Steps in the Research Design Process

The steps in the design process interact and often occur simultaneously. For example, the design of a measurement instrument is influenced by the type of analysis that will be conducted. However, the type of analysis is also influenced by the specific characteristics of the measurement instrument.

Step 1: Define the Research Problem

Problem definition is the most critical part of the research process. Research problem definition involves specifying the information needed by management. Unless the problem is properly defined, the information produced by the research process is unlikely to have any value. Coca-Cola Company researchers utilized a very sound research design to collect information on taste preferences. Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, taste preferences are only part of what drives the soft drink purchase decision.

Research problem definition involves four interrelated steps: (1) management problem / opportunity clarification, (2) situation analysis, (3) model development, and (4) specification of information requirements.

The basis goal of problem clarification is to ensure that the decision maker’s initial description of the management decision is accurate and reflects the appropriate area of concern for research. If the wrong management problem is translated into a research problem, the probability of providing management with useful information is low.

Situation Analysis

The situation analysis focuses on the variables that have produced the stated management problem or opportunity. The factors that have led to the problem/opportunity manifestations and the factors that have led to management’s concern should be isolated.

A situation analysis of the retail trade outflow problem revealed, among other things, that (1) the local population had grown 25 percent over the previous five years, (2) buying power per capita appeared to be growing at the national rate of 3 percent a year, and (3) local retail sales of nongrocery items had increased approximately 20 percent over the past five years. Thus, the local retailers sales are clearly not keeping pace with the potential in the area.

Step 2: Estimate the Value of the Information

A decision maker normally approaches a problem with some information. If the problem is, say, whether a new product should be introduced, enough information will normally have been accumulated through past experience with other decisions concerning the introduction of new products and from various other sources to allow some preliminary judgments to be formed about the desirability of introducing the product in question. There will rarely be sufficient confidence in these judgments that additional information relevant to the decision would not be accepted if it were available without cost or delay. There might be enough confidence, however, that there would be an unwillingness to pay very much or wait very long for the added information.

Step 3: Select the Data Collection Approach

There are three basic data collection approaches in marketing research: (1) secondary data, (2) survey data, and (3) experimental data. Secondary data were collected for some purpose other than helping to solve the current problem, whereas primary data are collected expressly to help solve the problem at hand.

Step 4: Select the Measurement Technique

There are four basic measurement techniques used in marketing research: (1) questionnaires, (2) attitude scales, (3) observation, and (4) depth interviews and projective techniques.

Primary Measurement Techniques

I. Questionnaire – a formalized instrument for asking information directly from a respondent concerning behavior, demographic characteristics, level of knowledge, and/or attitudes, beliefs, and feelings.

II. Attitude Scales – a formalized instrument for eliciting self-reports of beliefs and feelings concerning an object(s).

A. Rating Scales – require the respondent to place the object being rated at some point along a numerically valued continuum or in one of a numerically ordered series of categories.

B. Composite Scales – require the respondents to express a degree of belief concerning various attributes of the object such that the attitude can be inferred from the pattern of responses.

C. Perceptual maps – derive the components or characteristics an individual uses in comparing similar objects and provide a score for each object on each characteristic.

D. Conjoint analysis – derive the value an individual assigns to various attributes of a product.

I. Observation – the direct examination of behavior, the results of behavior, or physiological changes.

II. Projective Techniques and Depth Interview – designed to gather information that respondents are either unable or unwilling to provide in response to direct questioning.

A. Projective Techniques – allow respondents to project or express their own feelings as a characteristic of someone or something else.

B. Depth Interviews – allow individuals to express themselves without any fear of disapproval, dispute, or advice from the interviewer.

Step 5: Select the Sample

Most marketing studies involve a sample or subgroup of the total population relevant to the problem, rather than a census of the entire group.

Step 6: Select the Model of Analysis

It is imperative that the researcher select the analytic techniques prior to collecting the data. Once the analytic techniques are selected, the researcher should generate fictional responses (dummy data) to the measurement instrument. These dummy data are then analyzed by the analytic techniques selected to ensure that the results of this analysis will provide the information required by the problem at hand.

Step 7: Evaluate the Ethics of the Research

It is essential that marketing researchers restrict their research activities to practices that are ethically sound. Ethically sound research considers the interests of the general public, the respondents, the client and the research profession as well as those of the researcher.

Step 8: Estimate Time and Financial Requirements

The program evaluation review technique (PERT) coupled with the critical path method (CPM) offers a useful aid for estimating the resources needed for a project and clarifying the planning and control process. PERT involves dividing the total research project into its smallest component activities, determining the sequence in which these activities must be performed, and attaching a time estimate for each activity. These activities and time estimates are presented in the form of a flow chart that allow a visual inspection of the overall process. The time estimates allow one to determine the critical path through the chart – that series of activities whose delay will hold up the completion of the project.

Step 9: Prepare the Research Proposal

The research design process provides the researcher with a blueprint, or guide, for conducting and controlling the research project. The blueprint is written in the form of a research proposal. A written research proposal should precede any research project.