Different research situations will affect first three steps of the marketing research process in different ways and with different results. To illustrate this, in the following we discuss four types of research situations (1) more clearly describing an apparent problem; (2) identifying a potential opportunity; (3) developing a marketing plan and (4) choosing between specific alternatives.
Describing an Apparent Problem:
In many cases it is not easy to envision all factors that may have a bearing on an apparent problem. Consider the company faced with a decline in its sales. What researcher can list all possible causes of the decline and then put them in the order of their probable importance?
Specifying the objectives of the Research:
Any research undertaken in such a situation must have as its objective the discovery of the cause of the sales decline. This may not be easy, because a sales decline may result from any number of factors, including declining market demand, increased competition loss of cooperation from distributions and dealers, high prices problems with product quality ineffective promotions, and still other things. Initially, researchers will probably have to look into most of the possible causes and gather any evidence that might help identify the cause of the sales decline.
Listing the needed Information:
Because of the many possible causes of a sales decline, it is likely that researchers and managers will be able to come up with a well specified list of needed information. Instead researchers are likely to be given the instructions to find the cause of the sales decline and gather whatever information is necessary to do so.
Data collection can be very structured or they can be quite unstructured. A structured project is one that uses a list of very specific questions that must be asked in the exact order in which they appear on a questionnaire. The researcher asking the questions does not have the freedom to change the wording of the questions or the order in which the questions are asked.
An unstructured research project is based upon some general topics or questions the researcher wishes to investigate. The topics and questions may not be in any specific order; and, in fact the researchers will probably be free to change the questions and/or the order in which they are raised, if the line of investigation indicates that it may be useful do so.
In situations concerned with more clearly defining an apparent problem, it is quite possible that the researchers will not use a structured data-collection project. Rather because researchers will want to get ideas from as many useful sources as possible, they may undertake a series of unstructured investigations.
The first thing they might do is research among secondary sources, including all applicable company records. They could also discuss the problem with knowledge individuals within the company, and with long established distributors and dealers to gather information about demand competition distribution, prices and product quality. They could use unstructured interviewers with customers and potential customers to identify what effects product quality prices, and promotions have had on their recent purchase decisions. When they have collected as many tentative explanations of the sales decline as they can, the researches are better able to set up hypotheses that might then be investigated further. At that point the researchers might undertake more structured data collection projects.
Example: A producer of commercial laundry equipment experienced declining sales. The management was worried that the product had declined in quality or price appeal relative to competitors. A research firm charted the company’s sales and the industry’s sales over the past 10 year period. Company sales had gone down, but the industry’s sales had declined more rapidly. This changed the whole line of thinking as to the problem. Instead of suffering from competition within its industry, the firm was losing business as a result of a declining market. The investigation then turned in the direction of finding new products with growth potential.–