Descriptive Studies

When a marketing executive makes a decision, one course of action is being selected from among a number available. The alternatives may be as few as two or virtually unlimited; they may be well defined or only vaguely glimpsed. Conclusive research provides information that helps the executive make a rational decision. In some instances, particularly if an experiment is run, the research may come close to specifying the precise alternative to choose; in other cases, especially with descriptive studies, the research will only partially clarify the situation and much will be left to the executive’s judgment.

Conclusive research studies can be classified as either descriptive or experimental. The following discussion is organized on that basis.

Before World War II the American beer market was dominated by dark, German style beers. The Miller Brewing Company decided to make its product distinctive by brewing a light-colored, light weight beer and offering it as a premium beer with a higher price.

The Champagne of bottled beer was designed for the affluent, the occasional drinkers and women. The beer was sold only in bottles and, consequently drunk at home. The beer and the glass were amber, and the beer was more bubbly.

Over the next couple of decades the whole industry went to light color beers comparable to Miller’s. With its distinction eroded Miller fell from fifth to around eighth place in market share.

American beer companies were dominated by the brew master mentality. They were more concerned about the fine points of product quality than what actual values beer drinkers were getting from their products. In fact, most American beer drinkers cannot tell one brand of beer from another. Taste is not only important factor to choosing beer.

Miller investigated the American beer drinker and discovered that the heavy users were young male, and highly concentrated in the blue-collar occupations. They drank at a bar, not at home, and drank with his buddies from the job and not with his wife.

It is estimated that the top 20 percent of the drinkers consume 90 percent of all beer, and that as much as 65 percent of the adult population does not drink at all.

Miller paid attention to its market research and threw out the champagne concept. They created Miller High Life and aggressively went after the heavy user market. Gradually, Miller moved up to third and [then] second place to challenge Budweiser for market leadership.

The research done by Miller Beer was conclusive of a descriptive type. They obtained a description of heavy beer drinkers and found they accounted for 90 percent of the market. On the basis of this information, they designed their product and marketing program to target on that market.

Descriptive studies, as their name implies, are designed to describe something for example the characteristics of users of a given product; the degree to which product use varies with income, age, sex, or other characteristics; or the number who saw a specific television commercial. A majority of marketing research studies are of this type.

Despite the emphasis on descriptive, it should not be concluded that such studies should be simply fact expeditions. Unfortunately, it is relatively easy to start a descriptive study with the vague thought that the data collected will be interesting. As a result many descriptive studies are made with only hazy objectives and with inadequate planning. Much of the data collected in such studies turns out to be useless. Descriptive studies of this type, in which there is no clear hypothesis, are actually more exploratory than they are conclusive. If such studies are conceived and conducted as exploratory projects, equal or better information can usually be obtained at smaller cost.