Types of Marketing Research and their Application

Research can be categorized either on the basis of technique (surveys, experiments, observation studies, etc) or on the basis of purpose. We will look at the techniques in the subsequent chapters. Now let us focus on the 3 methods of doing Marketing Research based on purpose:

  1. Exploratory

    As the name implies, exploratory research is the initial exploration done to get an idea and insights into the problem. Research is a relatively expensive process; exploratory research ensures that this process is not initiated without a thorough understanding of the problem. This study is qualitative (understanding the concept) rather than quantitative (providing precise measurement). Also, this type of research does not give conclusive evidence and subsequent research needs to be done.

    Further, the following purposes justify the use of exploratory research:

    • Diagnosing a Situation: Sometimes, companies have a situation at hand, but do not know how to define it clearly. This prohibits action to be taken. One reason for using it is to identify the exact nature of the business problem, but exploratory research is limited only to this. Successive descriptive or experimental research needs to be carried out to craft the action plan.

    • Screening Alternatives: Consider a situation where there are several options, but budget restrictions do not allow implementation of all of them. Exploratory research helps choose the best alternatives in this case.

    • Uncovering New Ideas: Many a times, consumers do not know what they need which is especially true in case of technology. Prior to the invention of the first smart phone in the early nineties, an average person did not feel the need for it or understand how pervasive the device would become. Exploratory research is used in cases like this to induce new ideas.

    A widely used method for executing exploratory research for this purpose is Concept Testing. Here, target consumers are introduced to an idea and asked how they feel about it, whether they are likely to use it, etc. It tests the likeability or acceptability of the new product before investing in its research and development.

  2. Descriptive

    This type of research is used when there is some comprehension of the problem, objectives are defined and the research questions are clearly formulated. Contrary to exploratory research, the proof descriptive research provides is used for formulating action plans. It helps answer the questions ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’, but not ‘why’.

    Descriptive research typically gives a detailed account of the characteristics or behaviour of a population. Hence the research work usually involves some element of consumer profiling and market segmentation.

  3. Experimental

    Experimental studies demonstrate cause and effect relationships. They try to decipher the outcome marketing actions might have. For example, it is used when the purpose is to determine the impact of increase in price on usage.

    This research is used in succession to exploratory and descriptive research and hence sufficient knowledge is gained on the topic by then. Experimental research is also popularly known as causal research.

The extent of uncertainty also affects what type of method should be chosen. The more well defined the situation is, the more the research agency will move from exploratory to descriptive to experimental research.

Degree of Problem Interpretation

The following cases will further help understand the significance of each type of research:

  Exploratory Research
(Unaware of Problem)
Descriptive Research
(Aware of Problem)
Causal Research
(Clearly Defined Problem)
Time of Study Initial Phase Later phase of decision making Later phase of decision making
Approach Unstructured Structured Highly Structured
  • Our sales are declining and we don’t know why
  • Would people be interested in our new product idea?
  • What kinds of people are buying our product? Who is buying our competitor’s product?
  • What features do consumers prefer in our product?
  • Will buyers purchase more of our products in a new package?
  • Which of two advertising campaigns is more effective?

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