.

examples of problem definition in marketing research

Problems In Conducting Market Research

Market research is a vital method by which companies listen to what their target audience has to say. If companies do not perform market research the only feedback that they will be getting from their customers is negative feedback. This is because people are more likely to contact a company to complain than for any other purpose.

Market research is also a means to gauge the opinions of potential customers and the target demographic. It guides both marketings as well as product development in an organization.

"Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed." - Dan Zarrella

1. Getting Access To Participants That Are Engaged In The Research

The respondent to a survey must be focused and interested in the questions that are being asked. The responses should be accurate and timely. This focus, interest, timeliness, and accuracy are called participant engagement. It is what prevents the respondent from randomly clicking through answers instead of answering them. Good participant engagement is vital to the quality of data that is collected from a survey.

One of the most common ways to measure participant engagement is to measure the time taken to answer the questions. A participant who zooms through the questions sooner than it takes to read the question is not optimally engaged. A participant should take enough time to read and comprehend the question before answering.

2. Respondents That Make Sense To The Research

Market research is only useful when the people who are surveyed are of the right demography. Properly defining the target audience is a market research problem that can be solved with forethought.

A market researcher should define the attributes of the target audience such as age, gender, location, income, education, job, marital status, ethnicity, etc. The strategy of the market research should then be tailored to target the right audience. When the respondents that the market research attracts are of an irrelevant demographic it defeats the purpose of the entire exercise.

“Whoever understands the customer best, wins.” - Mike Gospe

3. How To Choose What Is Important And What Is Not

Market research is meaningful only when the market research company uses multiple and holistic data sources. The data should be in the proper context and have meaning to the study. All too often, the problem in market research is too much data in answer to ‘What is a market research problem you are facing?’.

When you have too much data, the quality and relevance of the data come into question. Proper research design , processes, and methodology to manage, analyze and visualize big data are essential to a market research company.

“The goal is to transform data into information, and information into insight.” - Carly Fiorina

The digital transformation has changed the level of interaction between a client company and its customers. Companies engage with their customers on social media, apps, customer support , and online communities. They have direct access to customers and their ongoing relationship builds trust. This is a personal relationship as opposed to the impersonal approach of a market researcher with the target audience.

Market research requires that the researcher have access to the target group. This involves an impersonal relationship that maintains privacy. It is becoming increasingly difficult for market research companies to have the same level of access and engagement with customers or target customers of a company.

Market researchers have to find a way to engage with and excite their target audience so that they are relaxed and willing to share the required answers to questions. They should build a feel-good relationship to have a willing and engaged pool of respondents.‍

Managing Market Research Challenges

To increase levels of engagement in a market study, market research companies have devised newer strategies to attract and keep an audience. This includes creative surveys, rewards, and the use of technology to counteract the problems in conducting market research. One market research problem example could even be finding what rewards would be preferred by the target group.

1. When it comes to variety, it’s more the merrier

The fact that people like variety applies equally to ice cream as well as market research. When questions are similar and monotonous it may lead to a lack of interest. Making the question format varied is a simple yet effective way to keep the respondent engaged. You can also add a little humour to the questions. Make them more casual and out of the way for maximum impact. The more creative and catchy the survey is the better its response.

When a survey is memorable and interesting, the respondent will be willing to answer more surveys from the same market researcher in the future.

2. Thinking big with small attention spans

Attention spans are getting shorter. Survey as short as possible. The fewer the questions that are asked the better the attention and connection to the respondents. A market research survey must carefully weigh the necessity of every question that is asked.

Too many irrelevant questions stress the respondents and do not add any meaning or value to the market research problem. The shorter the time taken to answer the questions, the less respondent fatigue the survey faces.

3. An optimized survey is an amazing one

Most of the surveys that are being taken are now through digital mode. People use smart devices more than ever. So, your survey should be equally attractive on a computer screen as well as a phone or tablet screen.

The optimization of the survey can also be visual to appeal to the people who are being questioned. This includes the colour, images, language, and humour that is specific and relevant to the target group.

4. Rewards are the real game-changer

Rewarding respondents for their time and effort is on the upswing. This is to encourage people to be more willing to take a survey. The rewards that are given can be monetary or non-monetary. They are usually tailored to the preferences of the target audience. It is vital that the reward that is offered be attractive and relevant to the target group.

For example, a music-related survey could offer discounts on music or free merchandise directly related to the type of music that they would prefer. While physical gifts and souvenirs can be given, they also include the cost and logistics of delivering them. Coupons and vouchers are easier to deliver to the respondents.

One of the easiest and most attractive incentives is to use a platform such as Plum that offers a range of options. You can offer a basket of different incentives that appeal to many different types of people. The type and size of the incentive that is offered must be decided on based on how difficult the questions are and how much time and effort they take to answer.

The incentive should be attractive and relevant to the survey. Consistency in the reward pattern will ensure that the respondents are confident of the benefit that they will receive after the survey. Rewards that are instant and easy to redeem are the most memorable and preferred.

5. Stacking up on the right tech

Many tools are available and many are being released. A market analysis company should be updated on the latest developments in available technology. Not all tech tools live up to their marketing.

A market research company must be able to select the right technology and tools for the right job. The right reward programs should also be chosen for optimum results. Market researchers can use technology to automate and personalize their reward and incentive programs.

6. Stating the research problem and objectives

The quality and usability of a market research report depend on the right market research problem statement. The market research problem statement guides the research objectives as well as the direction and flow of the market analysis. It should be unambiguous.

examples of problem definition in marketing research

Market Research Problem Statement

What is a market research problem.

The market research problem is the reason that the market research process is being conducted. It defines the research objectives, how the study is going to be conducted, what marketing metrics should be measured, and the conclusion that is expected as a result of the market research study. When the market research problem is vague or misinterpreted, the entire market study and its results will be a wasted exercise.

“Listening is hearing the needs of the customer, understanding those needs and making sure the company recognises the opportunity they present.” - Frank Eliason

Defining The Market Research Problem

The first part of the market research problem definition is to establish the context or background of the problem. This helps understand the need for the research and the issues that drive it. The next step is to clearly and unambiguously define the market research problem and justify the need for the market study. The third component of a good market research problem then suggests the methodology and types of data and sources that will be required.

The scope of the market research problem envisions the desired outcome of the study and how the results could be actionable. Many problems in conducting market research will be avoided if one correctly understands what is a market research problem. Defining the problem statement and research questions is vital to the success of the research challenge and market research.

Market Research Problem Example

Some market research problem example questions are:

  • What is the market size of a target market?
  • I am planning to open a store in the XYZ location. How many other competitors are located within walking distance from that area?
  • What are the most popular products or services in the XYZ category?
  • Which colour should our company website be?
  • What is the most wanted feature in my product or service category?
  • Would my best selling product or service do well in a particular region or country?

It’s quite a challenge to stay on top of the latest trends and improvements in technology. However, this can be solved by identifying the accurate problem statements and picking out the right metrics for market analysis, ensuring that the clients’ questions are answered accurately.

As for the problem of finding the right respondents and keeping them engaged, rewards and incentives are effective in getting quality outputs from the activity. The incentives can be monetary or non-monetary, and they must be quick to redeem, flexible, and appealing, leading to an engaged survey base and high-quality data from your next marketing campaign.

Survey Responses

All You Need To Know About Virtual VISA Rewards Card

Guide to employer gift tax laws: in|us|uk|eur|sg|au|nz|chn.

Mohit Bansal

-->Mohit Bansal -->

Mohit Bansal has 6 years of experience in solving early product and product marketing problems. In his last stint, he along with his co-founders bootstrapped a profitable startup.

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Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN : 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 February 1989

Describes an approach that assists decision makers and market research analysts in problem‐definition in market research studies. Examines the two‐stage process of formulating an explicit research objective and developing a series of research questions to achieve that objective, illustrating the approach with examples. Concludes that while the approach does not provide insight into what is the right problem, it represents an aid to designing effective market research studies.

  • Decision making
  • Market research
  • Methodology

Chapman, R.G. (1989), "Problem‐Definition in Marketing Research Studies", Journal of Consumer Marketing , Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 51-59.

Copyright © 1989, MCB UP Limited

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10.2 Steps in the Marketing Research Process

Learning objective.

  • Describe the basic steps in the marketing research process and the purpose of each step.

The basic steps used to conduct marketing research are shown in Figure 10.6 “Steps in the Marketing Research Process” . Next, we discuss each step.

Figure 10.6 Steps in the Marketing Research Process

Steps in the Marketing Research Process.

Step 1: Define the Problem (or Opportunity)

There’s a saying in marketing research that a problem half defined is a problem half solved. Defining the “problem” of the research sounds simple, doesn’t it? Suppose your product is tutoring other students in a subject you’re a whiz at. You have been tutoring for a while, and people have begun to realize you’re darned good at it. Then, suddenly, your business drops off. Or it explodes, and you can’t cope with the number of students you’re being asked help. If the business has exploded, should you try to expand your services? Perhaps you should subcontract with some other “whiz” students. You would send them students to be tutored, and they would give you a cut of their pay for each student you referred to them.

Both of these scenarios would be a problem for you, wouldn’t they? They are problems insofar as they cause you headaches. But are they really the problem? Or are they the symptoms of something bigger? For example, maybe your business has dropped off because your school is experiencing financial trouble and has lowered the number of scholarships given to incoming freshmen. Consequently, there are fewer total students on campus who need your services. Conversely, if you’re swamped with people who want you to tutor them, perhaps your school awarded more scholarships than usual, so there are a greater number of students who need your services. Alternately, perhaps you ran an ad in your school’s college newspaper, and that led to the influx of students wanting you to tutor them.

Businesses are in the same boat you are as a tutor. They take a look at symptoms and try to drill down to the potential causes. If you approach a marketing research company with either scenario—either too much or too little business—the firm will seek more information from you such as the following:

  • In what semester(s) did your tutoring revenues fall (or rise)?
  • In what subject areas did your tutoring revenues fall (or rise)?
  • In what sales channels did revenues fall (or rise): Were there fewer (or more) referrals from professors or other students? Did the ad you ran result in fewer (or more) referrals this month than in the past months?
  • Among what demographic groups did your revenues fall (or rise)—women or men, people with certain majors, or first-year, second-, third-, or fourth-year students?

The key is to look at all potential causes so as to narrow the parameters of the study to the information you actually need to make a good decision about how to fix your business if revenues have dropped or whether or not to expand it if your revenues have exploded.

The next task for the researcher is to put into writing the research objective. The research objective is the goal(s) the research is supposed to accomplish. The marketing research objective for your tutoring business might read as follows:

To survey college professors who teach 100- and 200-level math courses to determine why the number of students referred for tutoring dropped in the second semester.

This is admittedly a simple example designed to help you understand the basic concept. If you take a marketing research course, you will learn that research objectives get a lot more complicated than this. The following is an example:

“To gather information from a sample representative of the U.S. population among those who are ‘very likely’ to purchase an automobile within the next 6 months, which assesses preferences (measured on a 1–5 scale ranging from ‘very likely to buy’ to ‘not likely at all to buy’) for the model diesel at three different price levels. Such data would serve as input into a forecasting model that would forecast unit sales, by geographic regions of the country, for each combination of the model’s different prices and fuel configurations (Burns & Bush, 2010).”

Now do you understand why defining the problem is complicated and half the battle? Many a marketing research effort is doomed from the start because the problem was improperly defined. Coke’s ill-fated decision to change the formula of Coca-Cola in 1985 is a case in point: Pepsi had been creeping up on Coke in terms of market share over the years as well as running a successful promotional campaign called the “Pepsi Challenge,” in which consumers were encouraged to do a blind taste test to see if they agreed that Pepsi was better. Coke spent four years researching “the problem.” Indeed, people seemed to like the taste of Pepsi better in blind taste tests. Thus, the formula for Coke was changed. But the outcry among the public was so great that the new formula didn’t last long—a matter of months—before the old formula was reinstated. Some marketing experts believe Coke incorrectly defined the problem as “How can we beat Pepsi in taste tests?” instead of “How can we gain market share against Pepsi?” (Burns & Bush, 2010)

New Coke Is It! 1985

(click to see video)

This video documents the Coca-Cola Company’s ill-fated launch of New Coke in 1985.

1985 Pepsi Commercial—“They Changed My Coke”

This video shows how Pepsi tried to capitalize on the blunder.

Step 2: Design the Research

The next step in the marketing research process is to do a research design. The research design is your “plan of attack.” It outlines what data you are going to gather and from whom, how and when you will collect the data, and how you will analyze it once it’s been obtained. Let’s look at the data you’re going to gather first.

There are two basic types of data you can gather. The first is primary data. Primary data is information you collect yourself, using hands-on tools such as interviews or surveys, specifically for the research project you’re conducting. Secondary data is data that has already been collected by someone else, or data you have already collected for another purpose. Collecting primary data is more time consuming, work intensive, and expensive than collecting secondary data. Consequently, you should always try to collect secondary data first to solve your research problem, if you can. A great deal of research on a wide variety of topics already exists. If this research contains the answer to your question, there is no need for you to replicate it. Why reinvent the wheel?

Sources of Secondary Data

Your company’s internal records are a source of secondary data. So are any data you collect as part of your marketing intelligence gathering efforts. You can also purchase syndicated research. Syndicated research is primary data that marketing research firms collect on a regular basis and sell to other companies. J.D. Power & Associates is a provider of syndicated research. The company conducts independent, unbiased surveys of customer satisfaction, product quality, and buyer behavior for various industries. The company is best known for its research in the automobile sector. One of the best-known sellers of syndicated research is the Nielsen Company, which produces the Nielsen ratings. The Nielsen ratings measure the size of television, radio, and newspaper audiences in various markets. You have probably read or heard about TV shows that get the highest (Nielsen) ratings. (Arbitron does the same thing for radio ratings.) Nielsen, along with its main competitor, Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), also sells businesses scanner-based research . Scanner-based research is information collected by scanners at checkout stands in stores. Each week Nielsen and IRI collect information on the millions of purchases made at stores. The companies then compile the information and sell it to firms in various industries that subscribe to their services. The Nielsen Company has also recently teamed up with Facebook to collect marketing research information. Via Facebook, users will see surveys in some of the spaces in which they used to see online ads (Rappeport, Gelles, 2009).

By contrast, is an example of a marketing research aggregator. A marketing research aggregator is a marketing research company that doesn’t conduct its own research and sell it. Instead, it buys research reports from other marketing research companies and then sells the reports in their entirety or in pieces to other firms. Check out’s Web site. As you will see there are a huge number of studies in every category imaginable that you can buy for relatively small amounts of money.

Figure 10.7

A screen shot of Market Research's website

Market research aggregators buy research reports from other marketing research companies and then resell them in part or in whole to other companies so they don’t have to gather primary data.

Source: .

Your local library is a good place to gather free secondary data. It has searchable databases as well as handbooks, dictionaries, and books, some of which you can access online. Government agencies also collect and report information on demographics, economic and employment data, health information, and balance-of-trade statistics, among a lot of other information. The U.S. Census Bureau collects census data every ten years to gather information about who lives where. Basic demographic information about sex, age, race, and types of housing in which people live in each U.S. state, metropolitan area, and rural area is gathered so that population shifts can be tracked for various purposes, including determining the number of legislators each state should have in the U.S. House of Representatives. For the U.S. government, this is primary data. For marketing managers it is an important source of secondary data.

The Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan also conducts periodic surveys and publishes information about trends in the United States. One research study the center continually conducts is called the “Changing Lives of American Families” ( ). This is important research data for marketing managers monitoring consumer trends in the marketplace. The World Bank and the United Nations are two international organizations that collect a great deal of information. Their Web sites contain many free research studies and data related to global markets. Table 10.1 “Examples of Primary Data Sources versus Secondary Data Sources” shows some examples of primary versus secondary data sources.

Table 10.1 Examples of Primary Data Sources versus Secondary Data Sources

Gauging the Quality of Secondary Data

When you are gathering secondary information, it’s always good to be a little skeptical of it. Sometimes studies are commissioned to produce the result a client wants to hear—or wants the public to hear. For example, throughout the twentieth century, numerous studies found that smoking was good for people’s health. The problem was the studies were commissioned by the tobacco industry. Web research can also pose certain hazards. There are many biased sites that try to fool people that they are providing good data. Often the data is favorable to the products they are trying to sell. Beware of product reviews as well. Unscrupulous sellers sometimes get online and create bogus ratings for products. See below for questions you can ask to help gauge the credibility of secondary information.

Gauging the Credibility of Secondary Data: Questions to Ask

  • Who gathered this information?
  • For what purpose?
  • What does the person or organization that gathered the information have to gain by doing so?
  • Was the information gathered and reported in a systematic manner?
  • Is the source of the information accepted as an authority by other experts in the field?
  • Does the article provide objective evidence to support the position presented?

Types of Research Design

Now let’s look specifically at the types of research designs that are utilized. By understanding different types of research designs, a researcher can solve a client’s problems more quickly and efficiently without jumping through more hoops than necessary. Research designs fall into one of the following 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 your 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 utilized.

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 some 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 of a question that might be asked. 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 dig further and shed additional light 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 utilized for exploratory research as well. A focus group is a group of potential buyers who are brought together to discuss a marketing research topic with one another. A moderator is used to focus the discussion, the sessions are recorded, and the main points of consensus are later summarized by the market researcher. Textbook publishers often gather groups of professors at educational 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.

The Basic Steps of Conducting a Focus Group

  • Establish the objectives of the focus group. What is its purpose?
  • 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?
  • Obtain contact information for the participants and send out invitations (usually e-mails are most efficient).
  • Develop a list of questions.
  • Choose a facilitator.
  • Choose a location in which to hold the focus group and the method by which it will be recorded.
  • 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.
  • 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 your firm is facing can give you a certain amount of insight about what direction you should take. In fact, one way to begin a research project is to carefully 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 recently begun using ethnographers to uncover the likes and dislikes of boys aged six to fourteen, a financially attractive market segment for Disney, but one in which the company has 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 seventy-five dollars 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,” for example?)

KFC’s grilled chicken is ______.

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 his or her 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. People are asked to look at a cartoon such as the one shown in Figure 10.8 “Example of a Cartoon-Completion Projective Technique” . 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.

Figure 10.8 Example of a Cartoon-Completion Projective Technique

A cartoon of a man shaking a woman's hand saying

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, which are discussed next. Most marketing research professionals advise using both types of research, if it’s feasible. On the one hand, the qualitative-type research used in exploratory research is often considered too “lightweight.” Remember earlier in the chapter 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.

The Stone Wheel—What One Focus Group Said

Watch the video to see a funny spoof on the usefulness—or lack of usefulness—of focus groups.

Descriptive Research

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 cutting-edge type of physiological measurement. It involves recording the movements of a person’s eyes when they look at some sort of stimulus, such as a banner ad or a Web page. The Walt Disney Company has a research facility in Austin, Texas, that it uses to take physical measurements of viewers when they see Disney programs and advertisements. The facility measures three types of responses: people’s heart rates, skin changes, and eye movements (eye tracking) (Spangler, 2009).

Figure 10.9

A pair of google glass

A woman shows off her headgear for an eye-tracking study. The gear’s not exactly a fashion statement but . . .

lawrencegs – Google Glass – CC BY 2.0.

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

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 somewhat mixed as to whether or not 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 the German firm Komjuniti created an island in Second Life to conduct marketing research, the residents showed up waving signs and threatening to boycott the island.) (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 rolls out 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’ sixty-four-calorie beer MGD 64, Anheuser-Busch recently began testing its Select 55 beer in certain cities around the country (McWilliams, 2009).

Figure 10.10

Beer in a glass

Select 55 beer: Coming soon to a test market near you? (If you’re on a diet, you have to hope so!)

Martine – Le champagne – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Many companies use experiments to test all of their marketing communications. For example, the online discount retailer (formerly called carefully tests all of its marketing offers and tracks the results of each one. One study the company conducted combined twenty-six different variables related to offers e-mailed to several thousand customers. The study resulted in a decision to send a group of e-mails 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.

Step 3: Design the Data-Collection Forms

If the behavior of buyers is being formally observed, and a number of different researchers are conducting observations, the data obviously need to be recorded on a standardized data-collection form that’s either paper or electronic. Otherwise, the data collected will not be comparable. The items on the form could include a shopper’s sex; his or her approximate age; whether the person seemed hurried, moderately hurried, or unhurried; and whether or not he or she read the label on products, used coupons, and so forth.

The same is true when it comes to surveying people with questionnaires. Surveying people is one of the most commonly used techniques to collect quantitative data. Surveys are popular because they can be easily administered to large numbers of people fairly quickly. However, to produce the best results, the questionnaire for the survey needs to be carefully designed.

Questionnaire Design

Most questionnaires follow a similar format: They begin with an introduction describing what the study is for, followed by instructions for completing the questionnaire and, if necessary, returning it to the market researcher. The first few questions that appear on the questionnaire are usually basic, warm-up type of questions the respondent can readily answer, such as the respondent’s age, level of education, place of residence, and so forth. The warm-up questions are then followed by a logical progression of more detailed, in-depth questions that get to the heart of the question being researched. Lastly, the questionnaire wraps up with a statement that thanks the respondent for participating in the survey and information and explains when and how they will be paid for participating. To see some examples of questionnaires and how they are laid out, click on the following link: .

How the questions themselves are worded is extremely important. It’s human nature for respondents to want to provide the “correct” answers to the person administering the survey, so as to seem agreeable. Therefore, there is always a hazard that people will try to tell you what you want to hear on a survey. Consequently, care needs to be taken that the survey questions are written in an unbiased, neutral way. In other words, they shouldn’t lead a person taking the questionnaire to answer a question one way or another by virtue of the way you have worded it. The following is an example of a leading question.

Don’t you agree that teachers should be paid more ?

The questions also need to be clear and unambiguous. Consider the following question:

Which brand of toothpaste do you use ?

The question sounds clear enough, but is it really? What if the respondent recently switched brands? What if she uses Crest at home, but while away from home or traveling, she uses Colgate’s Wisp portable toothpaste-and-brush product? How will the respondent answer the question? Rewording the question as follows so it’s more specific will help make the question clearer:

Which brand of toothpaste have you used at home in the past six months? If you have used more than one brand, please list each of them 1 .

Sensitive questions have to be asked carefully. For example, asking a respondent, “Do you consider yourself a light, moderate, or heavy drinker?” can be tricky. Few people want to admit to being heavy drinkers. You can “soften” the question by including a range of answers, as the following example shows:

How many alcoholic beverages do you consume in a week ?

  • __0–5 alcoholic beverages
  • __5–10 alcoholic beverages
  • __10–15 alcoholic beverages

Many people don’t like to answer questions about their income levels. Asking them to specify income ranges rather than divulge their actual incomes can help.

Other research question “don’ts” include using jargon and acronyms that could confuse people. “How often do you IM?” is an example. Also, don’t muddy the waters by asking two questions in the same question, something researchers refer to as a double-barreled question . “Do you think parents should spend more time with their children and/or their teachers?” is an example of a double-barreled question.

Open-ended questions , or questions that ask respondents to elaborate, can be included. However, they are harder to tabulate than closed-ended questions , or questions that limit a respondent’s answers. Multiple-choice and yes-and-no questions are examples of closed-ended questions.

Testing the Questionnaire

You have probably heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” If the questions are bad, the information gathered will be bad, too. One way to make sure you don’t end up with garbage is to test the questionnaire before sending it out to find out if there are any problems with it. Is there enough space for people to elaborate on open-ended questions? Is the font readable? To test the questionnaire, marketing research professionals first administer it to a number of respondents face to face. This gives the respondents the chance to ask the researcher about questions or instructions that are unclear or don’t make sense to them. The researcher then administers the questionnaire to a small subset of respondents in the actual way the survey is going to be disseminated, whether it’s delivered via phone, in person, by mail, or online.

Getting people to participate and complete questionnaires can be difficult. If the questionnaire is too long or hard to read, many people won’t complete it. So, by all means, eliminate any questions that aren’t necessary. Of course, including some sort of monetary incentive for completing the survey can increase the number of completed questionnaires a market researcher will receive.

Step 4: Specify the Sample

Once you have created your questionnaire or other marketing study, how do you figure out who should participate in it? Obviously, you can’t survey or observe all potential buyers in the marketplace. Instead, you must choose a sample. A sample is a subset of potential buyers that are representative of your entire target market, or population being studied. Sometimes market researchers refer to the population as the universe to reflect the fact that it includes the entire target market, whether it consists of a million people, a hundred thousand, a few hundred, or a dozen. “All unmarried people over the age of eighteen who purchased Dirt Devil steam cleaners in the United States during 2011” is an example of a population that has been defined.

Obviously, the population has to be defined correctly. Otherwise, you will be studying the wrong group of people. Not defining the population correctly can result in flawed research, or sampling error. A sampling error is any type of marketing research mistake that results because a sample was utilized. One criticism of Internet surveys is that the people who take these surveys don’t really represent the overall population. On average, Internet survey takers tend to be more educated and tech savvy. Consequently, if they solely constitute your population, even if you screen them for certain criteria, the data you collect could end up being skewed.

The next step is to put together the sampling frame , which is the list from which the sample is drawn. The sampling frame can be put together using a directory, customer list, or membership roster (Wrenn et. al., 2007). Keep in mind that the sampling frame won’t perfectly match the population. Some people will be included on the list who shouldn’t be. Other people who should be included will be inadvertently omitted. It’s no different than if you were to conduct a survey of, say, 25 percent of your friends, using friends’ names you have in your cell phone. Most of your friends’ names are likely to be programmed into your phone, but not all of them. As a result, a certain degree of sampling error always occurs.

There are two main categories of samples in terms of how they are drawn: probability samples and nonprobability samples. A probability sample is one in which each would-be participant has a known and equal chance of being selected. The chance is known because the total number of people in the sampling frame is known. For example, if every other person from the sampling frame were chosen, each person would have a 50 percent chance of being selected.

A nonprobability sample is any type of sample that’s not drawn in a systematic way. So the chances of each would-be participant being selected can’t be known. A convenience sample is one type of nonprobability sample. It is a sample a researcher draws because it’s readily available and convenient to do so. Surveying people on the street as they pass by is an example of a convenience sample. The question is, are these people representative of the target market?

For example, suppose a grocery store needed to quickly conduct some research on shoppers to get ready for an upcoming promotion. Now suppose that the researcher assigned to the project showed up between the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on a weekday and surveyed as many shoppers as possible. The problem is that the shoppers wouldn’t be representative of the store’s entire target market. What about commuters who stop at the store before and after work? Their views wouldn’t be represented. Neither would people who work the night shift or shop at odd hours. As a result, there would be a lot of room for sampling error in this study. For this reason, studies that use nonprobability samples aren’t considered as accurate as studies that use probability samples. Nonprobability samples are more often used in exploratory research.

Lastly, the size of the sample has an effect on the amount of sampling error. Larger samples generally produce more accurate results. The larger your sample is, the more data you will have, which will give you a more complete picture of what you’re studying. However, the more people surveyed or studied, the more costly the research becomes.

Statistics can be used to determine a sample’s optimal size. If you take a marketing research or statistics class, you will learn more about how to determine the optimal size.

Of course, if you hire a marketing research company, much of this work will be taken care of for you. Many marketing research companies, like ResearchNow, maintain panels of prescreened people they draw upon for samples. In addition, the marketing research firm will be responsible for collecting the data or contracting with a company that specializes in data collection. Data collection is discussed next.

Step 5: Collect the Data

As we have explained, primary marketing research data can be gathered in a number of ways. Surveys, taking physical measurements, and observing people are just three of the ways we discussed. If you’re observing customers as part of gathering the data, keep in mind that if shoppers are aware of the fact, it can have an effect on their behavior. For example, if a customer shopping for feminine hygiene products in a supermarket aisle realizes she is being watched, she could become embarrassed and leave the aisle, which would adversely affect your data. To get around problems such as these, some companies set up cameras or two-way mirrors to observe customers. Organizations also hire mystery shoppers to work around the problem. A mystery shopper is someone who is paid to shop at a firm’s establishment or one of its competitors to observe the level of service, cleanliness of the facility, and so forth, and report his or her findings to the firm.

Make Extra Money as a Mystery Shopper

Watch the YouTube video to get an idea of how mystery shopping works.

Survey data can be collected in many different ways and combinations of ways. The following are the basic methods used:

  • Face-to-face (can be computer aided)
  • Telephone (can be computer aided or completely automated)
  • Mail and hand delivery
  • E-mail and the Web

A face-to-face survey is, of course, administered by a person. The surveys are conducted in public places such as in shopping malls, on the street, or in people’s homes if they have agreed to it. In years past, it was common for researchers in the United States to knock on people’s doors to gather survey data. However, randomly collected door-to-door interviews are less common today, partly because people are afraid of crime and are reluctant to give information to strangers (McDaniel & Gates, 1998).

Nonetheless, “beating the streets” is still a legitimate way questionnaire data is collected. When the U.S. Census Bureau collects data on the nation’s population, it hand delivers questionnaires to rural households that do not have street-name and house-number addresses. And Census Bureau workers personally survey the homeless to collect information about their numbers. Face-to-face surveys are also commonly used in third world countries to collect information from people who cannot read or lack phones and computers.

A plus of face-to-face surveys is that they allow researchers to ask lengthier, more complex questions because the people being surveyed can see and read the questionnaires. The same is true when a computer is utilized. For example, the researcher might ask the respondent to look at a list of ten retail stores and rank the stores from best to worst. The same question wouldn’t work so well over the telephone because the person couldn’t see the list. The question would have to be rewritten. Another drawback with telephone surveys is that even though federal and state “do not call” laws generally don’t prohibit companies from gathering survey information over the phone, people often screen such calls using answering machines and caller ID.

Probably the biggest drawback of both surveys conducted face-to-face and administered over the phone by a person is that they are labor intensive and therefore costly. Mailing out questionnaires is costly, too, and the response rates can be rather low. Think about why that might be so: if you receive a questionnaire in the mail, it is easy to throw it in the trash; it’s harder to tell a market researcher who approaches you on the street that you don’t want to be interviewed.

By contrast, gathering survey data collected by a computer, either over the telephone or on the Internet, can be very cost-effective and in some cases free. SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang are two Web sites that will allow you to create online questionnaires, e-mail them to up to one hundred people for free, and view the responses in real time as they come in. For larger surveys, you have to pay a subscription price of a few hundred dollars. But that still can be extremely cost-effective. The two Web sites also have a host of other features such as online-survey templates you can use to create your questionnaire, a way to set up automatic reminders sent to people who haven’t yet completed their surveys, and tools you can use to create graphics to put in your final research report. To see how easy it is to put together a survey in SurveyMonkey, click on the following link: .

Like a face-to-face survey, an Internet survey can enable you to show buyers different visuals such as ads, pictures, and videos of products and their packaging. Web surveys are also fast, which is a major plus. Whereas face-to-face and mailed surveys often take weeks to collect, you can conduct a Web survey in a matter of days or even hours. And, of course, because the information is electronically gathered it can be automatically tabulated. You can also potentially reach a broader geographic group than you could if you had to personally interview people. The Zoomerang Web site allows you to create surveys in forty different languages.

Another plus for Web and computer surveys (and electronic phone surveys) is that there is less room for human error because the surveys are administered electronically. For instance, there’s no risk that the interviewer will ask a question wrong or use a tone of voice that could mislead the respondents. Respondents are also likely to feel more comfortable inputting the information into a computer if a question is sensitive than they would divulging the information to another person face-to-face or over the phone. Given all of these advantages, it’s not surprising that the Internet is quickly becoming the top way to collect primary data. However, like mail surveys, surveys sent to people over the Internet are easy to ignore.

Lastly, before the data collection process begins, the surveyors and observers need to be trained to look for the same things, ask questions the same way, and so forth. If they are using rankings or rating scales, they need to be “on the same page,” so to speak, as to what constitutes a high ranking or a low ranking. As an analogy, you have probably had some teachers grade your college papers harder than others. The goal of training is to avoid a wide disparity between how different observers and interviewers record the data.

Figure 10.11

Satisfaction Survey

Training people so they know what constitutes different ratings when they are collecting data will improve the quality of the information gathered in a marketing research study.

Ricardo Rodriquez – Satisfaction survey – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

For example, if an observation form asks the observers to describe whether a shopper’s behavior is hurried, moderately hurried, or unhurried, they should be given an idea of what defines each rating. Does it depend on how much time the person spends in the store or in the individual aisles? How fast they walk? In other words, the criteria and ratings need to be spelled out.

Collecting International Marketing Research Data

Gathering marketing research data in foreign countries poses special challenges. However, that doesn’t stop firms from doing so. Marketing research companies are located all across the globe, in fact. Eight of the ten largest marketing research companies in the world are headquartered in the United States. However, five of these eight firms earn more of their revenues abroad than they do in the United States. There’s a reason for this: many U.S. markets were saturated, or tapped out, long ago in terms of the amount that they can grow. Coke is an example. As you learned earlier in the book, most of the Coca-Cola Company’s revenues are earned in markets abroad. To be sure, the United States is still a huge market when it comes to the revenues marketing research firms generate by conducting research in the country: in terms of their spending, American consumers fuel the world’s economic engine. Still, emerging countries with growing middle classes, such as China, India, and Brazil, are hot new markets companies want to tap.

What kind of challenges do firms face when trying to conduct marketing research abroad? As we explained, face-to-face surveys are commonly used in third world countries to collect information from people who cannot read or lack phones and computers. However, face-to-face surveys are also common in Europe, despite the fact that phones and computers are readily available. In-home surveys are also common in parts of Europe. By contrast, in some countries, including many Asian countries, it’s considered taboo or rude to try to gather information from strangers either face-to-face or over the phone. In many Muslim countries, women are forbidden to talk to strangers.

And how do you figure out whom to research in foreign countries? That in itself is a problem. In the United States, researchers often ask if they can talk to the heads of households to conduct marketing research. But in countries in which domestic servants or employees are common, the heads of households aren’t necessarily the principal shoppers; their domestic employees are (Malhotra).

Translating surveys is also an issue. Have you ever watched the TV comedians Jay Leno and David Letterman make fun of the English translations found on ethnic menus and products? Research tools such as surveys can suffer from the same problem. Hiring someone who is bilingual to translate a survey into another language can be a disaster if the person isn’t a native speaker of the language to which the survey is being translated.

One way companies try to deal with translation problems is by using back translation. When back translation is used, a native speaker translates the survey into the foreign language and then translates it back again to the original language to determine if there were gaps in meaning—that is, if anything was lost in translation. And it’s not just the language that’s an issue. If the research involves any visual images, they, too, could be a point of confusion. Certain colors, shapes, and symbols can have negative connotations in other countries. For example, the color white represents purity in many Western cultures, but in China, it is the color of death and mourning (Zouhali-Worrall, 2008). Also, look back at the cartoon-completion exercise in Figure 10.8 “Example of a Cartoon-Completion Projective Technique” . What would women in Muslim countries who aren’t allowed to converse with male sellers think of it? Chances are, the cartoon wouldn’t provide you with the information you’re seeking if Muslim women in some countries were asked to complete it.

One way marketing research companies are dealing with the complexities of global research is by merging with or acquiring marketing research companies abroad. The Nielsen Company is the largest marketing research company in the world. The firm operates in more than a hundred countries and employs more than forty thousand people. Many of its expansions have been the result of acquisitions and mergers.

Step 6: Analyze the Data

Step 6 involves analyzing the data to ensure it’s as accurate as possible. If the research is collected by hand using a pen and pencil, it’s entered into a computer. Or respondents might have already entered the information directly into a computer. For example, when Toyota goes to an event such as a car show, the automaker’s marketing personnel ask would-be buyers to complete questionnaires directly on computers. Companies are also beginning to experiment with software that can be used to collect data using mobile phones.

Once all the data is collected, the researchers begin the data cleaning , which is the process of removing data that have accidentally been duplicated (entered twice into the computer) or correcting data that have obviously been recorded wrong. A program such as Microsoft Excel or a statistical program such as Predictive Analytics Software (PASW, which was formerly known as SPSS) is then used to tabulate, or calculate, the basic results of the research, such as the total number of participants and how collectively they answered various questions. The programs can also be used to calculate averages, such as the average age of respondents, their average satisfaction, and so forth. The same can done for percentages, and other values you learned about, or will learn about, in a statistics course, such as the standard deviation, mean, and median for each question.

The information generated by the programs can be used to draw conclusions, such as what all customers might like or not like about an offering based on what the sample group liked or did not like. The information can also be used to spot differences among groups of people. For example, the research might show that people in one area of the country like the product better than people in another area. Trends to predict what might happen in the future can also be spotted.

If there are any open-ended questions respondents have elaborated upon—for example, “Explain why you like the current brand you use better than any other brand”—the answers to each are pasted together, one on top of another, so researchers can compare and summarize the information. As we have explained, qualitative information such as this can give you a fuller picture of the results of the research.

Part of analyzing the data is to see if it seems sound. Does the way in which the research was conducted seem sound? Was the sample size large enough? Are the conclusions that become apparent from it reasonable?

The two most commonly used criteria used to test the soundness of a study are (1) validity and (2) reliability. A study is valid if it actually tested what it was designed to test. For example, did the experiment you ran in Second Life test what it was designed to test? Did it reflect what could really happen in the real world? If not, the research isn’t valid. If you were to repeat the study, and get the same results (or nearly the same results), the research is said to be reliable . If you get a drastically different result if you repeat the study, it’s not reliable. The data collected, or at least some it, can also be compared to, or reconciled with, similar data from other sources either gathered by your firm or by another organization to see if the information seems on target.

Stage 7: Write the Research Report and Present Its Findings

If you end up becoming a marketing professional and conducting a research study after you graduate, hopefully you will do a great job putting the study together. You will have defined the problem correctly, chosen the right sample, collected the data accurately, analyzed it, and your findings will be sound. At that point, you will be required to write the research report and perhaps present it to an audience of decision makers. You will do so via a written report and, in some cases, a slide or PowerPoint presentation based on your written report.

The six basic elements of a research report are as follows.

  • Title Page . The title page explains what the report is about, when it was conducted and by whom, and who requested it.
  • Table of Contents . The table of contents outlines the major parts of the report, as well as any graphs and charts, and the page numbers on which they can be found.
  • Executive Summary . The executive summary summarizes all the details in the report in a very quick way. Many people who receive the report—both executives and nonexecutives—won’t have time to read the entire report. Instead, they will rely on the executive summary to quickly get an idea of the study’s results and what to do about those results.

Methodology and Limitations . The methodology section of the report explains the technical details of how the research was designed and conducted. The section explains, for example, how the data was collected and by whom, the size of the sample, how it was chosen, and whom or what it consisted of (e.g., the number of women versus men or children versus adults). It also includes information about the statistical techniques used to analyze the data.

Every study has errors—sampling errors, interviewer errors, and so forth. The methodology section should explain these details, so decision makers can consider their overall impact. The margin of error is the overall tendency of the study to be off kilter—that is, how far it could have gone wrong in either direction. Remember how newscasters present the presidential polls before an election? They always say, “This candidate is ahead 48 to 44 percent, plus or minus 2 percent.” That “plus or minus” is the margin of error. The larger the margin of error is, the less likely the results of the study are accurate. The margin of error needs to be included in the methodology section.

  • Findings . The findings section is a longer, fleshed-out version of the executive summary that goes into more detail about the statistics uncovered by the research that bolster the study’s findings. If you have related research or secondary data on hand that back up the findings, it can be included to help show the study did what it was designed to do.
  • Recommendations . The recommendations section should outline the course of action you think should be taken based on the findings of the research and the purpose of the project. For example, if you conducted a global market research study to identify new locations for stores, make a recommendation for the locations (Mersdorf, 2009).

As we have said, these are the basic sections of a marketing research report. However, additional sections can be added as needed. For example, you might need to add a section on the competition and each firm’s market share. If you’re trying to decide on different supply chain options, you will need to include a section on that topic.

As you write the research report, keep your audience in mind. Don’t use technical jargon decision makers and other people reading the report won’t understand. If technical terms must be used, explain them. Also, proofread the document to ferret out any grammatical errors and typos, and ask a couple of other people to proofread behind you to catch any mistakes you might have missed. If your research report is riddled with errors, its credibility will be undermined, even if the findings and recommendations you make are extremely accurate.

Many research reports are presented via PowerPoint. If you’re asked to create a slideshow presentation from the report, don’t try to include every detail in the report on the slides. The information will be too long and tedious for people attending the presentation to read through. And if they do go to the trouble of reading all the information, they probably won’t be listening to the speaker who is making the presentation.

Instead of including all the information from the study in the slides, boil each section of the report down to key points and add some “talking points” only the presenter will see. After or during the presentation, you can give the attendees the longer, paper version of the report so they can read the details at a convenient time, if they choose to.

Key Takeaway

Step 1 in the marketing research process is to define the problem. Businesses take a look at what they believe are symptoms and try to drill down to the potential causes so as to precisely define the problem. The next task for the researcher is to put into writing the research objective, or goal, the research is supposed to accomplish. Step 2 in the process is to design the research. The research design is the “plan of attack.” It outlines what data you are going to gather, from whom, how, and when, and how you’re going to analyze it once it has been obtained. Step 3 is to design the data-collection forms, which need to be standardized so the information gathered on each is comparable. Surveys are a popular way to gather data because they can be easily administered to large numbers of people fairly quickly. However, to produce the best results, survey questionnaires need to be carefully designed and pretested before they are used. Step 4 is drawing the sample, or a subset of potential buyers who are representative of your entire target market. If the sample is not correctly selected, the research will be flawed. Step 5 is to actually collect the data, whether it’s collected by a person face-to-face, over the phone, or with the help of computers or the Internet. The data-collection process is often different in foreign countries. Step 6 is to analyze the data collected for any obvious errors, tabulate the data, and then draw conclusions from it based on the results. The last step in the process, Step 7, is writing the research report and presenting the findings to decision makers.

Review Questions

  • Explain why it’s important to carefully define the problem or opportunity a marketing research study is designed to investigate.
  • Describe the different types of problems that can occur when marketing research professionals develop questions for surveys.
  • How does a probability sample differ from a nonprobability sample?
  • What makes a marketing research study valid? What makes a marketing research study reliable?
  • What sections should be included in a marketing research report? What is each section designed to do?

1 “Questionnaire Design,” QuickMBA , (accessed December 14, 2009).

Barnes, B., “Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers,” New York Times , April 15, 2009, (accessed December 14, 2009).

Burns A. and Ronald Bush, Marketing Research , 6th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010), 85.

Malhotra, N., Marketing Research: An Applied Approach , 6th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall), 764.

McDaniel, C. D. and Roger H. Gates, Marketing Research Essentials , 2nd ed. (Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing, 1998), 61.

McWilliams, J., “A-B Puts Super-Low-Calorie Beer in Ring with Miller,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch , August 16, 2009, (accessed April 13, 2012).

Mersdorf, S., “How to Organize Your Next Survey Report,” Cvent , August 24, 2009, (accessed December 14, 2009).

Rappeport A. and David Gelles, “Facebook to Form Alliance with Nielsen,” Financial Times , September 23, 2009, 16.

Spangler, T., “Disney Lab Tracks Feelings,” Multichannel News 30, no. 30 (August 3, 2009): 26.

Wagner, J., “Marketing in Second Life Doesn’t Work…Here Is Why!” GigaOM , April 4, 2007, (accessed December 14, 2009).

Wrenn, B., Robert E. Stevens, and David L. Loudon, Marketing Research: Text and Cases , 2nd ed. (Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 2007), 180.

Zouhali-Worrall, M., “Found in Translation: Avoiding Multilingual Gaffes,” , July 14, 2008, (accessed December 14, 2009).

Principles of Marketing Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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6.3 Steps in a Successful Marketing Research Plan

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • 1 Identify and describe the steps in a marketing research plan.
  • 2 Discuss the different types of data research.
  • 3 Explain how data is analyzed.
  • 4 Discuss the importance of effective research reports.

Define the Problem

There are seven steps to a successful marketing research project (see Figure 6.3 ). Each step will be explained as we investigate how a marketing research project is conducted.

The first step, defining the problem, is often a realization that more information is needed in order to make a data-driven decision. Problem definition is the realization that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. An entrepreneur may be interested in opening a small business but must first define the problem that is to be investigated. A marketing research problem in this example is to discover the needs of the community and also to identify a potentially successful business venture.

Many times, researchers define a research question or objectives in this first step. Objectives of this research study could include: identify a new business that would be successful in the community in question, determine the size and composition of a target market for the business venture, and collect any relevant primary and secondary data that would support such a venture. At this point, the definition of the problem may be “Why are cat owners not buying our new cat toy subscription service?”

Additionally, during this first step we would want to investigate our target population for research. This is similar to a target market, as it is the group that comprises the population of interest for the study. In order to have a successful research outcome, the researcher should start with an understanding of the problem in the current situational environment.

Develop the Research Plan

Step two is to develop the research plan. What type of research is necessary to meet the established objectives of the first step? How will this data be collected? Additionally, what is the time frame of the research and budget to consider? If you must have information in the next week, a different plan would be implemented than in a situation where several months were allowed. These are issues that a researcher should address in order to meet the needs identified.

Research is often classified as coming from one of two types of data: primary and secondary. Primary data is unique information that is collected by the specific researcher with the current project in mind. This type of research doesn’t currently exist until it is pulled together for the project. Examples of primary data collection include survey, observation, experiment, or focus group data that is gathered for the current project.

Secondary data is any research that was completed for another purpose but can be used to help inform the research process. Secondary data comes in many forms and includes census data, journal articles, previously collected survey or focus group data of related topics, and compiled company data. Secondary data may be internal, such as the company’s sales records for a previous quarter, or external, such as an industry report of all related product sales. Syndicated data , a type of external secondary data, is available through subscription services and is utilized by many marketers. As you can see in Table 6.1 , primary and secondary data features are often opposite—the positive aspects of primary data are the negative side of secondary data.

There are four research types that can be used: exploratory, descriptive, experimental, and ethnographic research designs (see Figure 6.4 ). Each type has specific formats of data that can be collected. Qualitative research can be shared through words, descriptions, and open-ended comments. Qualitative data gives context but cannot be reduced to a statistic. Qualitative data examples are categorical and include case studies, diary accounts, interviews, focus groups, and open-ended surveys. By comparison, quantitative data is data that can be reduced to number of responses. The number of responses to each answer on a multiple-choice question is quantitative data. Quantitative data is numerical and includes things like age, income, group size, and height.

Exploratory research is usually used when additional general information in desired about a topic. When in the initial steps of a new project, understanding the landscape is essential, so exploratory research helps the researcher to learn more about the general nature of the industry. Exploratory research can be collected through focus groups, interviews, and review of secondary data. When examining an exploratory research design, the best use is when your company hopes to collect data that is generally qualitative in nature. 7

For instance, if a company is considering a new service for registered users but is not quite sure how well the new service will be received or wants to gain clarity of exactly how customers may use a future service, the company can host a focus group. Focus groups and interviews will be examined later in the chapter. The insights collected during the focus group can assist the company when designing the service, help to inform promotional campaign options, and verify that the service is going to be a viable option for the company.

Descriptive research design takes a bigger step into collection of data through primary research complemented by secondary data. Descriptive research helps explain the market situation and define an “opinion, attitude, or behavior” of a group of consumers, employees, or other interested groups. 8 The most common method of deploying a descriptive research design is through the use of a survey. Several types of surveys will be defined later in this chapter. Descriptive data is quantitative in nature, meaning the data can be distilled into a statistic, such as in a table or chart.

Again, descriptive data is helpful in explaining the current situation. In the opening example of LEGO , the company wanted to describe the situation regarding children’s use of its product. In order to gather a large group of opinions, a survey was created. The data that was collected through this survey allowed the company to measure the existing perceptions of parents so that alterations could be made to future plans for the company.

Experimental research , also known as causal research , helps to define a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more factors. This type of research goes beyond a correlation to determine which feature caused the reaction. Researchers generally use some type of experimental design to determine a causal relationship. An example is A/B testing, a situation where one group of research participants, group A, is exposed to one treatment and then compared to the group B participants, who experience a different situation. An example might be showing two different television commercials to a panel of consumers and then measuring the difference in perception of the product. Another example would be to have two separate packaging options available in different markets. This research would answer the question “Does one design sell better than the other?” Comparing that to the sales in each market would be part of a causal research study. 9

The final method of collecting data is through an ethnographic design. Ethnographic research is conducted in the field by watching people interact in their natural environment. For marketing research, ethnographic designs help to identify how a product is used, what actions are included in a selection, or how the consumer interacts with the product. 10

Examples of ethnographic research would be to observe how a consumer uses a particular product, such as baking soda. Although many people buy baking soda, its uses are vast. So are they using it as a refrigerator deodorizer, a toothpaste, to polish a belt buckle, or to use in baking a cake?

Select the Data Collection Method

Data collection is the systematic gathering of information that addresses the identified problem. What is the best method to do that? Picking the right method of collecting data requires that the researcher understand the target population and the design picked in the previous step. There is no perfect method; each method has both advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential that the researcher understand the target population of the research and the research objectives in order to pick the best option.

Sometimes the data desired is best collected by watching the actions of consumers. For instance, how many cars pass a specific billboard in a day? What website led a potential customer to the company’s website? When are consumers most likely to use the snack vending machines at work? What time of day has the highest traffic on a social media post? What is the most streamed television program this week? Observational research is the collecting of data based on actions taken by those observed. Many data observations do not require the researched individuals to participate in the data collection effort to be highly valuable. Some observation requires an individual to watch and record the activities of the target population through personal observations .

Unobtrusive observation happens when those being observed aren’t aware that they are being watched. An example of an unobtrusive observation would be to watch how shoppers interact with a new stuffed animal display by using a one-way mirror. Marketers can identify which products were handled more often while also determining which were ignored.

Other methods can use technology to collect the data instead. Instances of mechanical observation include the use of vehicle recorders, which count the number of vehicles that pass a specific location. Computers can also assess the number of shoppers who enter a store, the most popular entry point for train station commuters, or the peak time for cars to park in a parking garage.

When you want to get a more in-depth response from research participants, one method is to complete a one-on-one interview . One-on-one interviews allow the researcher to ask specific questions that match the respondent’s unique perspective as well as follow-up questions that piggyback on responses already completed. An interview allows the researcher to have a deeper understanding of the needs of the respondent, which is another strength of this type of data collection. The downside of personal interviews it that a discussion can be very time-consuming and results in only one respondent’s answers. Therefore, in order to get a large sample of respondents, the interview method may not be the most efficient method.

Taking the benefits of an interview and applying them to a small group of people is the design of a focus group . A focus group is a small number of people, usually 8 to 12, who meet the sample requirements. These individuals together are asked a series of questions where they are encouraged to build upon each other’s responses, either by agreeing or disagreeing with the other group members. Focus groups are similar to interviews in that they allow the researcher, through a moderator, to get more detailed information from a small group of potential customers (see Figure 6.5 ).

Link to Learning

Focus groups.

Focus groups are a common method for gathering insights into consumer thinking and habits. Companies will use this information to develop or shift their initiatives. The best way to understand a focus group is to watch a few examples or explanations. TED-Ed has this video that explains how focus groups work.

You might be asking when it is best to use a focus group or a survey. Learn the differences, the pros and cons of each, and the specific types of questions you ask in both situations in this article .

Preparing for a focus group is critical to success. It requires knowing the material and questions while also managing the group of people. Watch this video to learn more about how to prepare for a focus group and the types of things to be aware of.

One of the benefits of a focus group over individual interviews is that synergy can be generated when a participant builds on another’s ideas. Additionally, for the same amount of time, a researcher can hear from multiple respondents instead of just one. 11 Of course, as with every method of data collection, there are downsides to a focus group as well. Focus groups have the potential to be overwhelmed by one or two aggressive personalities, and the format can discourage more reserved individuals from speaking up. Finally, like interviews, the responses in a focus group are qualitative in nature and are difficult to distill into an easy statistic or two.

Combining a variety of questions on one instrument is called a survey or questionnaire . Collecting primary data is commonly done through surveys due to their versatility. A survey allows the researcher to ask the same set of questions of a large group of respondents. Response rates of surveys are calculated by dividing the number of surveys completed by the total number attempted. Surveys are flexible and can collect a variety of quantitative and qualitative data. Questions can include simplified yes or no questions, select all that apply, questions that are on a scale, or a variety of open-ended types of questions. There are four types of surveys (see Table 6.2 ) we will cover, each with strengths and weaknesses defined.

Let’s start off with mailed surveys —surveys that are sent to potential respondents through a mail service. Mailed surveys used to be more commonly used due to the ability to reach every household. In some instances, a mailed survey is still the best way to collect data. For example, every 10 years the United States conducts a census of its population (see Figure 6.6 ). The first step in that data collection is to send every household a survey through the US Postal Service (USPS). The benefit is that respondents can complete and return the survey at their convenience. The downside of mailed surveys are expense and timeliness of responses. A mailed survey requires postage, both when it is sent to the recipient and when it is returned. That, along with the cost of printing, paper, and both sending and return envelopes, adds up quickly. Additionally, physically mailing surveys takes time. One method of reducing cost is to send with bulk-rate postage, but that slows down the delivery of the survey. Also, because of the convenience to the respondent, completed surveys may be returned several weeks after being sent. Finally, some mailed survey data must be manually entered into the analysis software, which can cause delays or issues due to entry errors.

Phone surveys are completed during a phone conversation with the respondent. Although the traditional phone survey requires a data collector to talk with the participant, current technology allows for computer-assisted voice surveys or surveys to be completed by asking the respondent to push a specific button for each potential answer. Phone surveys are time intensive but allow the respondent to ask questions and the surveyor to request additional information or clarification on a question if warranted. Phone surveys require the respondent to complete the survey simultaneously with the collector, which is a limitation as there are restrictions for when phone calls are allowed. According to Telephone Consumer Protection Act , approved by Congress in 1991, no calls can be made prior to 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. in the recipient’s time zone. 12 Many restrictions are outlined in this original legislation and have been added to since due to ever-changing technology.

In-person surveys are when the respondent and data collector are physically in the same location. In-person surveys allow the respondent to share specific information, ask questions of the surveyor, and follow up on previous answers. Surveys collected through this method can take place in a variety of ways: through door-to-door collection, in a public location, or at a person’s workplace. Although in-person surveys are time intensive and require more labor to collect data than some other methods, in some cases it’s the best way to collect the required data. In-person surveys conducted through a door-to-door method is the follow-up used for the census if respondents do not complete the mailed survey. One of the downsides of in-person surveys is the reluctance of potential respondents to stop their current activity and answer questions. Furthermore, people may not feel comfortable sharing private or personal information during a face-to-face conversation.

Electronic surveys are sent or collected through digital means and is an opportunity that can be added to any of the above methods as well as some new delivery options. Surveys can be sent through email, and respondents can either reply to the email or open a hyperlink to an online survey (see Figure 6.7 ). Additionally, a letter can be mailed that asks members of the survey sample to log in to a website rather than to return a mailed response. Many marketers now use links, QR codes, or electronic devices to easily connect to a survey. Digitally collected data has the benefit of being less time intensive and is often a more economical way to gather and input responses than more manual methods. A survey that could take months to collect through the mail can be completed within a week through digital means.

Design the Sample

Although you might want to include every possible person who matches your target market in your research, it’s often not a feasible option, nor is it of value. If you did decide to include everyone, you would be completing a census of the population. Getting everyone to participate would be time-consuming and highly expensive, so instead marketers use a sample , whereby a portion of the whole is included in the research. It’s similar to the samples you might receive at the grocery store or ice cream shop; it isn’t a full serving, but it does give you a good taste of what the whole would be like.

So how do you know who should be included in the sample? Researchers identify parameters for their studies, called sample frames . A sample frame for one study may be college students who live on campus; for another study, it may be retired people in Dallas, Texas, or small-business owners who have fewer than 10 employees. The individual entities within the sampling frame would be considered a sampling unit . A sampling unit is each individual respondent that would be considered as matching the sample frame established by the research. If a researcher wants businesses to participate in a study, then businesses would be the sampling unit in that case.

The number of sampling units included in the research is the sample size . Many calculations can be conducted to indicate what the correct size of the sample should be. Issues to consider are the size of the population, the confidence level that the data represents the entire population, the ease of accessing the units in the frame, and the budget allocated for the research.

There are two main categories of samples: probability and nonprobability (see Figure 6.8 ). Probability samples are those in which every member of the sample has an identified likelihood of being selected. Several probability sample methods can be utilized. One probability sampling technique is called a simple random sample , where not only does every person have an identified likelihood of being selected to be in the sample, but every person also has an equal chance of exclusion. An example of a simple random sample would be to put the names of all members of a group into a hat and simply draw out a specific number to be included. You could say a raffle would be a good example of a simple random sample.

Another probability sample type is a stratified random sample , where the population is divided into groups by category and then a random sample of each category is selected to participate. For instance, if you were conducting a study of college students from your school and wanted to make sure you had all grade levels included, you might take the names of all students and split them into different groups by grade level—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. Then, from those categories, you would draw names out of each of the pools, or strata.

A nonprobability sample is a situation in which each potential member of the sample has an unknown likelihood of being selected in the sample. Research findings that are from a nonprobability sample cannot be applied beyond the sample. Several examples of nonprobability sampling are available to researchers and include two that we will look at more closely: convenience sampling and judgment sampling.

The first nonprobability sampling technique is a convenience sample . Just like it sounds, a convenience sample is when the researcher finds a group through a nonscientific method by picking potential research participants in a convenient manner. An example might be to ask other students in a class you are taking to complete a survey that you are doing for a class assignment or passing out surveys at a basketball game or theater performance.

A judgment sample is a type of nonprobability sample that allows the researcher to determine if they believe the individual meets the criteria set for the sample frame to complete the research. For instance, you may be interested in researching mothers, so you sit outside a toy store and ask an individual who is carrying a baby to participate.

Collect the Data

Now that all the plans have been established, the instrument has been created, and the group of participants has been identified, it is time to start collecting data. As explained earlier in this chapter, data collection is the process of gathering information from a variety of sources that will satisfy the research objectives defined in step one. Data collection can be as simple as sending out an email with a survey link enclosed or as complex as an experiment with hundreds of consumers. The method of collection directly influences the length of this process. Conducting personal interviews or completing an experiment, as previously mentioned, can add weeks or months to the research process, whereas sending out an electronic survey may allow a researcher to collect the necessary data in a few days. 13

Analyze and Interpret the Data

Once the data has been collected, the process of analyzing it may begin. Data analysis is the distillation of the information into a more understandable and actionable format. The analysis itself can take many forms, from the use of basic statistics to a more comprehensive data visualization process. First, let’s discuss some basic statistics that can be used to represent data.

The first is the mean of quantitative data. A mean is often defined as the arithmetic average of values. The formula is:

A common use of the mean calculation is with exam scores. Say, for example, you have earned the following scores on your marketing exams: 72, 85, 68, and 77. To find the mean, you would add up the four scores for a total of 302. Then, in order to generate a mean, that number needs to be divided by the number of exam scores included, which is 4. The mean would be 302 divided by 4, for a mean test score of 75.5. Understanding the mean can help to determine, with one number, the weight of a particular value.

Another commonly used statistic is median. The median is often referred to as the middle number. To generate a median, all the numeric answers are placed in order, and the middle number is the median. Median is a common statistic when identifying the income level of a specific geographic region. 14 For instance, the median household income for Albuquerque, New Mexico, between 2015 and 2019 was $52,911. 15 In this case, there are just as many people with an income above the amount as there are below.

Mode is another statistic that is used to represent data of all types, as it can be used with quantitative or qualitative data and represents the most frequent answer. Eye color, hair color, and vehicle color can all be presented with a mode statistic. Additionally, some researchers expand on the concept of mode and present the frequency of all responses, not just identifying the most common response. Data such as this can easily be presented in a frequency graph, 16 such as the one in Figure 6.9 .

Additionally, researchers use other analyses to represent the data rather than to present the entirety of each response. For example, maybe the relationship between two values is important to understand. In this case, the researcher may share the data as a cross tabulation (see Figure 6.10 ). Below is the same data as above regarding social media use cross tabulated with gender—as you can see, the data is more descriptive when you can distinguish between the gender identifiers and how much time is spent per day on social media.

Not all data can be presented in a graphical format due to the nature of the information. Sometimes with qualitative methods of data collection, the responses cannot be distilled into a simple statistic or graph. In that case, the use of quotations, otherwise known as verbatims , can be used. These are direct statements presented by the respondents. Often you will see a verbatim statement when reading a movie or book review. The critic’s statements are used in part or in whole to represent their feelings about the newly released item.


As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. For this reason, research results are often shown in a graphical format in which data can be taken in quickly, called an infographic .

Check out this infographic on what components make for a good infographic. As you can see, a good infographic needs four components: data, design, a story, and the ability to share it with others. Without all four pieces, it is not as valuable a resource as it could be. The ultimate infographic is represented as the intersection of all four.

Infographics are particularly advantageous online. Refer to this infographic on why they are beneficial to use online .

Prepare the Research Report

The marketing research process concludes by sharing the generated data and makes recommendations for future actions. What starts as simple data must be interpreted into an analysis. All information gathered should be conveyed in order to make decisions for future marketing actions. One item that is often part of the final step is to discuss areas that may have been missed with the current project or any area of further study identified while completing it. Without the final step of the marketing research project, the first six steps are without value. It is only after the information is shared, through a formal presentation or report, that those recommendations can be implemented and improvements made. The first six steps are used to generate information, while the last is to initiate action. During this last step is also when an evaluation of the process is conducted. If this research were to be completed again, how would we do it differently? Did the right questions get answered with the survey questions posed to the respondents? Follow-up on some of these key questions can lead to additional research, a different study, or further analysis of data collected.

Methods of Quantifying Marketing Research

One of the ways of sharing information gained through marketing research is to quantify the research . Quantifying the research means to take a variety of data and compile into a quantity that is more easily understood. This is a simple process if you want to know how many people attended a basketball game, but if you want to quantify the number of students who made a positive comment on a questionnaire, it can be a little more complicated. Researchers have a variety of methods to collect and then share these different scores. Below are some of the most common types used in business.

Is a customer aware of a product, brand, or company? What is meant by awareness? Awareness in the context of marketing research is when a consumer is familiar with the product, brand, or company. It does not assume that the consumer has tried the product or has purchased it. Consumers are just aware. That is a measure that many businesses find valuable. There are several ways to measure awareness. For instance, the first type of awareness is unaided awareness . This type of awareness is when no prompts for a product, brand, or company are given. If you were collecting information on fast-food restaurants, you might ask a respondent to list all the fast-food restaurants that serve a chicken sandwich. Aided awareness would be providing a list of products, brands, or companies and the respondent selects from the list. For instance, if you give a respondent a list of fast-food restaurants and ask them to mark all the locations with a chicken sandwich, you are collecting data through an aided method. Collecting these answers helps a company determine how the business location compares to those of its competitors. 17

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

Have you ever been asked to complete a survey at the end of a purchase? Many businesses complete research on buying, returning, or other customer service processes. A customer satisfaction score , also known as CSAT, is a measure of how satisfied customers are with the product, brand, or service. A CSAT score is usually on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. 18 But what constitutes a “good” CSAT score? Although what is identified as good can vary by industry, normally anything in the range from 75 to 85 would be considered good. Of course, a number higher than 85 would be considered exceptional. 19

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Effort Score (CES)

Other metrics often used are a customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer effort score (CES). How much does it cost a company to gain customers? That’s the purpose of calculating the customer acquisition cost. To calculate the customer acquisition cost , a company would need to total all expenses that were accrued to gain new customers. This would include any advertising, public relations, social media postings, etc. When a total cost is determined, it is divided by the number of new customers gained through this campaign.

The final score to discuss is the customer effort score , also known as a CES. The CES is a “survey used to measure the ease of service experience with an organization.” 20 Companies that are easy to work with have a better CES than a company that is notorious for being difficult. An example would be to ask a consumer about the ease of making a purchase online by incorporating a one-question survey after a purchase is confirmed. If a number of responses come back negative or slightly negative, the company will realize that it needs to investigate and develop a more user-friendly process.

Knowledge Check

It’s time to check your knowledge on the concepts presented in this section. Refer to the Answer Key at the end of the book for feedback.

  • Defining the problem
  • Developing the research plan
  • Selecting a data collection method
  • Designing the sample
  • you are able to send it to all households in an area
  • it is inexpensive
  • responses are automatically loaded into the software
  • the data comes in quickly
  • Primary data
  • Secondary data
  • Secondary and primary data
  • Professional data
  • It shows how respondents answered two variables in relation to each other and can help determine patterns by different groups of respondents.
  • By presenting the data in the form of a picture, the information is easier for the reader to understand.
  • It is an easy way to see how often one answer is selected by the respondents.
  • This analysis can used to present interview or focus group data.

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MKT271 - Principles of Marketing

Problem statement - definitions, problem statement examples.

  • SWOT Analysis
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  • Use the U.S. Census - My Community Explorer Tool This link opens in a new window
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Read the definitions of problem statements and look at some of the problem statement examples before you write your own problem statement.

  • .Problem Statement - from Leadership Glossary: Essential Terms for the 21st Century A problem statement is a device used in problem solving, which concisely defines the problem, whose problem it is, the limitations (in resources like time or money) on possible solutions, and the form that the resolution can take. Problem statements are normally simply tools to get the problem-solving process going, but sometimes highlight issues that need to be addressed, such as an inability to clearly articulate what the problem is (which reduces the odds of finding a satisfactory solution) or the discovery that there are actually separate problems that can be dealt with independently.
  • Problem Solving A problem exists when a problem solver has a goal but does not know how to accomplish it. A somewhat more precise way to express this definition is to say that a problem occurs when a situation is in the given state, the problem solver wants the situation to be in the goal state, and there is no obvious way of changing from the given state to the goal state. As you can see, a problem consists of a given state (i.e., a description of the current situation), a goal state (i.e., a description of the desired situation), a set of operators (i.e., rules for moving from one state to another), and obstacles preventing a smooth transition from the given to the goal state.
  • Research in Business Case studies examine a single, salient business situation or organization by collecting key facts and analyzing them in light of business functions, theories, and best practices. The goal is to generate possible solutions to problems experienced in that particular situation or organization. The case study begins with an explicit problem statement. Based on the problem statement, researchers decide what data need to be collected for analysis. For example, a company case study usually needs to collect both quantitative (e.g., financial and sales figures) and qualitative (e.g., management memos and reports) data to perform the following analyses:
  • Example 1 - Problem Statement Problem Statement: If you are focusing on a problem, be sure to define and state it specifically enough that you can write about it.
  • Problem Statement: What It Is and Examples - Zippia The first step to being an effective problem solver is understanding what a problem statement is and how to write one. Writing down a problem statement can help individuals within a business make improvements in how they operate.
  • Problem Statement Examples - NEXEA This article will give you an insight into what are problem statements for businesses, problem statement examples, how to write a problem statement and many more questions that entrepreneurs have regarding problem statements.
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Home Market Research

Market Research: What it Is, Methods, Types & Examples

What is Market Research

Would you like to know why, how, and when to apply market research? Do you want to discover why your consumers are not buying your products? Are you interested in launching a new product, service, or even a new marketing campaign, but you’re not sure what your consumers want?

LEARN ABOUT: Market research vs marketing research

To answer the questions above, you’ll need help from your consumers. But how will you collect that data? In this case and in many other situations in your business, market research is the way to get all the answers you need.

In this ultimate guide about market research, you’ll find the definition, advantages, types of market research, and some examples that will help you understand this type of research. Don’t forget to download the free ebook available at the end of this guide!

LEARN ABOUT: Perceived Value

Content Index

Three key objectives of market research

Why is market research important.

  • Types of Market Research: Methods and Examples

Steps for conducting Market Research

Benefits of an efficient market research, 5 market research tips for businesses, why does every business need market research, free market research ebook, what is market research.

Market research is a technique that is used to collect data on any aspect that you want to know to be later able to interpret it and, in the end, make use of it for correct decision-making.

Another more specific definition could be the following:

Market research is the process by which companies seek to collect data systematically to make better decisions. Still, its true value lies in the way in which all the data obtained is used to achieve a better knowledge of the market consumer.

The process of market research can be done through deploying surveys , interacting with a group of people, also known as a sample , conducting interviews, and other similar processes.  

The primary purpose of conducting market research is to understand or examine the market associated with a particular product or service to decide how the audience will react to a product or service. The information obtained from conducting market research can be used to tailor marketing/ advertising activities or determine consumers’ feature priorities/service requirement (if any).

LEARN ABOUT: Consumer Surveys

Conducting research is one of the best ways of achieving customer satisfaction , reducing customer churn and elevating business. Here are the reasons why market research is important and should be considered in any business:

  • Valuable information: It provides information and opportunities about the value of existing and new products, thus, helping businesses plan and strategize accordingly.
  • Customer-centric: It helps to determine what the customers need and want. Marketing is customer-centric and understanding the customers and their needs will help businesses design products or services that best suit them. Remember that tracing your customer journey is a great way to gain valuable insights into your customers’ sentiments toward your brand.
  • Forecasts: By understanding the needs of customers, businesses can also forecast their production and sales. Market research also helps in determining optimum inventory stock.
  • Competitive advantage: To stay ahead of competitors market research is a vital tool to carry out comparative studies. Businesses can devise business strategies that can help them stay ahead of their competitors.

LEARN ABOUT: Data Analytics Projects

Types of Market Research: Market Research Methods and Examples

Whether an organization or business wishes to know the purchase behavior of consumers or the likelihood of consumers paying a certain cost for a product segmentation , market research helps in drawing meaningful conclusions.

LEARN ABOUT: Behavioral Targeting

Depending on the methods and tools required, the following are the types:

1. Primary Market Research (A combination of both Qualitative and Quantitative Research):

Primary market research is a process where organizations or businesses get in touch with the end consumers or employ a third party to carry out relevant studies to collect data. The data collected can be qualitative data (non-numerical data) or quantitative data (numerical or statistical data).

While conducting primary market research, one can gather two types of information: Exploratory and Specific. Exploratory research is open-ended, where a problem is explored by asking open ended questions in a detailed interview format usually with a small group of people, also known as a sample. Here the sample size is restricted to 6-10 members. Specific research, on the other hand, is more pinpointed and is used to solve the problems that are identified by exploratory research.

LEARN ABOUT: Marketing Insight

As mentioned earlier, primary market research is a combination of qualitative market research and quantitative market research. Qualitative market research study involves semi-structured or unstructured data collected through some of the commonly used qualitative research methods like:

Methods of Market Research

Focus groups :

Focus group is one of the commonly used qualitative research methods. Focus group is a small group of people (6-10) who typically respond to online surveys sent to them. The best part about a focus group is the information can be collected remotely, can be done without personally interacting with the group members. However, this is a more expensive method as it is used to collect complex information.

One-to-one interview:

As the name suggests, this method involves personal interaction in the form of an interview, where the researcher asks a series of questions to collect information or data from the respondents. The questions are mostly open-ended questions and are asked to facilitate responses. This method heavily depends on the interviewer’s ability and experience to ask questions that evoke responses.

Ethnographic research :

This type of in-depth research is conducted in the natural settings of the respondents. This method requires the interviewer to adapt himself/herself to the natural environment of the respondents which could be a city or a remote village. Geographical constraints can be a hindering market research factor in conducting this kind of research. Ethnographic research can last from a few days to a few years.

Organizations use qualitative research methods to conduct structured market research by using online surveys , questionnaires , and polls to gain statistical insights to make informed decisions.

LEARN ABOUT: Qualitative Interview

This method was once conducted using pen and paper. This has now evolved to sending structured online surveys to the respondents to gain actionable insights. Researchers use modern and technology-oriented survey platforms to structure and design their survey to evoke maximum responses from respondents.

Through a well-structured mechanism, data is easily collected and reported, and necessary action can be taken with all the information made available firsthand.

Learn more: How to conduct quantitative research

2. Secondary Market Research:

Secondary research uses information that is organized by outside sources like government agencies, media, chambers of commerce etc. This information is published in newspapers, magazines, books, company websites, free government and nongovernment agencies and so on. The secondary source makes use of the following:

  • Public sources: Public sources like library are an awesome way of gathering free information. Government libraries usually offer services free of cost and a researcher can document available information.
  • Commercial sources: Commercial source although reliable are expensive. Local newspapers, magazines, journal, television media are great commercial sources to collect information.
  • Educational Institutions: Although not a very popular source of collecting information, most universities and educational institutions are a rich source of information as many research projects are carried out there than any business sector.

Learn more: Market Research Example with Types and Methods

A market research project may usually have 3 different types of objectives.

  • Administrative : Help a company or business development, through proper planning, organization, and both human and material resources control, and thus satisfy all specific needs within the market, at the right time.
  • Social : Satisfy customers’ specific needs through a required product or service. The product or service should comply with a customer’s requirements and preferences when consumed.
  • Economical : Determine the economical degree of success or failure a company can have while being new to the market, or otherwise introducing new products or services, thus providing certainty to all actions to be implemented.

LEARN ABOUT:  Test Market Demand

Knowing what to do in various situations that arise during the investigation will save the researcher time and reduce research problems . Today’s successful enterprises use powerful market research survey software that helps them conduct comprehensive research under a unified platform, providing actionable insights much faster with fewer problems.

LEARN ABOUT:  Market research industry

Following are the steps to conduct effective market research.

Step #1: Define the Problem

Having a well-defined subject of research will help researchers when they ask questions. These questions should be directed to solve problems and must be adapted to the project. Make sure the questions are written clearly and that the respondents understand them. Researchers can conduct a marketing test with a small group to know if the questions are going to know whether the asked questions are understandable and if they will be enough to gain insightful results.

Research objectives should be written in a precise way and should include a brief description of the information that is needed and the way in which it will obtain it. They should have an answer to this question “why are we doing the research?”

Learn more: Interview Questions

Step #2: Define the Sample

To carry out market research, researchers need a representative sample that can be collected using one of the many sampling techniques . A representative sample is a small number of people that reflect, as accurately as possible, a larger group.

  • An organization cannot waste their resources in collecting information from the wrong population. It is important that the population represents characteristics that matter to the researchers and that they need to investigate, are in the chosen sample.
  • Take into account that marketers will always be prone to fall into a bias in the sample because there will always be people who do not answer the survey because they are busy, or answer it incompletely, so researchers may not obtain the required data.
  • Regarding the size of the sample, the larger it is, the more likely it is to be representative of the population. A larger representative sample gives the researcher greater certainty that the people included are the ones they need, and they can possibly reduce bias. Therefore, if they want to avoid inaccuracy in our surveys, they should have representative and balanced samples.
  • Practically all the surveys that are considered in a serious way, are based on a scientific sampling, based on statistical and probability theories.

There are two ways to obtain a representative sample:

  • Probability sampling : In probability sampling , the choice of the sample will be made at random, which guarantees that each member of the population will have the same probability of selection bias and inclusion in the sample group. Researchers should ensure that they have updated information on the population from which they will draw the sample and survey the majority to establish representativeness.
  • Non-probability sampling : In a non-probability sampling , different types of people are seeking to obtain a more balanced representative sample. Knowing the demographic characteristics of our group will undoubtedly help to limit the profile of the desired sample and define the variables that interest the researchers, such as gender, age, place of residence, etc. By knowing these criteria, before obtaining the information, researchers can have the control to create a representative sample that is efficient for us.

When a sample is not representative, there can be a margin of error . If researchers want to have a representative sample of 100 employees, they should choose a similar number of men and women.

The sample size is very important, but it does not guarantee accuracy. More than size, representativeness is related to the sampling frame , that is, to the list from which people are selected, for example, part of a survey.

LEARN ABOUT: Behavioral Research If researchers want to continue expanding their knowledge on how to determine the size of the sample consult our guide on sampling here.

Step #3: Carry out data collection

First, a data collection instrument should be developed. The fact that they do not answer a survey, or answer it incompletely will cause errors in research. The correct collection of data will prevent this.

Step #4: Analyze the results

Each of the points of the market research process is linked to one another. If all the above is executed well, but there is no accurate analysis of the results, then the decisions made consequently will not be appropriate. In-depth analysis conducted without leaving loose ends will be effective in gaining solutions. Data analysis will be captured in a report, which should also be written clearly so that effective decisions can be made on that basis.

Analyzing and interpreting the results is to look for a wider meaning to the obtained data. All the previous phases have been developed to arrive at this moment. How can researchers measure the obtained results? The only quantitative data that will be obtained is age, sex, profession, and number of interviewees because the rest are emotions and experiences that have been transmitted to us by the interlocutors. For this, there is a tool called empathy map that forces us to put ourselves in the place of our clientele with the aim of being able to identify, really, the characteristics that will allow us to make a better adjustment between our products or services and their needs or interests. When the research has been carefully planned, the hypotheses have been adequately defined and the indicated collection method has been used, the interpretation is usually carried out easily and successfully. What follows after conducting market research?

Learn more: Types of Interviews

Step #5: Make the Research Report

When presenting the results, researchers should focus on: what do they want to achieve using this research report and while answering this question they should not assume that the structure of the survey is the best way to do the analysis. One of the big mistakes that many researchers make is that they present the reports in the same order of their questions and do not see the potential of storytelling.

Tips to create a market research report

To make good reports, the best analysts give the following advice: follow the inverted pyramid style to present the results, answering at the beginning the essential questions of the business that caused the investigation. Start with the conclusions and give them fundamentals, instead of accumulating evidence. After this researchers can provide details to the readers who have the time and interest.

Step #6: Make Decisions

An organization or a researcher should never ask “why do market research”, they should just do it! Market research helps researchers to know a wide range of information, for example,  consumer purchase intentions, or gives feedback about the growth of the target market. They can also discover valuable information that will help in estimating the prices of their product or service and find a point of balance that will benefit them and the consumers.

Take decisions! Act and implement.

Learn more: Quantitative Research

  • Make well-informed decisions: The growth of an organization is dependent on the way decisions are made by the management. Using market research techniques, the management can make business decisions based on obtained results that back their knowledge and experience. Market research helps to know market trends, hence to carry it out frequently to get to know the customers thoroughly.

LEARN ABOUT: Research Process Steps

  • Gain accurate information: Market research provides real and accurate information that will prepare the organization for any mishaps that may happen in the future. By properly investigating the market, a business will undoubtedly be taking a step forward, and therefore it will be taking advantage of its existing competitors.
  • Determine the market size: A researcher can evaluate the size of the market that must be covered in case of selling a product or service in order to make profits.
  • Choose an appropriate sales system: Select a precise sales system according to what the market is asking for, and according to this, the product/service can be positioned in the market.
  • Learn about customer preferences: It helps to know how the preferences (and tastes) of the clients change so that the company can satisfy preferences, purchasing habits, and income levels. Researchers can determine the type of product that must be manufactured or sold based on the specific needs of consumers.
  • Gather details about customer perception of the brand: In addition to generating information, market research helps a researcher in understanding how the customers perceive the organization or brand.
  • Analyze customer communication methods: Market research serves as a guide for communication with current and potential clients.
  • Productive business investment: It is a great investment for any business because thanks to it they get invaluable information, it shows researchers the way to follow to take the right path and achieve the sales that are required.

LEARN ABOUT: Total Quality Management

The following tips will help businesses with creating a better market research strategy.

Tip #1: Define the objective of your research.

Before starting your research quest, think about what you’re trying to achieve next with your business. Are you looking to increase traffic to your location? Or increase sales? Or convert customers from one-time purchasers to regulars? Figuring out your objective will help you tailor the rest of your research and your future marketing materials. Having an objective for your research will flesh out what kind of data you need to collect.

Tip #2: Learn About Your Target Customers.

The most important thing to remember is that your business serves a specific kind of customer. Defining your specific customer has many advantages like allowing you to understand what kind of language to use when crafting your marketing materials, and how to approach building relationships with your customer. When you take time to define your target customer you can also find the best products and services to sell to them.

You want to know as much as you can about your target customer. You can gather this information through observation and by researching the kind of customers who frequent your type of business. For starters, helpful things to know are their age and income. What do they do for a living? What’s their marital status and education level?

Learn more: Customer Satisfaction

Tip #3: Recognize that knowing who you serve helps you define who you do not.

Let’s take a classic example from copywriting genius Dan Kennedy. He says that if you’re opening up a fine dining steakhouse focused on decadent food, you know right off the bat that you’re not looking to attract vegetarians or dieters. Armed with this information, you can create better marketing messages that speak to your target customers.

It’s okay to decide who is not a part of your target customer base. In fact, for small businesses knowing who you don’t cater to can be essential in helping you grow. Why? Simple, if you’re small your advantage is that you can connect deeply with a specific segment of the market. You want to focus your efforts on the right customer who already is compelled to spend money on your offer.

If you’re spreading yourself thin by trying to be all things to everyone, you will only dilute your core message. Instead, keep your focus on your target customer. Define them, go deep, and you’ll be able to figure out how you can best serve them with your products and services.

Tip #4: Learn from your competition.

This works for brick-and-mortar businesses as well as internet businesses because it allows you to step into the shoes of your customer and open up to a new perspective of your business. Take a look around the internet and around your town. If you can, visit your competitor’s shops. For example, if you own a restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine, dine at the other Italian place in your neighborhood or in the next township.

As you experience the business from the customer’s perspective, look for what’s being done right and wrong.

Can you see areas that need attention or improvement? How are you running things in comparison? What’s the quality of their product and customer service ? Are the customers here pleased? Also, take a close look at their market segment. Who else is patronizing their business? Are they the same kinds of people who spend money with you? By asking these questions and doing in-person research, you can dig up a lot of information to help you define your unique selling position and create even better offers for your customers.

Tip #5: Get your target customers to open up and tell you everything.

A good customer survey is one of the most valuable market research tools because it gives you the opportunity to get inside your customer’s head. However, remember that some feedback may be harsh, so take criticism as a learning tool to point you in the right direction.

Creating a survey is simple. Ask questions about what your customer thinks you’re doing right and what can be improved. You can also prompt them to tell you what kinds of products and services they’d like to see you add, giving you fantastic insight into how to monetize your business more. Many customers will be delighted to offer feedback. You can even give customers who fill out surveys a gift like a special coupon for their next purchase.

Bonus Tip: Use an insight & research repository

An insight & research repository is a consolidated research management platform to derive insights about past and ongoing market research. With the use of such a tool, you can leverage past research to get to insights faster, build on previously done market research and draw trendlines, utilize research techniques that have worked in the past, and more.

Market research is one of the most effective ways to gain insight into your customer base , competitors , and the overall market. The goal of conducting market research is to equip your company with the information you need to make informed decisions.

It is especially important when small businesses are trying to determine whether a new business idea is viable, looking to move into a new market, or are launching a new product or service.  Read below for a more in-depth look at how market research can help small businesses.

  • COMPETITION According to a study conducted by Business Insider, 72% of small businesses focus on increasing revenue. Conducting research helps businesses gain insight into competitor behavior. By learning about your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, you can learn how to position your product or offering. In order to be successful, small businesses need to have an understanding of what products and services competitors are offering, and their price point.

Learn more: Trend Analysis

  • CUSTOMERS Many small businesses feel they need to understand their customers, only to conduct market research and learn they had the wrong assumptions. By researching, you can create a profile of your average customer and gain insight into their buying habits, how much they’re willing to spend, and which features resonate with them. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, you can learn what will make someone use your product or service over a competitor.

Learn more: Customer Satisfaction Survey

  • OPPORTUNITIES Potential opportunities, whether they are products or services, can be identified by conducting market research. By learning more about your customers, you can gather insights into complementary products and services. Consumer needs change over time, influenced by new technology and different conditions, and you may find new needs that are not being met, which can create new opportunities for your business.

Learn more: SWOT Analysis 

  • FORECAST A small business is affected by the performance of the local and national economy, as are its’ customers. If consumers are worried, then they will be more restrained when spending money, which affects the business. By conducting research with consumers, businesses can get an idea of whether they are optimistic or apprehensive about the direction of the economy, and make adjustments as necessary. For example, a small business owner may decide to postpone a new product launch if it appears the economic environment is turning negative.

Learn more: 300+ Market Research Survey Questionnaires

Market research and market intelligence may be as complex as the needs that each business or project has. The steps are usually the same. We hope this ultimate guide helps you have a better understanding of how to make your own market research project to gather insightful data and make better decisions.

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We appreciate you taking the time to read this ultimate guide. We hope it was helpful! 

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Examples of Marketing Research Problems

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How to capture market share through the understanding of consumer needs, limitation for a marketing research project.

  • What Marketing in the 21st Century Means
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Companies and other organizations use marketing research to manage the risks associated with offering new products and services. These organizations don't want to spend too much money developing a product line that research indicates will be unsuccessful. A well-designed and well-executed marketing study can go a long way towards identifying consumer tastes and demographic preferences to help with a product launch. However, several common types of problems occur with market research that can make it overly costly and produce results of questionable value for the organization.

Poor Survey Design

Organizations use marketing research to find out what customers think and what they want. The survey is a direct way of collecting quantitative, or numerical, information and qualitative, or descriptive, information. When there are errors in the survey design, marketing research problems can surface.

For example, a company might use a method that is designed to collect a random sample from the target consumer population, but the method is not really random. Therefore, the organization cannot generalize its survey results to represent the target population. Similarly, poorly-worded survey questions can lead to ambiguous results from respondents who didn't grasp the intent of the question.

Survey Nonresponse

One marketing research problem relates to how the survey is offered to the target population. Marketers design a survey that many customers choose not to respond to. They look at reasons why people don't want to participate, and they might reach conclusions such as the survey takes too much effort or that the incentive for participation is not appealing to respondents.

Survey respondents are rarely willing to spend more than a few minutes on a voluntary survey. For longer efforts, consider offering some sort of compensation such as cash, a gift card, or a free product to encourage participation.

The Problem of Survey Bias

A survey might include one or more sources of bias. Marketers might believe, for example, that they have created an online survey to appeal to respondents of all ethnic backgrounds, but the survey questions, and even images, might be biased to favor one ethnic group or could offend one or more ethnic groups.

The famous image of the "Dewey Defeats Truman" newspaper headline in 1948 was the result of survey bias. The journalists had surveyed voters by telephone, thereby missing the opinions of the many voters that did not have telephones at the time.

A survey's format and content must be acceptable to all audiences from which marketers seek to gather information.

Issues with Observation Research

Some marketing research involves observing consumers in action and noting their preferences. Marketers can become intrusive, interfering with a consumer's experience to the point that a consumer feels disgusted and leaves the business site. For example, a fast-food chain's researchers need to determine if there is a need for a new location of its store so they survey people going through the drive-through line. Although researchers conduct a short survey, they aggravate customers by slowing down the line.

A market survey is a more complicated undertaking than it might, at first, appear. You might want to employ the services of marketing professionals if you do not have someone on staff with survey design experience.

  • Survey Monkey: Market Research Surveys
  • Satrix: Tope Ten Survey Design Problems
  • History: Dewey Defeats Truman headline

Audra Bianca has been writing professionally since 2007, with her work covering a variety of subjects and appearing on various websites. Her favorite audiences to write for are small-business owners and job searchers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Master of Public Administration from a Florida public university.

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  • 1 Two Major Errors That Can Occur During Marketing Research
  • 2 Definition of a Market Survey
  • 3 Cross-Section Design of a Business Research Method
  • 4 Examples of Market Research Surveys
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Market Research

How to Define a Marketing Research Problem

Preparing a perfect marketing research report depends on the research problem statement. The more clear and comprehensible your problem statement is, the more focused and directed your study will be. So how can you write the perfect marketing study statement of problem?

Before telling you that, let’s see what is a marketing research problem is?

In simple words, it is to determine the preferences and buying behavior of the customers and to study whether a particular product or service will be profitably sold or not. The problem statement defines specific and distinct objectives behind conducting the study. Your research hypothesis, methodology, conclusion and recommendations all depends on the problem statement.

There are three main components to a good research problem in marketing.

1.- Background of the problem

It is important to give a little background of the problem in the problem statement to make the reader aware of the depth and history of the issue. This will provide a basis for clear and better understanding of the issue.

2.- The Specific Problem

This is the main part of your problem statement. This is where you introduce your issue to the viewers.

a.- Problem definition

In this part, you give a brief and concise overview of the problem and define specifically what the problem is and why and when is it occurring?

Tips If you are having trouble writing this part of the problem statement, simply go about answering these following questions in the below mentioned sequence in one sentence answers.

  • What is the exact problem that needs to be solved?
  • Where does the problem occur?
  • When does the problem occur or what factors contribute to the occurrence of the problem?

b.- Justification for the study

This is the most important part after the problem definition. This is where you will be informing your readers why you have chosen this topic for research and present valid rationalizations for it.

Tips To formulate good justifications, just answer the following questions:

  • Why is this study necessary?
  • What will happen if this study is ignored?

c.- Specific methodology that will be used for the study

Here, you can define specifically the method you will be using to solve the problem.

There are basically two types of data that is used for research, primary and secondary data. Which type of data will you be using?

  • Primary data is obtained by first hand observations or communication. It usually involves questionnaires filed by the target audience, personal interviews or focus groups arranged for a specific purpose.
  • Secondary data involves summary of already existing data which includes newspapers, company journals and government statistics.

Tips Based on the explanation above, try to understand which type of data will you need for your marketing study? This usually depends on the kinds of variables involved in your study. If your variable involves study of customers’ perceptions and views, then you will be conducting primary research whereas if it involves a study of governmental or company policies, then you will be conducting secondary research.

3.- Scope of the problem

This includes the desired outcome that you wish to see through your study.

Tips For writing this part of your problem statement, answer the following question:

  • What changes would you like to see through your research?

So by clearly understanding and following the above mentioned components and tips, formulating market research problem statements for your thesis or dissertation can be done in no time.

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What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]

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Table of Contents

The statement of the problem is one of the first things that a colleague or potential client will read. With the vastness of the information available at one’s fingertips in the online9 world, your work may have just a few seconds to draw in a reader to take a deeper look at your proposal before moving on to the next option. It explains quickly to the reader, the problem at hand, the need for research, and how you intend to do it.

A strong, clear description of the problem that drew you to your research has to be straightforward, easy to read and, most important, relevant. Why do you care about this problem? How can solving this problem impact the world? The problem statement is your opportunity to explain why you care and what you propose to do in the way of researching the problem.

A problem statement is an explanation in research that describes the issue that is in need of study . What problem is the research attempting to address? Having a Problem Statement allows the reader to quickly understand the purpose and intent of the research. The importance of writing your research proposal cannot be stressed enough. Check for more information on Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal .

It is expected to be brief and concise , and should not include the findings of the research or detailed data . The average length of a research statement is generally about one page . It is going to define the problem, which can be thought of as a gap in the information base. There may be several solutions to this gap or lack of information, but that is not the concern of the problem statement. Its purpose is to summarize the current information and where a lack of knowledge may be presenting a problem that needs to be investigated .

The purpose of the problem statement is to identify the issue that is a concern and focus it in a way that allows it to be studied in a systematic way . It defines the problem and proposes a way to research a solution, or demonstrates why further information is needed in order for a solution to become possible.

What is Included in a Problem Statement?

Besides identifying the gap of understanding or the weakness of necessary data, it is important to explain the significance of this lack.

-How will your research contribute to the existing knowledge base in your field of study?

-How is it significant?

-Why does it matter?

Not all problems have only one solution so demonstrating the need for additional research can also be included in your problem statement. Once you identify the problem and the need for a solution, or for further study, then you can show how you intend to collect the needed data and present it.

How to Write a Statement of Problem in Research Proposal

It is helpful to begin with your goal. What do you see as the achievable goal if the problem you outline is solved? How will the proposed research theoretically change anything? What are the potential outcomes?

Then you can discuss how the problem prevents the ability to reach your realistic and achievable solution. It is what stands in the way of changing an issue for the better. Talk about the present state of affairs and how the problem impacts a person’s life, for example.

It’s helpful at this point to generally layout the present knowledge and understanding of the subject at hand, before then describing the gaps of knowledge that are currently in need of study. Your problem statement is a proposed solution to address one of these gaps.

A good problem statement will also layout the repercussions of leaving the problem as it currently stands. What is the significance of not addressing this problem? What are the possible future outcomes?

Example of Problem Statement in Research Proposal

If, for example , you intended to research the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the immune system , you would begin with a review of the current knowledge of vitamin D’s known function in relation to the immune system and how a deficiency of it impacts a person’s defenses.

You would describe the ideal environment in the body when there is a sufficient level of vitamin D. Then, begin to identify the problems associated with vitamin D deficiency and the difficulty of raising the level through supplementation, along with the consequences of that deficiency. Here you are beginning to identify the problem of a common deficiency and the current difficulty of increasing the level of vitamin D in the blood.

At this stage, you may begin to identify the problem and narrow it down in a way that is practical to a research project. Perhaps you are proposing a novel way of introducing Vitamin D in a way that allows for better absorption by the gut, or in a combination with another product that increases its level in the blood.

Describe the way your research in this area will contribute to the knowledge base on how to increase levels of vitamin D in a specific group of subjects, perhaps menopausal women with breast cancer. The research proposal is then described in practical terms.

How to write a problem statement in research?

Problem statements differ depending on the type and topic of research and vary between a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

However, the problem statement should not drag on needlessly. Despite the absence of a fixed format, a good research problem statement usually consists of three main parts:

Context: This section explains the background for your research. It identifies the problem and describes an ideal scenario that could exist in the absence of the problem. It also includes any past attempts and shortcomings at solving the problem.

Significance: This section defines how the problem prevents the ideal scenario from being achieved, including its negative impacts on the society or field of research. It should include who will be the most affected by a solution to the problem, the relevance of the study that you are proposing, and how it can contribute to the existing body of research.

Solution: This section describes the aim and objectives of your research, and your solution to overcome the problem. Finally, it need not focus on the perfect solution, but rather on addressing a realistic goal to move closer to the ideal scenario.

Here is a cheat sheet to help you with formulating a good problem statement.

1. Begin with a clear indication that the problem statement is going to be discussed next. You can start with a generic sentence like, “The problem that this study addresses…” This will inform your readers of what to expect next.

2. Next, mention the consequences of not solving the problem . You can touch upon who is or will be affected if the problem continues, and how.

3. Conclude with indicating the type of research /information that is needed to solve the problem. Be sure to reference authors who may have suggested the necessity of such research.

This will then directly lead to your proposed research objective and workplan and how that is expected to solve the problem i.e., close the research gap.

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3 Problem statement examples and steps to write your own


We’ve all encountered problems on the job. After all, that’s what a lot of work is about. Solving meaningful problems to help improve something. 

Developing a problem statement that provides a brief description of an issue you want to solve is an important early step in problem-solving .

It sounds deceptively simple. But creating an effective problem statement isn’t that easy, even for a genius like Albert Einstein. Given one hour to work on a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes finding solutions. (Or so the story goes.)

Einstein was probably exaggerating to make a point. But considering his success in solving complex problems, we think he was on to something. 

As humans, we’re wired to jump past the problem and go directly to the solution stage. In emergencies, this behavior can be lifesaving, as in leaping out of the way of a speeding car. But when dealing with longer-range issues in the workplace, this can lead to bad decisions or half-baked solutions. 

That’s where problem statements come in handy. They help to meaningfully outline objectives to reach effective solutions. Knowing how to develop a great problem statement is also a valuable tool for honing your management skills .

But what exactly is a problem statement, when should you use one, and how do you go about writing one? In this article, we'll answer those questions and give you some tips for writing effective problem statements. Then you'll be ready to take on more challenges large and small.

What is a problem statement?

First, let’s start by defining a problem statement. 

A problem statement is a short, clear explanation of an issue or challenge that sums up what you want to change. It helps you, team members, and other stakeholders to focus on the problem, why it’s important, and who it impacts. 

A good problem statement should create awareness and stimulate creative thinking . It should not identify a solution or create a bias toward a specific strategy.

Taking time to work on a problem statement is a great way to short-circuit the tendency to rush to solutions. It helps to make sure you’re focusing on the right problem and have a well-informed understanding of the root causes. The process can also help you take a more proactive than reactive approach to problem-solving . This can help position you and your team to avoid getting stuck in constant fire-fighting mode. That way, you can take advantage of more growth opportunities.  

When to use a problem statement

The best time to create a problem statement is before you start thinking of solutions. If you catch yourself or your team rushing to the solution stage when you’re first discussing a problem, hit the brakes. Go back and work on the statement of the problem to make sure everyone understands and agrees on what the real problem is. 

Here are some common situations where writing problem statements might come in handy: 

  • Writing an executive summary for a project proposal or research project
  • Collaborating   on a cross-functional project with several team members
  • Defining the customer issue that a proposed product or service aims to solve
  • Using design thinking to improve user experience
  • Tackling a problem that previous actions failed to solve 

How to identify a problem statement

Like the unseen body of an iceberg, the root cause of a specific problem isn’t always obvious. So when developing a problem statement, how do you go about identifying the true, underlying problem?

These two steps will help you uncover the root cause of a problem :

  • Collect information from the research and previous experience with the problem
  • Talk to multiple stakeholders who are impacted by the problem

People often perceive problems differently. Interviewing stakeholders will help you understand the problem from diverse points of view. It can also help you develop some case studies to illustrate the problem. 

Combining these insights with research data will help you identify root causes more accurately. In turn, this methodology will help you craft a problem statement that will lead to more viable solutions. 

What are problem statements used for?

You can use problem statements for a variety of purposes. For an organization, it might be solving customer and employee issues. For the government, it could be improving public health. For individuals, it can mean enhancing their own personal well-being . Generally, problem statements can be used to:

  • Identify opportunities for improvement
  • Focus on the right problems or issues to launch more successful initiatives – a common challenge in leadership
  • Help you communicate a problem to others who need to be involved in finding a solution
  • Serve as the basis for developing an action plan or goals that need to be accomplished to help solve the problem
  • Stimulate thinking outside the box  and other types of creative brainstorming techniques

3 examples of problem statements

When you want to be sure you understand a concept or tool, it helps to see an example. There can also be some differences in opinion about what a problem statement should look like. For instance, some frameworks include a proposed solution as part of the problem statement. But if the goal is to stimulate fresh ideas, it’s better not to suggest a solution within the problem statement. 

In our experience, an effective problem statement is brief, preferably one sentence. It’s also specific and descriptive without being prescriptive. 

Here are three problem statement examples. While these examples represent three types of problems or goals, keep in mind that there can be many other types of problem statements.        

Example Problem Statement 1: The Status Quo Problem Statement


The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons.

This can be used to describe a current pain point within an organization that may need to be addressed. Note that the statement specifies that the issue occurs during the company’s slow time as well as the busy season. This is helpful in performing the root cause analysis and determining how this problem can be solved. 

The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons. The company is currently understaffed and customer service representatives are overwhelmed.


Example company is facing a significant challenge in managing their customer service on-hold times. In the past, the company had been known for its efficient and timely customer service, but due to a combination of factors, including understaffing and increased customer demand, the on-hold times have exceeded five minutes consistently. This has resulted in frustration and dissatisfaction among customers, negatively impacting the company's reputation and customer loyalty.

Reducing the on-hold times for customer service callers is crucial for Example company. Prolonged waiting times have a detrimental effect on customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to potential customer churn and loss of revenue. Additionally, the company's declining reputation in terms of customer service can have a lasting impact on its competitive position in the market. Addressing this problem is of utmost importance to improve customer experience and maintain a positive brand image.


The primary objective of this project is to reduce the on-hold times for customer service callers at Example company. The specific objectives include:

  • Analyzing the current customer service workflow and identifying bottlenecks contributing to increased on-hold times.
  • Assessing the staffing levels and resource allocation to determine the extent of understaffing and its impact on customer service.
  • Developing strategies and implementing measures to optimize the customer service workflow and reduce on-hold times.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented measures through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as average on-hold time, customer satisfaction ratings, and customer feedback.
  • Establishing a sustainable approach to maintain reduced on-hold times, taking into account both busy and slow seasons, through proper resource planning, training, and process improvements.

Example Problem Statement 2: The Destination Problem Statement

Leaders at Example company want to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. 

This approach can be used to describe where an organization wants to be in the future. This type of problem statement is useful for launching initiatives to help an organization achieve its desired state. 

Like creating SMART goals , you want to be as specific as possible. Note that the statement specifies “net revenue” instead of “gross revenue." This will help keep options open for potential actions. It also makes it clear that merely increasing sales is not an acceptable solution if higher marketing costs offset the net gains. 

Leaders at Example company aim to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. However, the company currently lacks the necessary teams to tackle this objective effectively. To achieve this growth target, the company needs to expand its marketing and PR teams, as well as its product development teams, to prepare for scaling. 

Example company faces the challenge of generating a 5% increase in net revenue for its premium product line of widgets in the upcoming fiscal year. Currently, the company lacks the required workforce to drive this growth. Without adequate staff in the marketing, PR, and product development departments, the company's ability to effectively promote, position, and innovate its premium product line will be hindered. To achieve this kind of growth, it is essential that Example company expands teams, enhances capabilities, and strategically taps into the existing pool of loyal customers.

Increasing net revenue for the premium product line is crucial for Example company's overall business success. Failure to achieve the targeted growth rate can lead to missed revenue opportunities and stagnation in the market. By expanding the marketing and PR teams, Example company can strengthen its brand presence, effectively communicate the value proposition of its premium product line, and attract new customers.

Additionally, expanding the product development teams will enable the company to introduce new features and innovations, further enticing existing and potential customers. Therefore, addressing the workforce shortage and investing in the necessary resources are vital for achieving the revenue growth objective.

The primary objective of this project is to increase net revenue for Example company's premium product line of widgets by 5% in the next fiscal year. The specific objectives include:

  • Assessing the current workforce and identifying the gaps in the marketing, PR, and product development teams.
  • Expanding the marketing and PR teams by hiring skilled professionals who can effectively promote the premium product line and engage with the target audience.
  • Strengthening the product development teams by recruiting qualified individuals who can drive innovation, enhance product features, and meet customer demands.
  • Developing a comprehensive marketing and PR strategy to effectively communicate the value proposition of the premium product line and attract new customers.
  • Leveraging the existing base of loyal customers to increase repeat purchases, referrals, and brand advocacy.
  • Allocating sufficient resources, both time and manpower, to support the expansion and scaling efforts required to achieve the ambitious revenue growth target.
  • Monitoring and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as net revenue, customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer satisfaction to measure the success of the growth initiatives.
  • Establishing a sustainable plan to maintain the increased revenue growth beyond the next fiscal year by implementing strategies for continuous improvement and adaptation to market dynamics.

Example Problem Statement 3 The Stakeholder Problem Statement

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys , less than 30% of employees at Eample company stated that they feel valued by the company. This represents a 20% decline compared to the same period in the year prior. 

This strategy can be used to describe how a specific stakeholder group views the organization. It can be useful for exploring issues and potential solutions that impact specific groups of people. 

Note the statement makes it clear that the issue has been present in multiple surveys and it's significantly worse than the previous year. When researching root causes, the HR team will want to zero in on factors that changed since the previous year.

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys, less than 30% of employees at the Example company stated that they feel valued by the company. This indicates a significant decline of 20% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The company aspires to reduce this percentage further to under 10%. However, achieving this goal would require filling specialized roles and implementing substantial cultural changes within the organization.

Example company is facing a pressing issue regarding employee engagement and perceived value within the company. Over the past year, there has been a notable decline in the percentage of employees who feel valued. This decline is evident in the results of the quarterly employee engagement surveys, which consistently show less than 30% of employees reporting a sense of value by the company.

This decline of 20% compared to the previous year's data signifies a concerning trend. To address this problem effectively, Example company needs to undertake significant measures that go beyond superficial changes and necessitate filling specialized roles and transforming the company culture.

Employee engagement and a sense of value are crucial for organizational success. When employees feel valued, they tend to be more productive, committed, and motivated. Conversely, a lack of perceived value can lead to decreased morale, increased turnover rates, and diminished overall performance.

By addressing the decline in employees feeling valued, Example company can improve employee satisfaction, retention, and ultimately, overall productivity. Achieving the desired reduction to under 10% is essential to restore a positive work environment and build a culture of appreciation and respect.

The primary objective of this project is to increase the percentage of employees who feel valued by Example company, aiming to reduce it to under 10%. The specific objectives include:

  • Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the factors contributing to the decline in employees feeling valued, including organizational policies, communication practices, leadership styles, and cultural norms.
  • Identifying and filling specialized roles, such as employee engagement specialists or culture change agents, who can provide expertise and guidance in fostering a culture of value and appreciation.
  • Developing a holistic employee engagement strategy that encompasses various initiatives, including training programs, recognition programs, feedback mechanisms, and communication channels, to enhance employee value perception.
  • Implementing cultural changes within the organization that align with the values of appreciation, respect, and recognition, while fostering an environment where employees feel valued.
  • Communicating the importance of employee value and engagement throughout all levels of the organization, including leadership teams, managers, and supervisors, to ensure consistent messaging and support.
  • Monitoring progress through regular employee surveys, feedback sessions, and key performance indicators (KPIs) related to employee satisfaction, turnover rates, and overall engagement levels.
  • Providing ongoing support, resources, and training to managers and supervisors to enable them to effectively recognize and appreciate their teams and foster a culture of value within their respective departments.
  • Establishing a sustainable framework for maintaining high employee value perception in the long term, including regular evaluation and adaptation of employee engagement initiatives to address evolving needs and expectations.


What are the 5 components of a problem statement?

In developing a problem statement, it helps to think like a journalist by focusing on the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why or how. Keep in mind that every statement may not explicitly include each component. But asking these questions is a good way to make sure you’re covering the key elements:

  • Who: Who are the stakeholders that are affected by the problem?
  • What: What is the current state, desired state, or unmet need? 
  • When: When is the issue occurring or what is the timeframe involved?
  • Where: Where is the problem occurring? For example, is it in a specific department, location, or region?
  • Why: Why is this important or worth solving? How is the problem impacting your customers, employees, other stakeholders, or the organization? What is the magnitude of the problem? How large is the gap between the current and desired state? 

How do you write a problem statement?

There are many frameworks designed to help people write a problem statement. One example is outlined in the book, The Conclusion Trap: Four Steps to Better Decisions, ” by Daniel Markovitz. A faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, the author uses many case studies from his work as a business consultant.

To simplify the process, we’ve broken it down into three steps:

1. Gather data and observe

Use data from research and reports, as well as facts from direct observation to answer the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. 

Whenever possible, get out in the field and talk directly with stakeholders impacted by the problem. Get a firsthand look at the work environment and equipment. This may mean spending time on the production floor asking employees questions about their work and challenges. Or taking customer service calls to learn more about customer pain points and problems your employees may be grappling with.    

2. Frame the problem properly  

A well-framed problem will help you avoid cognitive bias and open avenues for discussion. It will also encourage the exploration of more options.

A good way to test a problem statement for bias is to ask questions like these:

3. Keep asking why (and check in on the progress)

When it comes to problem-solving, stay curious. Lean on your growth mindset to keep asking why — and check in on the progress. 

Asking why until you’re satisfied that you’ve uncovered the root cause of the problem will help you avoid ineffective band-aid solutions.

What to avoid when writing a problem statement

When crafting a problem statement, it's essential to communicate the issue clearly and effectively. A well-formulated problem statement sets the stage for understanding and addressing the challenge at hand. However, there are common pitfalls that can undermine its clarity and purpose. Here's what you should avoid:

  • Vagueness : Be specific about the problem and its context.
  • Complexity : Keep the language simple and direct.
  • Overgeneralization : Avoid broad statements that don’t address specific issues.
  • Assumptions : Don’t presume solutions or causes without evidence.
  • Jargon : Use clear, accessible language that can be understood by all stakeholders.

Refining your problem statements

When solving any sort of problem, there’s likely a slew of questions that might arise for you. In order to holistically understand the root cause of the problem at hand, your workforce needs to stay curious. 

An effective problem statement creates the space you and your team need to explore, gain insight, and get buy-in before taking action.

If you have embarked on a proposed solution, it’s also important to understand that solutions are malleable. There may be no single best solution. Solutions can change and adapt as external factors change, too. It’s more important than ever that organizations stay agile . This means that interactive check-ins are critical to solving tough problems. By keeping a good pulse on your course of action, you’ll be better equipped to pivot when the time comes to change. 

BetterUp can help. With access to virtual coaching , your people can get personalized support to help solve tough problems of the future.

Enhance your problem-solving skills

Discover effective strategies and personalized guidance to tackle complex challenges with confidence.

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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  • Marketing Essentials

How to Do Market Research, Types, and Example

examples of problem definition in marketing research

Joules Garcia / Investopedia

What Is Market Research?

Market research examines consumer behavior and trends in the economy to help a business develop and fine-tune its business idea and strategy. It helps a business understand its target market by gathering and analyzing data.

Market research is the process of evaluating the viability of a new service or product through research conducted directly with potential customers. It allows a company to define its target market and get opinions and other feedback from consumers about their interest in a product or service.

Research may be conducted in-house or by a third party that specializes in market research. It can be done through surveys and focus groups, among other ways. Test subjects are usually compensated with product samples or a small stipend for their time.

Key Takeaways

  • Companies conduct market research before introducing new products to determine their appeal to potential customers.
  • Tools include focus groups, telephone interviews, and questionnaires.
  • The results of market research inform the final design of the product and determine how it will be positioned in the marketplace.
  • Market research usually combines primary information, gathered directly from consumers, and secondary information, which is data available from external sources.

Market Research

How market research works.

Market research is used to determine the viability of a new product or service. The results may be used to revise the product design and fine-tune the strategy for introducing it to the public. This can include information gathered for the purpose of determining market segmentation . It also informs product differentiation , which is used to tailor advertising.

A business engages in various tasks to complete the market research process. It gathers information based on the market sector being targeted by the product. This information is then analyzed and relevant data points are interpreted to draw conclusions about how the product may be optimally designed and marketed to the market segment for which it is intended.

It is a critical component in the research and development (R&D) phase of a new product or service introduction. Market research can be conducted in many different ways, including surveys, product testing, interviews, and focus groups.

Market research is a critical tool that companies use to understand what consumers want, develop products that those consumers will use, and maintain a competitive advantage over other companies in their industry.

Primary Market Research vs. Secondary Market Research

Market research usually consists of a combination of:

  • Primary research, gathered by the company or by an outside company that it hires
  • Secondary research, which draws on external sources of data

Primary Market Research

Primary research generally falls into two categories: exploratory and specific research.

  • Exploratory research is less structured and functions via open-ended questions. The questions may be posed in a focus group setting, telephone interviews, or questionnaires. It results in questions or issues that the company needs to address about a product that it has under development.
  • Specific research delves more deeply into the problems or issues identified in exploratory research.

Secondary Market Research

All market research is informed by the findings of other researchers about the needs and wants of consumers. Today, much of this research can be found online.

Secondary research can include population information from government census data , trade association research reports , polling results, and research from other businesses operating in the same market sector.

History of Market Research

Formal market research began in Germany during the 1920s. In the United States, it soon took off with the advent of the Golden Age of Radio.

Companies that created advertisements for this new entertainment medium began to look at the demographics of the audiences who listened to each of the radio plays, music programs, and comedy skits that were presented.

They had once tried to reach the widest possible audience by placing their messages on billboards or in the most popular magazines. With radio programming, they had the chance to target rural or urban consumers, teenagers or families, and judge the results by the sales numbers that followed.

Types of Market Research

Face-to-face interviews.

From their earliest days, market research companies would interview people on the street about the newspapers and magazines that they read regularly and ask whether they recalled any of the ads or brands that were published in them. Data collected from these interviews were compared to the circulation of the publication to determine the effectiveness of those ads.

Market research and surveys were adapted from these early techniques.

To get a strong understanding of your market, it’s essential to understand demand, market size, economic indicators, location, market saturation, and pricing.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a small number of representative consumers chosen to try a product or watch an advertisement.

Afterward, the group is asked for feedback on their perceptions of the product, the company’s brand, or competing products. The company then takes that information and makes decisions about what to do with the product or service, whether that's releasing it, making changes, or abandoning it altogether.

Phone Research

The man-on-the-street interview technique soon gave way to the telephone interview. A telephone interviewer could collect information in a more efficient and cost-effective fashion.

Telephone research was a preferred tactic of market researchers for many years. It has become much more difficult in recent years as landline phone service dwindles and is replaced by less accessible mobile phones.

Survey Research

As an alternative to focus groups, surveys represent a cost-effective way to determine consumer attitudes without having to interview anyone in person. Consumers are sent surveys in the mail, usually with a coupon or voucher to incentivize participation. These surveys help determine how consumers feel about the product, brand, and price point.

Online Market Research

With people spending more time online, market research activities have shifted online as well. Data collection still uses a survey-style form. But instead of companies actively seeking participants by finding them on the street or cold calling them on the phone, people can choose to sign up, take surveys, and offer opinions when they have time.

This makes the process far less intrusive and less rushed, since people can participate on their own time and of their own volition.

How to Conduct Market Research

The first step to effective market research is to determine the goals of the study. Each study should seek to answer a clear, well-defined problem. For example, a company might seek to identify consumer preferences, brand recognition, or the comparative effectiveness of different types of ad campaigns.

After that, the next step is to determine who will be included in the research. Market research is an expensive process, and a company cannot waste resources collecting unnecessary data. The firm should decide in advance which types of consumers will be included in the research, and how the data will be collected. They should also account for the probability of statistical errors or sampling bias .

The next step is to collect the data and analyze the results. If the two previous steps have been completed accurately, this should be straightforward. The researchers will collect the results of their study, keeping track of the ages, gender, and other relevant data of each respondent. This is then analyzed in a marketing report that explains the results of their research.

The last step is for company executives to use their market research to make business decisions. Depending on the results of their research, they may choose to target a different group of consumers, or they may change their price point or some product features.

The results of these changes may eventually be measured in further market research, and the process will begin all over again.

Benefits of Market Research

Market research is essential for developing brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. Since it is unlikely for a product to appeal equally to every consumer, a strong market research program can help identify the key demographics and market segments that are most likely to use a given product.

Market research is also important for developing a company’s advertising efforts. For example, if a company’s market research determines that its consumers are more likely to use Facebook than X (formerly Twitter), it can then target its advertisements to one platform instead of another. Or, if they determine that their target market is value-sensitive rather than price-sensitive, they can work on improving the product rather than reducing their prices.

Market research only works when subjects are honest and open to participating.

Example of Market Research

Many companies use market research to test new products or get information from consumers about what kinds of products or services they need and don’t currently have.

For example, a company that’s considering starting a business might conduct market research to test the viability of its product or service. If the market research confirms consumer interest, the business can proceed confidently with its business plan . If not, the company can use the results of the market research to make adjustments to the product to bring it in line with customer desires.

What Are the Main Types of Market Research?

The main types of market research are primary research and secondary research. Primary research includes focus groups, polls, and surveys. Secondary research includes academic articles, infographics, and white papers.

Qualitative research gives insights into how customers feel and think. Quantitative research uses data and statistics such as website views, social media engagement, and subscriber numbers.

What Is Online Market Research?

Online market research uses the same strategies and techniques as traditional primary and secondary market research, but it is conducted on the Internet. Potential customers may be asked to participate in a survey or give feedback on a product. The responses may help the researchers create a profile of the likely customer for a new product.

What Are Paid Market Research Surveys?

Paid market research involves rewarding individuals who agree to participate in a study. They may be offered a small payment for their time or a discount coupon in return for filling out a questionnaire or participating in a focus group.

What Is a Market Study?

A market study is an analysis of consumer demand for a product or service. It looks at all of the factors that influence demand for a product or service. These include the product’s price, location, competition, and substitutes as well as general economic factors that could influence the new product’s adoption, for better or worse.

The Bottom Line

Market research is a key component of a company’s research and development (R&D) stage. It helps companies understand in advance the viability of a new product that they have in development and to see how it might perform in the real world.

Britannica Money. “ Market Research .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Market Research and Competitive Analysis .”

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examples of problem definition in marketing research

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How to Write a Marketing Research Objective

We all know the old adage: is marketing is an art or a science?

At Seer, we think it’s both. But not necessarily both at the same time. We believe the better question is: which comes first in marketing, art or science?

And if you ask us that question, we’d tell you it’s a science first.

"The science of marketing is all about using data and insights to drive your strategy. The art of marketing is how you express that strategy."

Now that we know we are starting with science, what does that mean exactly?

Well, remember when you were in school and you had to come up with your own science research experiment? Remember what came first? The objective. Why? Because without an objective, you don’t have a testable proposition. And without a testable proposition, you don’t have direction. And we all know that when research doesn’t have a direction, it typically doesn’t garner any groundbreaking takeaways.

So, what does your high school science experiment have to do with marketing research?

Similar to the traditional objective, a great marketing research plan starts with a strong objective. One that is focused, measurable, and effective. Without a clear objective, your marketing research will not be as successful. 

What is a Marketing Research Objective?

[TIP] By definition, a "Research Objective" is a statement of purpose that outlines a specific result to achieve within a dedicated time frame and available resources.

Applying this logic to marketing, a marketing research objective is a statement that outlines what you want to know about your customer. Clearly defining your objective at the beginning stages will help you avoid conflicting expectations or wasted collecting irrelevant data. 

How Do You Create a Marketing Research Objective?

Start at the end. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if you start with the desired outcome, you will be able to create a more focused objective. What’s the one thing you want to be able to take away from this research? What do you plan to do with the information? What does success look like? Use this objective as your compass while you navigate your research and analysis. 

Typically, it’s easiest to do this in the form of a question. Here are a few examples.

  • Example 1: Which features in Product X are most important to our Enterprise customers? 

This question will give you a list of features, in order of importance, for your Enterprise customer. 

  • Example 2: What are the different search triggers amongst our four customer segments? 

This question will result in a list of common factors that result in users searching for Service Y. 

When you start seeing all the data points, behaviors, and survey responses - curiosity can set in.

An abundance of data can pull you in multiple directions because each finding is interesting in its own right. That’s when your objective comes in. Know the end result you are working toward and stay on that path.

Creating a Research Objective

Once you’ve got your desired outcome, you’ll want to create your objective. A few things to consider as you create your statement: 

  • Where does this fit into your marketing strategy? Where does this objective fit into your larger marketing strategy? Not only is this helpful when dispersing information internally or getting buy-in, it keeps the research team focused on the higher business objectives attached to this research. Is this part of your company’s focus on brand awareness? A new product launch? An analysis of competitors? These are all very different things. 
  • Include your target audience. Typically, it’s difficult to understand everything with every user segment so pick which segment you plan to analyze. Is it your Enterprise customers? Customers living in a specific region? A certain demographic segment? Including this in your objective will be a helpful gut check when choosing participants. 
  • What will you measure? You don’t need to list out all of the data points you plan to measure, but there should be some measurable element in your objective. Is it sentiment? Are you looking for frequencies? What about behavioral trends? Including this in your objective will ensure you pick the most appropriate research methodology to acquire that measurable element. 
  • A behavior. What is the behavior or action that we are going to be researching? Is navigating your website? Is it purchasing a product? Is it clicking on an ad? 

Let’s look at some examples: 

marketing research objective

Common Marketing Research Objective Pitfalls

While creating an objective may seem relatively straightforward, it can be easy to get wrong. Let’s go over some of the common pitfalls.

Objective is Too Broad

Now, if you follow the outline above, this shouldn’t be an issue because it forces you to get granular with your objective. 

  • Specific: As part of our rebranding, we are conducting a sentiment analysis with our recurring customers 
  • Broad: As part of our rebranding, we will ask customers how they feel about it

We want to avoid broad objectives because they can allow curiosity to get the best of us and a once seemingly clear research project can get muddied. 

More Than One Objective

Every research project should have one objective and one objective only. Again, while this may seem easy enough to manage, you’d be surprised just how easy it is to sneak those secondary and tertiary objectives into your statement. 

  • One objective: We aim to understand what questions our customers have when considering purchasing a car 
  • Two objectives: We aim to understand what questions our customers have when searching for and considering a car 

You see, the questions customers may have when searching for a car could be completely different than the questions they have when considering purchasing a car. 

Making Assumptions

Avoid making your objective into a hypothesis with absolute statements and assumptions. Your objective should be more of a question than a prediction. That comes later. 

  • Objective: Uncover the purchase journey of our target demographic
  • Assumption: Uncover what part search plays in the purchase journey of our target demographic

This looks unsuspecting, but in reality, we're already assuming that search plays a role in our audience's journey. That could sway the focus of the research.  

Once you’ve created your objective, let it (and only it) drive the beginning stages of your marketing research.

Write it on a post-it and stick it on your desk, write it on the whiteboard at every meeting you have, keep it top of mind as you continue your research. It will serve as a compass and help you avoid being led astray by interesting data, curious colleagues, and conflicting agendas. 

More Tips for Understanding Your Audience

Check back on the Seer blog for the next installment from our Audience team. Sign up for our newsletter to read the latest blogs on audience, SEO, PPC, and more. 

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