That branch of marketing concerned with gathering data about consumers, markets and organizations, and the analysis of such data to support management decision-making. Typical applications include demand forecasting, product testing, price setting, willingness-to-pay studies, advertisement copy testing and advertising evaluation. Professional market researchers emphasize the systematic nature of data gathering and the need for formal and objective analysis. This is achieved through a four-stage research design:
specification of the management goals;
development of a data collection procedure;
sampling plan and data collection, and
data analysis and reporting.
Many data collection procedures are available, notably: focus groups, in-depth interviews, large-scale surveys, consumer panels, and experiments. Some procedures generate qualitative data (e.g. verbatim comments from a focus group), others provide quantitative data, e.g. tabulations from a large-scale survey. The type of data has implications for analysis and reporting. Quantitative data can be analysed using statistical and mathematical techniques, from simple descriptive statistics to multivariate data analysis (factor analysis, cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling, regression, analysis of variance, path analysis). These techniques are formal in the sense of having agreed rules and conventions (e.g. in regard to appropriate levels of significance when using a statistical test), although the analyst must take into account how the data were obtained (whether from a random sample or stratified sample, say) and make quite a few subjective decisions (choices about the technique, the algorithm, the variables to include, etc.). validity. With qualitative data, the content must be interpreted by the analyst, and while this sounds very subjective, various principles and guidelines now exist. There is a tendency to classify marketing research as either ‘quant’ or ‘qual’, but in practice a management problem may demand both and adopt a pluralistic approach. Thus, an initial exploratory study (‘qual’) might be followed by a more extensive survey (‘qual’). qualitative market research; quantitative market research.
Ethical standards and rules governing interviewing protocols, data protection, privacy, ‘sugging’ (selling in the guise of conducting marketing research) are embodied in industry codes of practice. However, not all marketing research is collected by industry professionals. Managers will have access to internal sources, company records, customer files, feedback from the sales staff, advice from consultants, and — possibly — industrial espionage. The value of these other sources has to be weighed against questions of their reliability, representativeness, unbiasedness, and also the ethics of the methods used to collect the information.