Marketing is a business discipline undertaken for one sole purpose, to enable sale of their product and service to consumers. The consumer behaviour is the study of how consumers interact with their surrounding environment when purchasing or disposing off the product. It forms the basis of marketing psychology i.e. why a person chooses one alternative over the other. The increasing competition and cultural shifts in societies across the globe have made marketing a challenging task. Therefore, marketers must strive to understand consumer’s behaviour and the drivers behind such behaviour in order to serve them well. Focus should be on varied factors like consumer attitude, buying habits, the colours they like, the tastes they prefer and so on. This study of consumer behaviour is critical to the success of businesses today and is the basic purpose of the practice of market research.
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As per advertising guru David Ogilvy negligence of research in business is like ignoring decodes of enemy signals in a war. He recognized that people who enter the market without proper research face the risk of their hard work being blown up by the winds of change. In his book he has discussed the value of market research which can get information on expected consumer response to a product way before they are launched in the market thus saving millions. Companies like proctor and gamble (P&G) and Unilever realized this way before than others which added to their competitive advantage. Nowadays whether you are a manufacturer, a retailer, an MNC or a local store, consumer market research is inevitable in order for the business to succeed. This is the primary reason behind the phenomenal rise of market research agencies in the last few decades.
Qualitative Market Research
Talking about market research, the most emerging practice now days is qualitative market research. Qualitative market research is the technique of market research that involves observation, analysis and interpretation of behaviour of a small number of people in their natural setting. The researchers ask broad open ended questions and collect descriptive data from participants. Unlike quantitative market research, where the focus is on finding trends and doing prediction, qualitative market research focuses on explaining behaviour. It helps in providing more in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that govern such behaviour (why and how). The three most commonly used techniques are:
- Focus Group Discussions,
- In depth interviews (on one to one basis), and
- Observing participants in their natural environment i.e. Ethnography.
Out of these, focus group discussions are of the most common type. So much so that they have become synonymous with the term qualitative market research.
Focus Group Discussions (FGDs)
Focus group discussion was one of the foremost qualitative research tools available to the practitioners. It involves group of people sitting in an interview like setting. A typical focus group consists of 6-10 people who are unrelated to each other. They are brought together by a moderator. In the field ofmarketing, focus groups are used as an important tool for acquiring consumer feedback. People are asked open ended questions about their attitude, values, beliefs and perceptions towards a particular product, brand, advertisement, concept or packaging. This technique capitalizes on the inter-personal communication amongst participants to generate data. This means that instead of asking one to one questions, the researcher throws the topic of discussion to the group and encourages them to share their ideas and opinions and counter question each other’s experiences.
Following steps are involved in focus group discussions:
Set the objectives: The purpose of the study needs to be clear and specific. The more well defined the objective, easier the execution and analysis.
Identify information needs: It involves decision upon what clients already know and what questions needs to be answered, what hypothesis is to be set regarding attitudes and motives and on what topics feedback is required.
Identify participants: This involves decisions as to number of participants required, preferred characteristics of the participants and the method of recruiting them.
Generate questions: A list of open ended questions needs to be kept handy. For e.g. instead of asking “do you like this packaging?” the moderator shall ask, “What do you think about this packaging?”
Select moderator: The moderator should be a knowledgeable person with regard to the issue in hand. Also, he should be able to deal tactfully with the participants, keep the discussion on the right track and free from any bias and preconceived notion.
Select the venue: The venue for the focus group study should be able to accommodate 5 to 15 people easily. Also, it should be easily accessible for the participants. A well selected venue also helps in encouraging conversation (cozy, inviting etc).
Moderate groups: The moderator will ensure the discussion keeps flowing in the right direction, probe respondents and draw out important questions.
Analyze and prepare reports: After thorough review of tapes recorded and notes taken, a written summary of results is submitted to the clients.
Focus group discussions as a technique is most suited in the situations where opinions and attitudes of consumers are conditional to the purpose of study. It is also suited in new areas of research. However, caution should be taken when the discussion could become emotionally sensitive or where confidentiality of information could be compromised.
The advantages of focus group discussions are in abundance. This method is extremely useful for bringing out the unanticipated reactions from the participants giving information about not only what behaviour people execute, but also how and why people behave so. Due to this reason, it can also be used as an effective social research tool in case of children or adults who are less literate. Thus, focus groups help in providing information about why or how a person holds certain beliefs about a topic or program of interest. It is a powerful social research tool and can provide high quality and validated data from the real consumers and that too in a cost efficient manner than if individuals were interviewed separately. It also adds flexibility to the research process with research having control to take the discussion in the right direction .Thus focus groups help to improve planning, implementation as well as evaluation of marketing strategies.
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The technique also suffers from some limitations. First, groups may be difficult to assemble or may vary considerably. As the group interaction forms the basis for focus group discussions, the information so provided can only be used at group level and not individually. Also, the people representing the consumers in the focus group setting might not be an exhaustive representation of the population at large. There is also the risk of moderator being less knowledgeable or biased towards a particular opinion. However, with necessary precautions focus group studies act as one of the most efficient social research tools.
In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)
In-depth face to face interviews use intensive one to one discussions with a small number of people. They are executed as confidential one to one conversations between researcher and participant. This method is suitable where the purpose of the study is to get exhaustive and precise answers from individuals regarding their motives and experiences which focus group studies and quantitative techniques cannot encompass. The method is also suitable where if the issue in hand is sensitive or controversial. Also, interviewing community leaders can provide a quick overview of needs and concerns of the respective communities. In the world of marketing, in-depth interviews are used usually in the initial strategies namelyto evaluate a new packaging, a new product concept, advertisement idea and so on.
The in-depth interview is usually conducted in private surroundings of the participant so as to keep him comfortable in his or her natural settings. The average duration of the interview ranges from 1.5 to 2 hours and is usually recorded for post interview analysis. Following are the stages in the interview process.
While focus group discussion is essentially a group behaviour technique, in depth interviews allow researchers to study opinions and behavior of participants individually. Also, in-depth interviews provide an opportunity to probe deeper into issues and get rich data.
Ethnography finds its origins in anthropology. In simple words ethnography is study of human beings in their natural environment and culture. The researcher submerges himself in the diverse and unfamiliar cultures and makes a rapport with the local population to understand their value system. This is done through active participation in day to day rituals such as cooking, eating, sleeping and shopping and close observation of people’s attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and customs. In marketing context, ethnography helps in understanding customer point of view. While focus group discussions and surveys provide self reporting data, ethnographic studies provide observational picture of consumers engaged in their day to day lives. It therefore, answers the latent reasons (why) behind consumer behaviour in particular communities. Once the facts are revealed, the information is then translated into marketing recommendations for the clients.
The basic reasoning behind ethnography is that life and decision making process are more complicated than the marketing models. Ethnography can be undertaken at any time of the day in shopping malls, theatres, restaurants, stations, bus, colleges, schools or even on street. Now days, it can also be undertaken online by tracking down the images and posts shared by people on social media. Ethnography can be good to bring innovation in marketing strategies and foresee where a brand can expand into. For instance marketers of a well known brand of washing machines were surprised to find that their product was actually being used to make Lassi an Indian refreshing drink in state of Punjab, India. Another ethnographic study in Europe revealed that consumers use mobile to check their bank balance as a habit and not just in emergencies. This provided financial companies important stimuli to restructure their mobile banking marketing mechanism.
Qualitative over Quantitative Market Research
Quantitative market research is the mathematical part of the market research. It uses statistical models and theories to indicate results. They conduct research with the help of structured questionnaires and surveys and use a standardized set of questions for each individual. This facilitates accuracy and comparability in data sets.
Qualitative research on the other hand aims at identifying factors that cannot be quantified such as culture , socio economic norms , role of gender , psychological barriers etc. it thus tries to fill the gaps left by quantitative market research.
In short, while quantitative market research quantifies variations in data that determine varied consumer actions, qualitative research seeks to identify reasons behind such factors.
When companies undertake qualitative market research, they usually expect a number of substantive advantages. Following are some advantages of qualitative market research over quantitative market research:
- They help in understanding the reasons (why and how) behind a certain behavioural action.
- Studies intangible factors that are responsible for changes in consumer behaviour thus providing a holistic view. For e.g. psychological factors such as perceptions, motivation and learning can only be understood using qualitative market research.
- They stimulate new dynamic thinking amongst participants and helps in evoking emotions and unadulterated latent reactions from the participants for better insights.
- It adds flexibility to the research process. There are no structured yes and no questions. Participants are encouraged to provide their opinions and understanding.
- Studies like ethnography are done in the natural environment of consumers, thus, providing a realistic picture and first hand information on issues concerned.
- The information from in-depth interviews is very rich and detailed.
Thus, qualitative market research provides marketers with insights into drivers of consumer behaviour, purchasing habits and other opportunities for innovative product development and sustained competitive advantage. We can safely say that qualitative market research is surely here to stay and as the competition sores, is going to gain more importance. This is why there is an unprecedented rise in qualitative market research agencies. Also, many global companies like Unilever, P&G, and ITC have already brought on board anthropologists in their marketing department. With growing innovation in the field, numerous other examples of qualitative research techniques available for practice in future are online focus groups, bulletin boards and so on.
With the insights so gained using qualitative market research methodologies, marketers become well versed with the consumer behaviour patterns. The importance of understanding such consumer behaviour by marketers is that it enables them to gain knowledge about needs and attitudes of their target market. Infact, almost all the marketing decisions taken by the management are based on the knowledge and predictions about consumer behaviour. Conducting market research is a complicated and technical process. However, understanding it is critical for marketers in particular and business at large. It enables them to design efficient marketing strategies for particular market segment and it is more likely that the message developed for the target market will be delivered in a desired manner to the correct audience. For instance, by finding out that consumers are more receptive to food advertising when they are hungry, companies can schedule there advertisements in late afternoons. It thus helps to provide better product satisfaction, improve brand image and create competitive edge in the market.
Hence, qualitative market research answers the threats posed by the uncertainties of consumer behaviour. It therefore provides solution to one of the biggest challenge of marketing in particular and of business management at large.
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