Exploratory Research

The objectives of exploratory research are:

1. To establish, a classification of marketing research projects into two main categories: exploratory research and conclusive research.
2. To define and describe exploratory research.
3. To explain two main uses of exploratory research.
4. To describe the three different exploratory research designs.
5. To describe the proper use of focus groups in exploratory research and to clarify their limitations.
6. To describe the case study method, its uses and its limitations.

Despite the difficulty of establishing an entirely satisfactory classification system, it is helpful to classify marketing research projects on the basis of the fundamental objectives of the research. Consideration of the different types, their applicability, their strengths and their weaknesses will help the student to select the type best suited to a specific problem The two general types of research are: (1) exploratory and (2) conclusive.

These terms are not generally used by marketing practitioners, who tend to use the terms qualitative and quantitative instead of exploratory and conclusive. But the terms qualitative and quantitative suggest the character of the data and the process by which they are gathered rather than the fundamental objectives of the research. We believe the terminology used here is more useful in guiding research planning. Exploratory research seeks to discover new relationships, while conclusive research is designed to help executives choose among various possible courses of action that is, make decisions.

Each of these two general types of research can be subdivided as follows:

Exploratory research:

1. Search of secondary data
2. Survey of knowledgeable persons
3. Case study

Conclusive Research:

1. Descriptive research
2. Case study
3. Statistical study
4. Experimentation

The following discuss is organized according to the above classification.

Exploratory Research Looks for Hypotheses: In well established fields of study hypotheses usually are drawn from ideas developed or glimpsed in pervious research studies or are derived from theory. Hypotheses are tentative answers to questions that serve as guides for most research projects. For example, a candy manufacturer, on the basis of experience, might state a hypothesis that consumers will prefer crushed peanuts instead of whole peanuts in a particular candy bar. Research could then be used to determine if the hypothesis was correct.

Too little is known however about consumer reaction to marketing stimuli to permit the formulation of sound hypotheses in many specific situations. As a result much marketing research is of an exploratory nature; emphasis is placed of finding hypotheses relative to new products or, marketing practices that can be changed profitably.

Use of exploratory Research:

It was clear during the summer of 1985 that significant changes were occurring in the home entertainment marketplace and that pay TV was no longer the hottest game in town (said the research director of the cable Television Administration and Marketing Society Inc).

The committee felt that a better understanding of the key factors affecting pay TV, as well as an examination of programmers and ad operators marketing strategies, would contribute to improved marketing of cable TV.

Executives in the cable television industry were uneasy with developments in the industry, but they had no specific ideas as to what they should do. Exploratory research was undertaken to develop some specific hypotheses relative to possible actions.

Exploratory research usually results when a researcher is called in by a manager or client who says ‘we’re not getting the sales volume we think we should. What’s wrong?’ Or as in the cable television example, a manager may sense that changes are taking place in the market that may open an opportunity for a new product or create a problem for an established product. He wants help in deciding what actions to take. Exploratory research is a natural step.

Under such circumstances the researchers may guess at a number of factors the product may be inferior in quality or style, the wrong channels of distribution may be used, the number of sales representatives in the field may be too few the advertising appeals may not be the best and so on. As in the TV example, executives may be prepared to look anywhere for new ideas.

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