One of the general types of exploratory research is the case method. This research method has long been considered soft or non-scientific, but with the modern surge in qualitative research the case method has received more attention indeed, the case method might be considered one variation of the survey of individuals with ideas. It involves the comprehensive study of one, or a few specific situations and lends itself particularly to the study of complex situations in which the interrelations of several individuals are important, for example the effective management of distributor relations or what constitutes good marketing management. More precisely, a case study in marketing may be defined as:
The empirical study of a marketing situation within its actual context when the situation is some what obscure and multiple sources of evidence is used.
Whether one situation or unit is examined or multiple units are examined, the process is called the case method, and each unit is called a case. The emphasis is on obtaining a complete description and understanding of the relationships among factors in each instance regardless of the number involved.
Depth interviews were described as one type of exploratory research. One depth interview of a consumer might well be considered a case study, but the term case is seldom applied to depth interviews. Moreover, while we consider the case method applicable to both exploratory and conclusive research, it is most used in the former category.
Use of case Method: Case studies are of particular value when one is seeking help on a problem in which interrelationships of a number of factors are involved, and in which it is difficult it understand the individual factors without considering their relationships with each other. For example independent wholesalers are constantly trying to improve their operations to enable their retail store customers to compete with chain stores. The case method might be applied to this problem. One researcher who has made such a study comments:
[This] study is the first of a series of a case studies designed to fill the gap on delivery cost data at the wholesale level. Subsequent discussions with other firms indicate that a number of the findings in [this] study general application through out the industry.
Case Method Design: The design of a research project is the plan that ties the data collected to the questions or hypothesis posed and, thus ties the data to the conclusion that will be drawn.
Analogy is the method of analysis most applicable in the case method. Cases collected are typically studies to find three factors: (1) features common to all cases in the general group; (2) features not common to all cases but common to certain sub-groups (for example, the successful units); and (3) features unique to a specific case, perhaps the outstanding unit.
Hypotheses are formulated from comparisons of these similarities and differences. In some instance, the investigator is most interested in the first two groups of factors – those common to all in the class or those common to all in a subclass. For example, in a study of sales forces, investigators would be interested in those activities common to all salesmen or to all in certain subgroups, such as those on commission, those older than 50 years, or those with college educations. If grocery stores are being studied, the investigator may seek the characteristics common only to the profitable stores and the characteristics common to the unprofitable stores. In such a study, good housekeeping was found common to virtually all stores, but good stock control procedures were found only to the subclass of profitable stores.
If the researcher tries to select a representative sample of units for case studies, she then tends to compute averages and frequency distributions. When these methods of analysis are used, the method becomes statistical rather than case.
Design of case studies then, is based on the specific objectives of the study and is in a major way a question of good judgment in selecting cases to be studied. It is important to keep in mind that the objective of data collection in case research is not quantification but understanding. —