How do successful companies learn what their customers value? Through marketing research, companies can be sure they are listening to the voice of the customer. Marketing research is the process of planning, collecting, and analyzing data relevant to a marketing decision. The results of this analysis are then communicated to management. The information collected through marketing research includes the preferences of customers, the perceived benefits of products, and consumer lifestyles. Research helps companies make better use of their marketing budgets. Marketing research has a range of uses, from fine-tuning existing products to discovering whole new marketing concepts.
For example, everything at the Olive Garden restaurant chain, from the décor to the wine list, is based on marketing research. Each new menu item is put through a series of consumer taste tests before being added to the menu. Hallmark Cards uses marketing research to test messages, cover designs, and even the size of the cards. Hallmark’s experts know which kinds of cards will sell best in which places. Engagement cards, for instance, sell best in the Northeast, where engagement parties are popular. Birthday cards for “Daddy” sell best in the South because even adult southerners tend to call their fathers Daddy.
Marketing research can use either primary data (where the organization actually gets the data and analyzes it) or secondary data (where the organization uses data that has already been developed and published by another entity and the organization is able to utilize the data for its own purposes). There are three basic research methods used for gathering primary data: survey, observation, and experiment.
With survey research, data is gathered from respondents—in person, through the internet, by telephone, or by mail—to obtain facts, opinions, and attitudes. A questionnaire is used to provide an orderly and structured approach to data-gathering. Face-to-face interviews may take place at the respondent’s home, in a shopping mall, or at a place of business.
Observation research is research that monitors respondents’ actions without direct interaction. In the fastest-growing form of observation research, researchers use cash registers with scanners that read tags with bar codes to identify the item being purchased. Technological advances are rapidly expanding the future of observation research. Arbitron research has developed a portable people meter (PPM) about the size of a cell phone that research participants clip to their belts or any article of clothing. They agree to wear it during all waking hours. Before the study participants go to sleep, they put the PPM in a cradle that automatically sends data back to Arbitron (now Nielsen Audio). The PPM will tell the marketing research company exactly which television programs the person watched and for how long. It also records radio programs listened to, any web streaming, supermarket piped-in music, or any other electronic media that the research participant encountered during the day.5
In the third research method, experiment, the investigator changes one or more variables—price, package, design, shelf space, advertising theme, or advertising expenditures—while observing the effects of those changes on another variable (usually sales). The objective of experiments is to measure causality. For example, an experiment may reveal the impact that a change in package design has on sales.
Text adapted from Introduction to Business, OpenStax under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-business/pages/1-introduction