Design of Exploratory Studies

Because the object of an exploratory study is to find new hypothesis, flexibility and ingenuity characterize the investigation. As they proceed with the investigation researchers must be on alert to recognize new ideas. They can then swing their search in the new direction until they have exhausted it or have found a better idea. Thus, they may be constantly changing the focus of investigation as new possibilities come to their attention.

Formal design is conspicuous by its absence in exploratory studies. The imagination of the researcher is the key factor. However, three lines of attack may aid in finding hypothesis of value: (1) study of secondary sources of information; (2) survey of individuals who are apt to have ideas on the general subject and (3) analysis of selected cases.

Study of Secondary Data:

Probably the quickest and most economical way for researchers to find possible hypothesis is to take advantage of the work of others and utilize their own earlier efforts. Most large companies that have maintained marketing research programs over a number of years have accumulated significant libraries of research relating to their marketing activities. Reports from research organizations furnishing continuing data (for example, Nielsen reports on sales of branded products and American Research Bureau TV audience measures): trade associations sales data; and company records, such as those kept for accounting and sales analysis are other fruitful sources. There is now a large volume of basic research reported in professional and trade journals and in government documents that may stimulate hypotheses. These sources are often maintained in company libraries; and they are otherwise available in public libraries as are more general books, newspaper and government documents. In a relatively short time, researchers can scan a large volume of published and unpublished ideas and data.

A large food manufacturer furnishes an example of exploratory research based on study of secondary data. To get a particular network radio show that it wanted, this manufacturer had to take stations in markets in which it was already advertising as much as apparent potential warranted. In studying Nielsen data on sales in all markets, the marketing research director of this firm noted that sales had shown significant gains in those markets in which the new radio show caused an overspending in advertising. From this experience came the hypothesis that larger advertising expenditures early would be profitable in all markets. Conclusive research of an experimental type substantiated the hypothesis, and advertising was increased from 5.6 percent to 9.3 percent of sales. Within three years, the firm’s market share rose percentage points to 50 percent.

A survey of secondary data can be expedited if it is organized. The fact that the exploratory study has no formal design and that investigators exercise their individual initiative in spotting a following leads does not man that such a study is done in an aimless manner. Enough is known about marketing so that major areas that frequently are worth investigating ca be identified. Also, available are any ideas and indexes that investigators can use to help locate published (and some unpublished) materials.

Current developments are changing the traditional character of secondary data searches. Electronic data processing systems now make it possible to store large quantities of data and to retrieve such data rapidly with automated search techniques. At the same time the quantity of secondary data of the types both internal and external to the make a much larger volume of secondary data operationally available to the researchers. In fact, one can often be engulfed by the sheer volume of data available, and it becomes important to find the most pertinent data while discarding the rest.