Defining the Problem and Research Objectives

The marketing research process has four steps: defining the problem and research objectives, developing the research plan, implementing the research plan, and interpreting and reporting the findings.


The marketing research process

Defining the problem and research objectives is often the hardest step in the research process. The manager may know that something is wrong, without knowing the specific causes.

For example, managers of a large discount retail store chain hastily decided that falling sales were caused by poor advertising, and they ordered research to test the company’s advertising. When this research showed that current advertising was reaching the right people with the right message, the managers were puzzled. It turned out that the real problem was that the chain was not delivering the prices, products, and service promised in the advertising. Careful problem definition would have avoided the cost and delay of doing advertising research. In the classic New Coke case, Coca-Cola defined its research problem too narrowly, with disastrous results.

After the problem has been defined carefully, the manager and researcher must set the research objectives. A marketing research project might have one of three types of objectives.

  • The objective of exploratory research is to gather preliminary information that will help define the problem and suggest hypotheses.

  • The objective of descriptive research is to describe things such as the market potential for a product or the demographics and attitudes of consumers who buy the product.

  • The objective of causal research is to test hypotheses about cause-and-effect relationships.

For example, would a 10 percent decrease in tuition at a private college result in an enrollment increase sufficient to offset the reduced tuition? Managers often start with exploratory research and later follow with descriptive or causal research.